THE ULTRA-AGGRESSIVE Busch angered drivers in the Truck, Nationwide and Cup series in 2011. When Kevin Harvick threw a punch at Busch last May at Darlington Raceway—he reached into Busch's window after the Cup race—the act was universally applauded in all three garages. Watch this rivalry over the coming year. Even if that doesn't rekindle, a Busch clash with someone seems inevitable.
CREW CHIEF UNDER THE MOST PRESSURE: STEVE ADDINGTON
TONY STEWART is one of NASCAR's most talented—and quick-tempered—drivers. Those are qualities that the patient Addington, who worked with the irascible Kurt Busch for two seasons before joining Stewart in late November, knows well. But Addington won't have long to prove himself; after all, he's replacing Darian Grubb, who won the title with Stewart and still got fired.
MOST MISUNDERSTOOD NICKNAME: TONY (SMOKE) STEWART
WHEN STEWART was in his early 20s competing in USAC races, other drivers called him Smoke because he had a bad habit of smoking his right-rear tire through the corners. The condescending nickname took on a different connotation when he reached the IndyCar Series in 1996 and competitors told reporters that Stewart was "smoking fast." All that matters now is that Smoke has three Cup championships.
DRIVER PRIMED FOR A COMEBACK: JIMMIE JOHNSON
LAST SEASON he had career lows in wins (two) and poles (zero). While some drivers would be content to take one or two checkered flags a year, Johnson—who averaged seven wins over the previous five seasons—isn't. Expect the 36-year-old Johnson to come out of the starting gate fast in 2012 and to win a half-dozen races, five poles and his sixth career Cup championship.