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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 on Feb. 17 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.
No. 17: Revealed Thursday, Jan. 26
2011 finish: 18th
Our 2012 predictions:
• Jay Hart: 19th
• Jay Busbee: 17th
• Nick Bromberg: Not ranked
• Geoffrey Miller: 17th
Crew chief: Chad Johnston
2012 outlook: Is this a put-up-or-shut-up season for Martin Truex Jr.? The answer largely depends on what Clint Bowyer, Truex's new teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing, does.
When Truex signed with MWR prior to the 2010 season, it was seen as a watershed moment for the fledgling organization. Truex was that year's top free agent, and the fact that MWR landed him was a coup.
But in the two seasons since, Truex has been mostly disappointing: no wins, a whopping four top-fives and finishes of 22nd and 18th in the standings. Hardly franchise-driver numbers.
Are the underwhelming results the fault of the driver or the organization?
To this point, Truex has mostly been given a pass because he's driving for a team that's yet to prove itself. However, that could all change with the arrival of Bowyer, considered one of the better young talents in the sport. If MWR's newest franchise driver comes in and posts solid results right off the bat, Truex will be under the gun if he doesn't do the same.
It should be noted that Truex actually had a better 2011 than his results showed. He led laps in 16 races and posted only two fewer top-10 finishes (12) than newcomer of the year Brad Keselowski.
Truex's biggest issue was failing to finish what he started. Too many times, he was in position to snag a solid finish, if not a win, only to have something go wrong in the closing laps.
Was that his fault or his team's? Keep an eye on Bowyer in 2012 and you'll find out.
Point of interest: Truex is in the final year of his contract with MWR, as is primary sponsor NAPA. While this year's free-agent field isn't nearly as deep as last year's, there's one driver who will make any potential opening interesting: Kurt Busch.