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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2011 finish: 3rd
Our 2012 predictions:
• Jay Hart: 6th
• Jay Busbee: 1st
• Nick Bromberg: 2nd
• Geoffrey Miller: 6th
Crew chief: Shane Wilson
Offseason action: Will have a new crew chief in Shane Wilson, replacing Gil Martin; announced his wife is expecting the couple's first child, due in mid-July.
Outlook for 2012: If you believe in trends, Kevin Harvick will … come in third again this year. Harvick has spent two straight years of playing runner-up to a duo atop the standings, first Johnson/Hamlin in 2010, next Stewart/Edwards in 2011. When is it his time, huh? When?
Well, by our rankings, it's not yet. Still, Harvick is one of the more dominant drivers in the sport. In 2011, he won four races; only Kyle Busch equaled him and only Tony Stewart's late-season burst exceeded him. Harvick notched wins at California, Martinsville, Charlotte and Richmond. His Chase was solid; six top 10s and only one truly ugly finish (32nd at Talladega).
In 2011, Harvick mastered the art of right place, right time, winning both the California and Martinsville races by vulturing the victory at the very last second. Combine that with his ability to run at the top of the standings for a sustained period of time, as he did in the 2010 regular season, and you've got a driver who has the parts necessary to make a run at the Cup. And were it not for a couple other guys who are at the absolute peak of their abilities, he could take the 2012 championship in first gear.
Point of interest: After those two straight years of close-but-not-quite, Harvick and Richard Childress made a change atop the 29's pit box. After the Phoenix race, Harvick decided enough was enough, and so ex-crew chief Gil Martin got kicked upstairs. Now on the box: Shane Wilson, former crew chief for Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 team. Together, Wilson and Harvick won 10 races and the Nationwide championship in 2006 with a margin of victory that's still a series record.
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- Shane Wilson