As the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season hits its midpoint, we take a step back to examine four dark horse candidates to win it all.
1. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski, nestled 10th in points, already has three wins, so he’s moving towards leaving the “dark horse” category to become a clear-cut favorite to win the Chase.
Keselowski sometimes lacks consistency, but his greatest asset is his team’s ability to rack off wins in lumps. He peaked early in 2011 to get in the chase, but lost momentum in the final ten races. If he can time his wins right during the Chase, Keselowski could be poised to bring Roger Penske his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
2. Kasey Kahne
Kahne has always been a streaky driver, but this trend has been exacerbated in 2012. To wit: In his first six races, he finished 14th or worse. He then reeled off seven straight top tens, including his Coca Cola 600 win. After that, he finished 14th or worse for three weeks again. Then at Kentucky, he stumbled out of the gate but came hard-charging towards the front to finish second.
Kahne still has work to do to ensure he makes the chase. Assuming he does, Kahne could make some serious noise if he hits one of his trademark hot streaks. And his season as a whole could mirror his race at Kentucky — stumbling out the gate but surging at the end — or even better.
3. Martin Truex, Jr.
Truex Jr. came into the sport with lofty expectations in 2006, having won two NASCAR Nationwide Series championships. Thus far, his career (with one win) hasn’t lived up to the hype.
But Truex Jr. is having a career year for Michael Waltrip Racing. He has been strongly consistent, and he had the car to beat in the STP 400. Most years (2011 excluded), the Chase rewards consistency. If Truex Jr. gets in the Chase and can run as consistently as he has early in the season, don’t be surprised to see the number 56 near the top of the points standings.
4. Carl Edwards
Why is Carl Edwards a dark horse candidate when he nearly won the championship in 2011? Because his team is suffering from an incredible hangover in 2012. They have underperformed in most races and beat themselves in others (case in point: Kentucky). Edwards sits 11th in points with no wins — currently outside the threshold of making the Chase.
Ironically, though, Edwards’ season is eerily reminiscent of eventual champion Tony Stewart’s season-to-date in 2011. The number 99 team needs to right the ship soon to even make the Chase. But if they do – and if they return to even a shadow of their former selves — Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne could be a force to be reckoned with in the Chase.
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