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.
No. 14: Revealed Tuesday, Jan. 31
2011 finish: 20th
Our 2012 predictions:
• Jay Hart: 15th
• Jay Busbee: 13th
• Nick Bromberg: 15th
• Geoffrey Miller: 18th
Crew chief: Brian Pattie
Offseason action: New everything – team (Michael Waltrip Racing), crew chief (Pattie), crew and sponsor (5-hour Energy).
Outlook for 2012: Bowyer's where-will-he-end-up was one of the major personnel stories of the 2011 season, and his eventual union with Michael Waltrip Racing brought a marquee-level driver to an organization that had long needed just such a talent infusion.
Bowyer had the best runs of his year at Talladega, winning the fall race and losing in the closest finish in NASCAR history in the spring one. Other than that, his results were fair-to-middling across the board, with four top 5 finishes and 16 top 10s, spread out almost equally across the entire season. Once again, he failed to make the Chase by a narrow margin, a wreck courtesy of Juan Pablo Montoya in Atlanta serving as the final nail in the coffin of his Chase hopes.
Still, Bowyer's a talented driver, one that gives MWR an instant upgrade. He'll have to please his new sponsor 5-hour Energy – Michael Waltrip expects that of all his drivers – but Bowyer's got the Midwestern demeanor to do exactly that. If he lives up to his promise, this could be a strong year for him and Waltrip both.
Point of interest: Bowyer will have a completely new team, which is always a tricky business to integrate. He'll have former Montoya crew chief Brian Pattie atop the box for him, who'll serve as a calming asset for a driver who's proven he's not afraid to criticize his crew. Beyond that, we won't know what we don't know until Daytona, and probably not even then.
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