*Can Danica Patrick contend for the Nationwide title in 2012?*
Now that the worst kept secret in the NASCAR garage is official, the big question is…how well will Danica Patrick run in her first full season of Nationwide competition next year? Patrick will be making the jump from IndyCar next season and immediately be thrown under the bright lights as the scrutiny and expectations that come with being one of the sport’s most popular drivers are bound to appear as soon as cars unload in Daytona. But what’s a realistic goal for any driver with limited stock car experience that’s bound to be in a competitive car? Patrick showed great improvement from her limited season in 2010 and even managed multiple top 10s this season before continuing with her IndyCar campaign. But if one looks at the Nationwide points this season, you can immediately see that any thoughts that Patrick could indeed be a championship contender are simply unrealistic.
Aric Almirola was considered among the better prospects coming through the ranks and he’s indeed been competitive in a full-time JR Motorsports entry this season. Yet even he is just barely in the top 5 in points (fifth) with five top 5s and 13 top 10s in 24 starts. For Patrick to top those numbers in her first full season would take nothing less than a miracle. She will run well at a number of tracks, I’m sure, but she’ll also struggle at many she has not seen before. A realistic season for Patrick in 2012 should be: 0 wins, 1-2 top 5s, 4-5 top 10s and anywhere between 10th and 15th in points. In my opinion, that would be a successful Year One.
*Can anybody beat Kyle Busch this weekend?*
If his recent history at Bristol is any indication…and it is…Kyle Busch will be the driver to beat again this weekend. His accomplishments at the bullring have been well-documented: five wins and ten top 10s in 13 starts will do that. But if you look further, the fact that the younger Busch has completed over 98 percent of his laps and only finished outside the top 10 once since joining Joe Gibbs Racing shows he is even stronger at Bristol than initially thought.
Busch has had an uncanny ability to harness his over-aggressive at times driving style when he’s needed to and stay out of trouble. What makes him even scarier this weekend is his incentive to win. Coming off of a momentum-building win at Michigan last weekend, Busch has a chance to distance himself in wins and position himself comfortably in the top spot when the Chase rolls around in one month. Added to that is his drive to bypass his brother on the career wins list (both are tied at 23 wins). You can bet that brotherly rivalry is one that he wants to win, and he’ll have a great chance to get a leg up this weekend.
*With four races remaining, is Brad Keselowski a lock for one of the two wild-card spots?*
At this point it would be a tremendous upset for Keselowski to miss out on one of the two wildcard spots and the Chase. It could be argued the young driver is on one of the hottest streaks in the series right now – and the hottest of his career — with three consecutive top 3 finishes and top 10s in five of his last six starts. The run that Keselowski is on has jumped him all the way up to 12th in the standings with two wins – one of which came just three races ago.
Now, with four races remaining before the cutoff it would take a near miracle for two drivers to match his two wins AND jump him in the standings. At this point, Keselowski is up one win and seven points over the second wildcard position currently held by Denny Hamlin. You have to go all the way back to Paul Menard (18th in points – 25 points out) to find the next driver outside of the Chase with one win. Even if Menard were to win another race, Keselowski would still have a points advantage if he continues to run well. Helping Keselowski’s Chase chances further are that the current “bubble” drivers in the top 10 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart – remain winless on the season if they were to fall out.
Hamlin; however, is in a far less comfortable position with one win. Any slip by the No. 11 team and he has Menard (18 points back) and David Ragan (31 points out) waiting to pounce. If Keselowski were to sneak into the top 10 in points in the next four races and Earnhardt Jr. or Stewart were to fall out, it would improve Hamlin’s chances, as he would move into the top wildcard position.
*Will any scores be settled this weekend?*
Bristol – and just about every other short track – is the perfect opportunity for drivers to get a bit of revenge without endangering a driver like they would on an intermediate track. As we’re approaching the 2/3 mark of the season, a year’s worth of disagreements may come to a head this weekend as drivers would rather settle scores now than at Richmond – with Chase hopes on the line – or at any other track in the final ten races. The biggest feud that comes to mind is the one between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, but with both drivers looking to build a points cushion I don’t see that feud making its way to the track this weekend.
This is Bristol; however, and at any given moment a rivalry from even a few years ago can renew instantly. Expect there to be some confrontation of some sort this weekend – there usually is, but as to who it will be…nobody knows, and that’s one of the things that makes Bristol so great.
“Contact Mike Lovecchio”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14358/
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