Title Contenders? Call All This One Man’s Folly

This isn’t exactly the usual “here are some drivers who could win the Sprint Cup championship in 2011” piece. Reckon you have seen – or will see – plenty of those.
But allow me to get a bit personal and list some drivers I’d like to see earn a title for reasons logical, sentimental, or, perhaps in your opinion, downright far-fetched.
Most of these drivers won’t be on anyone’s A-list of contenders but racing being what it is – which is to say the only correct prediction made about it is that it’s unpredictable – who knows?
Anyway, this is just one man’s folly. Hey, you might even agree with some of this.

Mark Martin – Probably nearly everyone’s sentimental choice. He’s nearly 52 years old, has been racing all his life, over two decades in NASCAR, and has yet to win a Sprint Cup championship. He’s finished second in points four times and third on four more occasions. He had a stellar season with Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 with five victories – but he wound up second again.
Many thought he would contend for a title in 2010 but he had an off-season in which he didn’t win and slumped to 13th in points.
Obviously, he would love to rebound in his last season with Hendrick. Plenty of fans would love to see him do at least that and perhaps more. It would suit me.
I’m sure Martin doesn’t want to retire – whenever that happens – to be known as NASCAR’s best driver to have never won a championship.
I’m also sure that if I ever write that again Martin will express his displeasure one way or another.

Jeff Burton – The driver considered as NASCAR’s most able spokesman and statesman is also one of its best drivers. The shame is that when it comes to the Chase, he climbs the mountain but has never reached the summit. Something always gets in his way.
All three Richard Childress Racing drivers made the Chase last year but Burton wound up 12th in points and, for him, that had to be disappointing.
Although he can be feisty – we’ve seen evidence of that – Burton is considered a very nice guy. Nice guys are supposed to finish last. Would be great to see a nice guy finish first.

Kyle Busch – He’s proven that he can win in anything he drives. Problem is he hasn’t been able to put it all together in the Chase. You gotta figure that’s got to change sooner or later.
Besides, he’s perhaps the closest thing we have to the image of the opinionated, cocky, no-quarter driver of the past. He’s the poster figure for “Boys, have at it.” It would be fun – maybe even appropriate – to see the principle proponent of NASCAR’s new philosophy claim the title.
Yeah, while it would be good to see a nice guy finish first, it would be a hoot to see a bad boy do the same.

Matt Kenseth – He claimed a championship in 2003 and it’s likely he’s already been considered a title threat by many. But here’s a thought:
After Kenseth won the championship, the Chase came into existence the next season and changed the NASCAR environment. Some liked it, many did not. But it’s not going anywhere.
One of many reasons the Chase came to be is the concept that the champion should never be a driver who wins only one race in a season, which Kenseth did in ’03, while other competitors gained many more victories. Don’t know about you but I heard that a lot.
Bet Kenseth did, too.
If he could win a championship in the Chase format he’d obviously be very happy – and maybe imagine himself thumbing his nose at a lot of folks.

Kasey Kahne – He didn’t win last year and finished 20th in points, his worst showing since 2005, in a final turbulent season with Richard Petty Motorsports. He departed RPM late in the season to join Red Bull Motorsports, for which he’ll race this year. Then he moves on to Hendrick in 2012. Got all that?
Kahne is certainly a much better driver than his 2010 numbers showed. That’s so widely accepted that it hardly bears mentioning. And he’s eager to prove it.
A championship would certainly do more than that. I’m guessing many female fans would heartily approve.

Jamie McMurray – He’s a guy who wasn’t sure he had a ride as the 2009 season ended. Then he reunited with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Bank of America 500. It’s quite a Cinderella story.
Be interesting to see if the clock hasn’t struck midnight for McMurray and the story gets even better.

Juan Pablo Montoya – Think of it: A Colombian wins the championship in a sport that has its roots in the South with a bunch of good ol’ redneck boys. Ah, the irony.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – I don’t really have to say anything, do I?

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