The 2012 season has not gone well for many drivers, including Kurt Busch and the No. 51 team. (Getty Images)
In today's NASCAR,a driver's season is evaluated on one simple factor – making the Chase.
As harsh as that might sound the reality is without earning a spot in the Chase field, the Sprint Cup year is deemed a failure.
Now because of the unique aspect of how NASCAR's playoff system works, drivers outside the championship field of 12 still can steal some headlines by running upfront or winning races over the final 10 races. In recent years we've seen the likes of Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray score big victories during the Chase schedule while not being eligible for the title.
While mathematically there are eight drivers still with a shot to get into the 2012 Chase team photo Saturday night in Richmond, only two spots are available.
And there's another group of drivers with no chance of qualifying for the playoff run who are already relegated to the role of spoiler from now until the Homestead season finale. For the most part, this underachieving collection won't have the fondest memories of the 2012 campaign:
While this year has been better for McMurray and the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team, that's a relative term considering just how bad last season was for the organization. It's never good when your boss categorizes a campaign as pathetic but that's exactly what Chip Ganassi called 2011. McMurray has been energized in recent weeks with better runs, but the No. 1 team doesn't appear to be close to competing for wins, something McMurray did to the tune of three victories back in 2010.
The Richard Childress Racing Sprint Cup effort hasn't been anywhere as competitive as the team's Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series programs. While Kevin Harvick has a Chase spot locked down and Paul Menard remains a slim possibility in the Wild Card race, veteran Burton has once again been mired in a season of frustration. Things have looked a bit better since the mid-summer stretch kicked in with Burton looking very strong at Bristol before being swept up in an accident as an innocent bystander. Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer remains confident the team's focus on its intermediate track program will pay dividends with five such venues left on the schedule.
Juan Pablo Montoya
It doesn't say much about your season when the highlight has been running into a jet dryer at Daytona and igniting a huge fire. But that's been about the most memorable moment in another truly forgettable season for Montoya. Like teammate EGR teammate McMurray, there have been small flashes of improvement and cause for optimism. But those have been few and far between. Montoya is consistently about a 20th-place car on a weekly basis and never made much of a run to make the Chase.
Richard Petty Motorsports surprised some by naming Almirola driver of the No. 43 entry after AJ Allmendinger's departure to Penske Racing before the start of the season. It's been a rocky road for Almirola's first full Sprint Cup Series season. While Allmendinger nearly had a couple of wins last year, Almirola has struggled. There has been some speed particularly in qualifying efforts, but new crew chief Mike Ford, who came on board in May, has not been able to work any magic to get the famous car of “The King” near the front of the field.
Last season's Southern 500 winner hasn't had much to celebrate this year at the single car Furniture Row Racing team. Smith has had his share of bad luck and as well as a controversy with incidents involving Marcos Ambrose and Danica Patrick the past few outings. Furniture Row remains committed to Smith, but the organization will continue to have a tough time operating as a solo unit even with its alignment with RCR. If funding becomes available, a second team might help solve a lot of the operation's issues.
The season that was supposed to be about “having fun” hasn't brought a lot of smiles to Busch. As expected, the Phoenix Racing Chevrolet has been a factor at Daytona and Talladega restrictor plate races and to be fair Busch has put the No. 51 in the lead pack from time-to-time at other tracks. But the year has been littered with wrecked race cars as well as controversy, including team owner James Finch nearly parting ways with the mercurial Busch before midseason. The options for Busch in 2013 are not many and Finch might not keep the doors of his independent team open next year unless sponsorship dollars are found. Busch needs a string of good runs to at least keep the hope alive of attracting corporate funding for the organization.