Commentary

What's in store for 2012?

Updated: January 18, 2012, 2:28 AM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

A lot of you say I think I've got all the answers. This time I have all the questions, too. But let's assume they're yours, because they're the ones you're most likely to be asking.

Question: Will the Brothers Busch be able to contain their tempers now that both are out of margin for tantrums?

Answer: Not on your life. Kurt and Kyle just aren't wired that way. There are times they just can't help themselves. Those two alone, considering their jams, assure of us a highly entertaining 2012.

Q: How soon will Tony Stewart regret dumping Darian Grubb?

A: He probably already does, now that he's thought about it. You just don't break that kind of continuity with a crew chief and expect to keep winning at a .500 clip (five of the last 10 races and the championship in '11).

Q: How good a tandem will Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger make for Roger Penske?

A: Scary good. Keselowski has already broken through as a regular threat to win, and he'll bring Allmendinger with him. They'll both win races and one just might win the championship. If Bad Brad could get along with Kurt Busch, then he's a cinch to sync with the Dinger. This may be Penske's best NASCAR pairing yet, and yes, that includes Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman, who didn't really get along.

Q: What does Danica Patrick need most in order to run up front and maybe win as a full-time NASCAR driver?

[+] EnlargeDanica Patrick and Tony Stewart
Jerry Markland/Getty Images/NASCARDanica Patrick needs to learn a lot from Tony Stewart, but not on asphalt.

A: About 600 laps on the dirt at mentor Stewart's Eldora Speedway in Ohio, in a late model. NASCAR testing restrictions prevent the total-immersion course she needs in getting comfortable when the car is sideways. So far she has resisted tutor Mark Martin's crucial advice that "Not only can you slide these cars around, you have to slide these cars around." When and if she gets that, she'll win.

Q: How long will Kurt Busch and owner James Finch get along?

A: We should get a pool going. Finch is famously easy-going, colorful and genial. Just plain fun to hang out with. If he can't handle Kurt, nobody can. But Kurt is all about sass when things go wrong. And Finch, a self-made construction magnate from the down-to-earth Florida Panhandle, hasn't gotten where he is by putting up with sass. Look for some of the most interesting TV shots of a driver and owner going nose to nose since, oh, Robby Gordon and Richard Childress.

Q: How soon will breastfeeding moms and their supporters forgive Kasey Kahne for letting that loaded gun for celebrities called Twitter go off?

A: Just as soon as he starts to melt their hearts from Victory Lane, and that could begin in any given race for him at Hendrick Motorsports.

Q: How soon will Stewart get under the skin of incoming crew chief Steve Addington?

A: Never. Stewart may have a razor tongue on the radio at times, but Addington just got done with Kurt Busch, and Kyle Busch before that. Smoke doesn't have the words in his vocabulary to faze this guy.

Q: How good will Grubb be for Denny Hamlin?

A: Very, very. For Hamlin's entire tenure with crew chief Mike Ford, the relationship was tense at best. Grubb will listen more and respond better to his driver. Hamlin's occasional snit will be nothing to Grubb, compared with Stewart's public outbursts.

Q: Will Jimmie Johnson resurface to win his sixth championship in seven years?

A: Nah. Mojo, once lost, is hard to regain, even if it was the longest-running mojo in recent NASCAR history. He and crew chief Chad Knaus began to question themselves and each other last year, and that's hard to repair. A milk-and-cookies conference with owner Rick Hendrick won't be enough this time.

[+] EnlargeKevin Harvick
Chris Trotman/NASCAR/Getty ImagesKevin "Happy" Harvick should be the one smiling the most after the Daytona 500.

Q: Then will Stewart repeat, and collect a fourth championship?

A: I doubt it. His team may come out of the box slowly, just because Addington as crew chief and Greg Zipadelli, coming in as competition director, will need to set up their ways of doing things and adjust. And a repeat of last fall's five wins in 10 Chase races is just about out of the question for anybody, including Stewart himself.

Q: So Carl Edwards finally breaks through as champion?

A: Not if he tries to win it the old-fashioned way, with consistency, the way he tried it last year. He needs to throw in some of that dazzling aggressiveness of 2008, when he won the most races, nine, and remain consistent on his bad days, and then he'll be champion.

Q: Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. win a race, or races, or the championship?

A: The Englishman T.E. Lawrence, aka "Lawrence of Arabia," once wrote that "old and wise" really means "tired and disappointed." Let's just say I'm old and wise enough not to make predictions about Junior one way or the other. Don't take that as a negative. Just take it as a sincere "I don't know."

Q: Well, then, Mr. All the Answers, who wins the Cup?

A: Bad Brad K, going away. We saw last summer that he can surge for wins. We saw him start the Chase doing what he needed to do, before a tough stretch in the last four races took him out of the hunt. Now he puts the package together, is happy alongside the Dinger, and they become the most popular duo in the series.

Q: Are you arrogant enough to say Keselowski will burst out of the gate as winner of this year's Daytona 500?

A: No, that'll be Kevin Harvick, the best plate driver remaining with the best plate team, Richard Childress Racing.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.