Great expectations for 2012
Look closely. I'm about to tell you all my deepest desires.
OK now, don't get weird on me. Not those desires. I'm talking about my desires for 2012 in motorsports.
It's all the things I would love to see, some of which have no chance of actually coming to fruition. A few of these things I will see. A few others I might see. If any of these things happen, I'll be a happy guy.
Let's begin with the desires I might see:
• A Dale Earnhardt Jr. victory and a chance at the Sprint Cup title. The latter of these two things is far less likely than the former, but it's not impossible.
Earnhardt hasn't won a Cup race since 2008 and has only one victory since 2006. However, he has come close several times, and odds are a win will come soon. Earnhardt took a major step forward in 2011 by making the Chase and finishing seventh.
That would appear to indicate he can compete for the title, but at age 37 (he turns 38 in October), that ship probably has sailed.
It wouldn't make history if he does win the title this late in his career. Five drivers in NASCAR history won their first or only Cup title at age 38 or older -- Lee Petty (40 in 1954), Joe Weatherly (40 in 1962), Bobby Isaac (38 in 1970), Bobby Allison (45 in 1983) and Dale Jarrett (42 in 1999).
But let's face facts: What's good for Junior is good for NASCAR.
• A Danica Patrick victory in her first full season as a NASCAR driver. It would silence her critics and help validate her decision to leave IndyCar, along with making NASCAR history. A win is not out of the question at one of the Nationwide Series restrictor-plate races.
She also could shock some people in her Cup debut in the Daytona 500, a race that almost anyone can win, as Trevor Bayne proved last year.
As is the case with Earnhardt, success by Patrick would be great for NASCAR because of the attention it would bring.
• Another dramatic Chase finale. It doesn't get any better than the 2011 Chase finish. Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards became the first drivers to tie for the points total, but Stewart won the title by winning more races, including the final race when Edwards finished second.
That won't happen again, but I'd settle for a finale where two or three drivers still have a legitimate shot at the championship when the race starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
• A fifth Cup title for Jeff Gordon. The Chase format hasn't been good for Gordon. He's 0-for-8 and counting. Gordon won four championships over nine seasons in the old system without a playoff.
But Gordon has made the Chase seven times, and as Stewart showed in 2011, if you make it, you can win it.
• A first Cup title for Edwards. No one in history came closer to winning the title without earning the trophy than Edwards did in 2011. He handled the disappointment with the utmost class and dignity. No one deserves to finish on top more than Edwards.
• A victory for Funny Car rookie Courtney Force. Legendary drag racing dad John Force is expected to announce Courtney's debut season next week. Hear me now and listen to me later: This young lady is the real deal, but she's going to take her lumps for a year or two. And she has some of her dad's wildly entertaining personality.
• One final championship for John Force. He turns 63 in May, but it would be a hoot to see the old man pull off one more Funny Car title. It's not out of the question since he won his 15th title at age 61.
• A victory and a Chase spot for AJ Allmendinger. AJ has paid his dues and improved each season. Now at age 30, he has the best ride of his career in the No. 22 Penske Dodge.
• A championship contending year for Kasey Kahne -- and a Twitter editor. Making the move to Hendrick Motorsports gives Kahne a shot to step up and contend for a title consistently. He has the skills and the professional demeanor to get it done. Just lay off those breastfeeding criticisms on Twitter.
• A Cup championship for Brad Keselowski and team owner Roger Penske. Few men in history have done more for auto racing than Penske. He has won everything in Indy-car racing, but he has yet to win a Cup title in NASCAR. Talented Brad K just might be the guy to finally get it for him.
• IndyCar adding one of two more oval-track races. IndyCar has only 15 races listed for 2012, and only four of those are ovals. Texas is the only high-banked oval.
IndyCar officials say they may add a couple of other events. If they aren't ovals, this league is going down an ill-advised path.
• A contending year for crew chief Darian Grubb. Stewart would not have won the 2011 Cup title without Grubb on the pit box, but the decision was made to oust him before Stewart made his amazing run in the Chase.
Grubb now has the job of returning Denny Hamlin to prominence. If he leads Hamlin to the Cup crown, Grubb will go down as one of the top crew chiefs of his era.
• A peaceful year for the Busch brothers. Kurt and Kyle Busch, two of the most talented drivers in racing, are at a career crossroads. They can wise up, keep their composure and accomplish great things, or they can continue to use poor judgment with character issues and blow their final chances at redemption.
• A victory for Pro Stock driver Erica Enders. She came close a few times in 2011, but 2012 should be the year when she becomes the first woman in NHRA history to win a Pro Stock event. She might compete for the title while she's at it.
And here are a few things I won't see but wish I would:
• Nationwide Series regulars winning most of the Nationwide races. Maybe someday, but the developmental series will continue to have most of the events won by Cup stars. Here's the deal: If young Nationwide regulars were winning most of the races in their own series, they would become stars.
• Fewer cars in each Cup race. The start-and-park situation will get worse this year with fewer quality cars in the field. Starting 43 cars is at least five too many.
• Shorter races. Other than the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, no race needs to be 500 miles or 500 laps. We live in the social-network era of instant gratification. The average attention span of younger sports fans doesn't last for 500 seconds, much less 500 miles.
• Fewer Cup events. Having 36 championship races and two all-star events is just too much. It's oversaturation. It's a simple issue of supply and demand. A 32-race schedule would increase interest and attendance.
• No free pass into any Cup race. Eliminate the top-35 rule that guarantees teams a spot in each Cup race. Qualify on speed or go home, just as they do in the NHRA. It'll never happen, but it sure would spice up the usual boredom of Cup qualifying, along with selling a ton of tickets.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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