Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2012 season, as predicted by the Yahoo! Sports NASCAR staff – Jay Hart, Jay Busbee, Nick Bromberg and Geoffrey Miller. The countdown will conclude Feb. 17 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.
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No. 12: Revealed Thursday, Feb. 2
2011 finish: 10th
Our 2012 predictions:
• Jay Hart: 13th
• Jay Busbee: 14th
• Nick Bromberg: 12th
• Geoffrey Miller: 12th
Crew chief: Tony Gibson
Offseason action: Stewart-Haas named Greg Zipadelli as the team's new director of competition.
Outlook for 2012: Newman is one of the most reliable drivers on the circuit, always able to qualify well and usually able to follow that with a consistent finish. He's reached the Chase two of the three years he's driven for Tony Stewart, placing 10th last year.
The question for Newman is, as it has always been: When does he break through to that next level? Yes, he took home a win (and a lobster) last year with his victory at Loudon in July, and his season included nine top 5s and 17 top 10s. But two mid-20s finishes in the second and third Chase races killed any postseason hopes he might have had.
However, times are a-changing over at Stewart-Haas, and the influx of Danica-related money and the arrival of Greg Zipadelli as director of competition bodes well for the entire organization. Newman is likely to benefit from the rising tide … and he'd better, because in the NASCAR of 2012, pretty good isn't anywhere near good enough.
Point of interest: New week, new sponsor for Newman, who will be running a car with a wide variety of sponsorships throughout the season. The U.S. Army, Quicken Loans, Tornados, Outback Steakhouse, WIX Filters, and Aspen Dental have all signed on for major sponsorship on the 39. Also, although nobody seems quite sure of it, 2012 is apparently a contract year for Newman. He seems happy, Stewart seems happy with him, and everything points to his continued employment at Stewart-Haas. But would a successful (or unsuccessful) year change that?