I'm all for the small market teams, and in this case, small-time NASCAR teams. If I had it my way, NASCAR would be capped at three cars per operation instead of the current four (as of 2010), and two would be strongly suggested.
With that said, NASCAR's 61st season is about to begin next month with the 51st running of the Daytona 500, and I think this season has the chance to be much more competitive than in years past because of the great equalizer: the economy and all the merging that has been going on as a result.
Sprint Cup Champ: Jimmie Johnson again
Nationwide Champ: Kyle Busch
Truck: Who cares, this is a dying circuit
Dave Ragan-Rousch Fenway
Jeff Gordon-HMS (Martin could take him out of the Chase if he gets hot due to good qualifying, being in competitive equipment/team again)
Clint Bowyer-RCR (he's the odd man out of Labonte gets hot as I expect)
Kasey Kahne-Richard Petty Racing
Raybestos Rookie of the Year:Scott Speed TRB
Wins for Jr. ZERO
Wins for Stewart-Haas Racing ZERO (but a top 10-15 every now and then)
Wins for Jeff Gordon ZERO (again)
Wins for Joey Logano ZERO in a very publicized/trying year
Comeback driver of the year Kevin Harvick (3 wins)
Wins for Kyle Busch 6
1st career win for Ragan
UPDATED: With Labonte now at Yates, he will win @ least one race and just miss out on the Chase. I really want to put him in, but I just can't.
That may change if he wins the Daytona 500, as Yates cars always qualify well there. Labonte could be this year's Kyle Busch in terms of impact with his new team. Richard Petty Racing will get back in victory lane thanks to Kahne.
Top 3 NASCAR stories:
1. ECONOMY and its direct impact on NASCAR: lower attendance, lack of sponsorship, inability to fill out the field (43 drivers) some weeks
2. Stewart-Haas and its early struggles but late(r) season "success," i.e. finishing top 10-15 every now and then, maybe a Stewart feud with Gibbs Racing or HMS every now and then?
3. Joey Logano: early season pimp the hell out of him until they find out he's over matched and the next Atwood (I hope)
Other BOLD predictions:
[*]Robby Gordon Racing, citing lack of sponsorship, folds
[*]Furniture Row Racing, citing lack of sponsorship, folds
[*]Penske either merges with someone or folds and he goes back to IRL full time, leaving their drivers in limbo (Kurt Busch leaves and joins 4th team with Gibbs for 2010)
[*]Tracks such as M'Ville publicly talk about having to reduce ticket prices in order to sell out or risk losing a race since "its not viable or practical to run a race weekend with only 35,000 fans at a Cup race."
[*]Talk of reducing the schedule to 30 race weekends if the economy doesn't turn around. This would mean M'Ville loses a race along with ATL, Phoenix, Fontana, Michigan, and Pocono (all tracks have 2 dates)
[*]Top 35 rule gets "retired" since some weeks it will be difficult to find enough rides to need the rule with the economy being so bad
[*]One-fourth of the cars out in the field run with no or partial sponsorship for the whole season. When they do run with sponsors, it is a Travis Kvapil-type situation, where each week a local merchant sponsors a given car for a week
[*]MWR wins a race/most improved teams:
Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing and MWR, who are surprisingly competitive each week (kind of the Gibbs of 2008 where once they switched to Toyota they caught fire and won. This could be the same minus the winning, as MWR is basically a subsidiary of Gibbs, just ran stupider)
[*]If Martin ran a full year, he'd be in the Chase, as it is now I expect him to just miss the cut due to those 7 races going to Keselowski.
Here is how I see it
Reed Sorensen-is he really raw or was it just crappy equipment?)
I think we are gonna see more than just Carl/Jimmie/Kyle alternating wins as once thought. I agree things are gonna get closer than they have in years due to:
1. No testing @ NASCAR tracks=more level playing field
2. Merging = stronger teams (i.e.., RPM, Yates, E-GR)
I could see the following all pick up at least one win on the season and it wouldn't surprise me.
Do I still expect Johnson to kick ass and win multiple races? Of course, but I also think races will be closer than in years past, and you'll see more teams in top 10s and better qualifying across the board. The economy is the equalizer we've all been waiting for. NASCAR got too big for its britches.
Gibbs: Kyle Busch/Hamlin/
Roush: Edwards/Biffle (later in the season=he starts out slow), McMurray, Ragan
HMS: Martin, Johnson, Gordon (but personally, I think he's on the decline)
RPM: Kahne, Allmendinger
MWR: Waltrip, Reutimann
This equals 20 different winners, which would be double the winners that won the 36 races from last year.
Yes, this means we can expect multiple victories from the usual suspects: Johnson, Edwards, and Kyle Busch, but I don't see anyone winning more than six races next year.