Sunday, December 11, 2011

NASCAR starting grid will look much different in 2012

After a year where hardly any sponsors stepped up to fund big-time rides for new drivers, there will still be a bunch of people on new teams come Speedweeks in February at Daytona.

Sure, there may be one decent ride available at this point after Kurt Busch left the #22 Dodge vacant, but whoever fills that spot will be the seventh driver among those who finished in the top 30 in points last season to either strap into a car for a different Sprint Cup Series team in 2012 or still be without a ride for next season.

In addition to the driver changes, at least 12 crew chiefs who worked for teams that finished in the top 30 in points last year will sit atop a different pit box during the Daytona 500 than the one they sat on at the beginning of the 2011 season.

That means nearly one-third of the teams in the field for the Daytona 500 will look different than they did at that race a year ago. That is amazing considering all of the talk of there being no opportunities to move in the sport and everybody better stick at their current job because there likely won’t be another option.

Of course, many of these moves weren’t made by the choice of the driver or the crew chief. The crew chiefs for drivers such as Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya were replaced mid-season and crew chiefs for Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin were let go from their respective teams once the season ended.

Team lineups have been relatively stable during the past several years, but 2011 will go down as the year where a bunch of crew chiefs lost their job, or at least changed teams. This sort of shuffle happens every few years, and the stability during Jimmie Johnson’s run of five championships is remarkable considering every other team lost for five years in a row.

Overall, the group of Sprint Cup Series drivers has also remained pretty stable in the last five or six years. Early in the last decade, NASCAR had a large influx of young drivers enter the sport, but once the group of drivers such as Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray reached the Cup level, the pipeline of young drivers quickly shut off.

Just look at the rookies of the year for the past five seasons. Montoya and Joey Logano both finished 20th in the points in their rookie seasons, but the other three have failed to crack the top 30.

This current group of drivers might not have changed much in the past several years, but this year an entire new group of crew chiefs will take their spots atop the pit box for new teams.

One might think all of the crew chief changes could shuffle the running order at many of the races next season. However, just two of those changes happened to teams that finished in the top 10 in points, and one of them just won the championship. The teams that finished outside the top 10 needed to make changes because the current setup obviously wasn’t working too well.

All of the personnel changes could make for a season similar to 2011 where multiple drivers won their first race and no team really pulled away from the pack. Or, it could make for a season where the same top 10 teams dominate as the other teams work to build their chemistry and performance on the track.

For the sake of many race fans, here’s hoping we get another season where different teams show up at the front of the field each race.


  1. Hey JM, nice rundown! We have a Lug Nuts group on facebook. Link your stories there if you want. Stop on by and join the group. Lots of ex-Foxsports bloggers are joining up!

  2. Gene - Awesome! I'll get in on that. Sounds like fun!