Skirts and Scuffs Predictions: Kristina LaFountain chooses the champ

It's the time of year for the Skirts and Scuffs contributors to look into the future and make their 2012 predictions. Today, Kristina LaFountain predicts who will be holding the Sprint Cup championship trophy in November. Agree or disagree with Kristina, please share your thoughts. 

Pick for 2012 Sprint Cup Champion: Carl Edwards 

Tony Stewart became a three-time Sprint Cup champion last season, smoking Carl Edwards and his hope of winning his first championship. However, for Edwards, the smoke wasn’t that thick - he not only finished second to Stewart, but also tied for the points lead. Although a frustrating loss, the finish will help give Edwards and his team the confidence they need to be able to recreate a similarly successful season, except this time they will hopefully find themselves on top.

Despite the upset, Edwards had a very successful season - in 36 races, he earned four poles, 19 top-fives and 26 top-10 finishes. Although Edwards had more top finishes than Stewart, he had only one victory in the 2011 season compared to Stewart’s five wins, which ultimately became the tiebreaker for the championship.

Last season, Roush Fenway Racing (RFR) had two of its three cars finish in the top four in the points standings. The team will have only three cars competing full-time this season as the No. 6 Ford will run only a limited number of events. Luckily for Edwards, contract negotiations took place last season and after deciding to stay with RFR after a battle between his current team and Joe Gibbs Racing, there will be fewer distractions for him and his team.

Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne are one of the most envied pairs in the sport. While the organization has proved that they are capable of consistency, last season’s narrow loss was a definite reminder that with the new points system, winning races sets a champion apart from the rest of the pack.

Edwards will get his first shot at a victory in the 54th running of the Daytona 500. For Edwards, the odds are in his favor – he finished second to Trevor Bayne in last year’s season opener. If he isn’t able to pick up a win there, perhaps he will have luck at Las Vegas in the Kobalt Tools 400, the third race of this season and the place where he earned his only victory in 2011.
RFR is closing in on their 300th victory and third career championship. Edwards is looking for his 20th career win and 90th top-five finish.

Some Other Options

While Edwards is my top pick for the 2012 Sprint Cup Champion, there are definitely some other drivers that are due for a shot at the title. In examining the stats of the top finishing drivers in 2011, one thing becomes clear – the only thing separating them was the number of wins. That’s why I think there are several drivers who have a shot at the title this season. 

Edwards’ RFR teammate Matt Kenseth finished first in the standings in 2003 and has had made several appearances in the Chase since. Last season, Kenseth finished 4th and has had two top-five Chase finishes in the past five years (with the exception of 2008 and 2009 when he finished 11th and 14th respectively).

Kevin Harvick is an obvious contender – he finished third in the standings two years (2011 and 2010) in a row. Harvick finished a disappointing 19th in 2009, but 2008 and 2007 were also successful seasons for Harvick, picking up 10th and 4th respectively. While Harvick had the wins (four) this season, he was significantly less consistent than Edwards, who finished ahead of him in second. Harvick had nine top fives and 19 top-10 finishes, compared to Edwards’ 19 top fives and 26 top 10s. In order for Harvick to come out on top, he must focus more on points racing this season.

There is no denying that Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are the most dominant partnership in the sport, but 2011 definitely took the pair by surprise with the introduction of the new points system. Johnson had only two wins compared to six last season, putting him sixth place in the standings and slowing his ride to a sixth championship. However, as one of the most powerful teams in the sport, now that they have figured out the new system, I definitely think the five-time champ has a shot at his sixth in 2012.

The odds are looking good for current champ Stewart as well. Stewart has three previous championships and has finished in the top 10 in points the past five years. Jeff Gordon had three wins in 2011 and is looking for his fifth championship to tie with Johnson. Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also had high finishes in the standings, but Earnhardt needs a win before he can think about a championship.
Skirts and Scuffs Predictions: Kristina LaFountain chooses the champ Skirts and Scuffs Predictions: Kristina LaFountain chooses the champ Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 Rating: 5