|12/03/15||The Champion By NHMS Numbers|
|11/20/15||The Championship Four Preview|
|11/13/15||Phoenix: Three To Watch|
|10/30/15||Martinsville: Three To Watch|
|10/18/15||Kansas: Three To Watch|
|10/05/15||Charlotte: Three To Watch|
14 Predictions for 2014
We're in the silly season of NASCAR. You know? When there's really nothing going on, so we all just kind of throw some ideas at the wall and see what sticks?
In the interest of turning over the calendar and looking ahead to 2014, let's see what predictions we can find sticking or sliding down the wall today. Here are 14 predictions for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season (in some instances, the numbers even line up):
1. Jimmie Johnson wins his seventh Cup championship.
Ok, we're starting easy on this one. He won last year, and he's won six of the last eight titles. This branch seems pretty sturdy.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins one race.
Last year was arguably one of his best seasons as a driver, although he was statistically down to a 12.6 average finish from a 10.9 in 2012. He's really reinvented himself as a strong points racer, and now that he's developed the consistency, it's time to go for the wins. I think he gets one, and only one, this season. I'll even go ahead and say that it's at Martinsville this spring. (What the heck, right!? These are just ideas getting tossed out there.)
3. The No. 3 makes a long-awaited return to victory lane.
Austin Dillon won the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series without winning a race, so this prediction isn't much of a lock. But, the older grandson of Richard Childress can certainly drive, and it's an understatement to say that the team owner has an interest in providing him with the best equipment. I don't think he'll dominate any race, but it's not far fetched to think he can't find his way to the front for a win via fuel milage or pit strategy. For the sake of prediction, let me guess that the win is at Atlanta.
4. Kyle Busch will lead the series with five regular season wins.
From a points racing standpoint, Busch really had one of his best, most consistent seasons in 2013. That translated to a career-high finish of fourth place. However, the wins alluded him when he needed big points days in the Chase. That's the next step in the development of someone that will be remembered as one of NASCAR's better drivers of all-time, and I'll tack on two Chase wins to his five in the regular season.
5. Kasey Kahne misses the Chase.
I was all about Kahne in 2013 and predicted he'd win the championship. Unfortunately, despite several good races, he was never relevant in the points and that's bothersome as there's no consistency. He finished just one point ahead of Carl Edwards to avoid being the only driver in the history of the sport to finish 13th in what usually is a 12-car Chase.
6. Mark Martin starts six races in 2014.
He doesn't have a ride, nor does he have plans to race in 2014, but he refuses to acknowledge himself as "retired." Somewhere, Brett Favre is filming another Levi's commercial.
7. Kurt Busch spends seven weeks as the points leader.
What he did with the underfunded, single-car No. 78 team in 2013 was remarkable. What he might do with the fully-funded, four-car team from Stewart-Haas Racing is scary.
8. Chevrolet runs away with the Manufacturer's Championship.
With Michael Waltrip Racing down a car after the departure of Martin Truex Jr., there's less chance for Toyota to compete with Chevrolet from a sheer numbers standpoint. Then, you take Ford's miserable 2013, and question how much improvement it will make in the second year of the Gen-6 car ... this looks like it could be a big margin of victory for the predominant manufacturer: Chevrolet.
9. Kyle Larson finishes with more points in 2014 than Juan Pablo Montoya did in 2013.
This is probably a coin flip, to be honest, as both drivers were in the No. 42. Larson will ascend to more heights in stock car racing than Montoya, that's not up for debate, but how quickly will the rookie come along? He seems to be a natural and should surpass Montoya's 894 points from last season, albeit not by much.
10. Danica Patrick leads more laps than she did in 2013.
She only led five in 2013, and none in the last 35 races of the season (which means that all five were in the Daytona 500). J.J. Yeley led nine, David Gilliland led eight and Bobby Labonte led seven. While she's still very much in the developmental stages, I think her chances of leading more than five are greater than those for leading five or less.
11. Denny Hamlin will record only two DNFs.
After a mind-boggling eight DNFs in 2013, Hamlin is due for some good luck. He recorded just two DNFs in both 2011 and 2012, and this is a feat that he's capable of accomplishing again.
12. The streak of 12 unique race winners at NHMS comes to an end.
Since SMI bought the track in 2008, the last 12 Sprint Cup races at the Magic Mile have been won by Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth. You need to go back to 2007 to find Clint Bowyer as the last duplicate winner. That's the longest active streak in NASCAR, but two of those 12 will win at NHMS in 2014: Jimmie Johnson in July and Clint Bowyer in September.
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. makes the Chase.
In his first year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2010, Stenhouse finished 16th in points. He went on to win back-to-back titles in 2011 and '12. That led to his promotion for 2013, where he went 25 races without a single top-10. He closed with three in his last 11. It seems to take Stenhouse about a year to figure out a racing series, but once he does, he's very capable. His sophomore season should be a much improved year from his 19th-place finish, as he'll finish ninth in points during the regular season and 11th in the Chase.
14. Tony Stewart is a non-factor for the 2014 Sprint Cup.
He seems to be pretty feast or famine. In truth, aside from his ridiculous five wins in 10 Chase races en route to the 2011 Sprint Cup, he's struggled more than expected over the past few seasons. He's one of the most talented drivers in the sport, but I'd be surprised if he was one of the top contenders this coming season. Assuming he's healthy enough to race the season, he'll finish eighth in the regular season and sixth in the Chase.
There you have it. Some of these predictions might be a little to specific in number to become completely true, but it's the silly season. It's time to share some thoughts on what's to come in 2014. Please feel free to share you own predictions as well.