By Cary Estes
January 02, 2013
Brad Keselowski secured his 2012 Sprint Cup victory by finishing top ten in 17 of the last 20 races.
/Getty Images

As we officially put 2012 in the rearview mirror, let's take one final look at the NASCAR season that just was, and cast a quick glance at the season to come. Here are some of the key stats and figures that defined the season for each driver who made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2012 -- as well as for three others drivers -- and a prediction of whether they will head up or down the points ladder in 2013.

Brad Keselowski

17: Keselowski had a remarkable run of consistency during the second half of the season, posting top-10 finishes in 17 of the final 20 races.

Direction in 2013: Down. Keselowski will be a title contender in 2013, but it is unlikely that he will be able to repeat as champion

ANDERSON: Brad Keselowski surprised no one by winning his first Sprint Cup

Clint Bowyer

2: If it seems like Bowyer came out of nowhere last year to finish second in the standings, that's because he kind of did. Bowyer led more than three laps in only two of the first 25 races before his performance improved considerably down the stretch.

Direction in 2013: Down. While Bowyer should make the Chase once again, it's hard to see him being in the top two of the final standings.

Jimmie Johnson

32.5: Johnson had an average finish of 32.5 in the four restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega. If he could have managed an average finish of just 22nd in those four races, he would have picked up his sixth championship.

Direction in 2013: Up. Johnson, Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick remain the best driver/crew chief/team owner combination in the sport.

Kasey Kahne

4: Kahne had zero top-10s and was 31st in the standings six races into the season. The fact that he rallied to finish fourth in the standings is evidence of his talent and potential.

Direction in 2013: Up. The 32-year-old Kahne is poised to become a regular title contender for the next several years.

Greg Biffle

14: Biffle held the points lead for a total of 14 weeks and was in the top three of the standings for 24 weeks. Three races into the Chase he was in 11th place.

Direction in 2013: Down. Biffle jumped from 16th in the standings in 2011 to fifth last year. He hasn't moved up in the standings in consecutive years since 2004-05.

Denny Hamlin

3: It was hit or miss down the stretch for Hamlin. Over the final 13 races he had three victories and two runner-up showings, but he also had seven finishes outside the top-10.

Direction in 2013: Up. Take away his mediocre 2011 season, and Hamlin has been the best driver not named Jimmie Johnson over the past four years.

Matt Kenseth

2: Kenseth was just as erratic as Hamlin during the 10-race Chase, posting two victories but finishing outside the top-10 seven times.

Direction in 2013: Down. Don't be surprised if Kenseth struggles early in the season as he makes the transition to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Kevin Harvick

14: Harvick had a 14-race stretch during the second half of the season in which he managed only two top-10s and one top-five finish.

Direction in 2013: Down. As a full-season lame duck with Richard Childress Racing before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, Harvick might not even make the Chase.

Tony Stewart

15.1: After picking up his third victory of the year at the July Daytona race, Stewart had an average finish of 15.1 the rest of the season.

Direction in 2013: Up. Stewart's ninth-place finish in the standings was the second-worst of his career. Look for him to bounce back in 2013.

TUTTLE: Tony Stewart hunting for right mix after letdown in 2012

Jeff Gordon

15: Gordon did not crack the top-15 of the point standings until the 20th race of the season, and did not make the top-12 until the final race before the Chase.

Direction in 2013: Up. The 41-year-old Gordon probably has only a few more championship runs in him, but for now he remains a legitimate contender.

Martin Truex Jr.

0: Even though Truex made the Chase, he also extended his winless streak to 203 races dating to the 2007 season.

Direction in 2013: Down. Somebody from the 2012 Chase is going to have to get bumped to make room for Kyle Busch and possibly Carl Edwards in 2013, and Truex figures to be the leading candidate.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

10: Earnhardt had 10 top-five finishes in the first 23 races of the season, but did not post another top-five after suffering concussion symptoms in a test-session crash on Aug. 29.

Direction in 2013: Up. Unless there are any lingering effects from the concussion, Earnhardt should make the Chase again and continue his career revival.

Kyle Busch

1,436: Busch led 1,436 laps yet won only one race. On 12 occasions he led more than 40 laps in a race without winning.

Direction in 2013: Up. Maybe way up. Busch is simply too talented to not be a championship contender. Look for him to make the Chase and possibly crack the top-five of the final standings.

Ryan Newman

17: Newman was poised to make the Chase with three races left in the regular season before accidents in back-to-back races dropped him to 17th in the standings.

Direction in 2013: Down. Even though he wins a race nearly every season, Newman has finished better than 10th in the standings only once in the past seven years.

Carl Edwards

3: After posting 19 top-five finishes in 2011, Edwards had only three in 2012, and just one over the final 31 races of the season.

Direction in 2013: Up. The 2012 season was a mess for Edwards in a variety of ways. Unless he is completely done as a top-level Sprint Cup driver -- which seems doubtful -- things should improve for him in 2013.

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