There seems to be a lot of speculation that NASCAR will have trouble fighting through these tough economic times. There also seem to be a lot of "sure things" to happen, but fans don't seem like they're expecting any change.
No one can deny that many companies are finding ways to cut budgets, including sponsorships. However, there is evidence of growth.
Jeremy Mayfield just qualified as an owner/driver for this year's Daytona 500. With all the good things though, there will be at least one race that either 1) only 43 cars show up to race and/or b) less than a full field show up.
This won't be an easy year for NASCAR by any means, but there will be opportunities for several people to get a foot in the door that otherwise wouldn't have.
As far as winning and the Chase for the Cup are concerned, I think that victory lane will be more diversified. I imagine that Tony Stewart will win multiple races and that Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Jeff Gordon will garner wins to break their respective droughts.
It may be early, but I don't think that necessarily means it's impossible to tell who's going to finish where. My stance has been to try to be different and take these things from a different perspective.
So, without further ado, here's how the Chase will finish:
- 24 Jeff Gordon will find victory again and finally get that elusive fifth championship. Johnson will have to move by the wayside; the wonderboy of yesterday is going to be back in a strong way with a bold new paint scheme.
- 29 Kevin Harvick has already started this year off strong by winning the Budweiser Shootout. Happy's key to victory and a strong points finish is to extend his DNF-free streak while capturing more wins.
- 33 Clint Bowyer: This may be a 'bold' prediction considering one-third of the media professionals in NASCAR SCENE's Feb. 5 issue said Bowyer and his new team will miss the Chase. I'd like to nominate Bowyer as one of the most underrated drivers in the sport. A crew chief change may be what he needed to be able to truly contend weekly.
- 48 Jimmie Johnson: Everyone is going to put a target on this team's TV Panel. A record-tying three championships in a row is one thing, but this Hendrick team won't be able to cement a record with four in a row this year.
- 6 David Ragan: Although he ran into trouble in the Bud Shootout, this team really turned the power up at the end of the '08 season. Look for Ragan to grab his first win and be in contention at several tracks in 2009.
- 5 Mark Martin: He is the greatest driver to never win a championship; unfortunately for Martin, I don't see him losing that title. Martin will most likely elude retirement after a roller-coaster season and give it one more "one last shot."
- 99 Carl Edwards: Although he was strong last year and seems to be the favorite this year, I just don't see Edwards winning the Chase. He's racing full-time in the Nationwide Series again, and if he could step away from that, I think he'd be a serious threat.
- 14 Tony Stewart: There is a reason that "Smoke" left a long partnership with the Gibbs team. This Stewart-Haas team will win at least three races in 2009 and be a title contender until the waning weeks.
- 16 Greg Biffle: Although I believe the 3M team is a Championship caliber team, I think Biffle will be on the downside of what has seemed to be a roller-coaster Sprint Cup career.
- 18 Kyle Busch: He's a strong and smart driver. I hate to admit it, but there is so much talent flowing out of this guy, he'll be contending for wins for a time to come. Again though, I don't think he can match the success he had last year.
- 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Popular is one thing 'Junior' is, however, so is "overrated." He's a strong driver but still won't be contending for a championship until he breaks family ties and gets a different crew chief. Sorry, "Junior Nation."
- 31 Jeff Burton: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency. Unfortunately a lack of wins may keep the Caterpillar Chevy team from being true title contenders this year. He'll make the Chase but probably won't be a strong contender.
- 83 Brian Vickers: No, Vickers probably isn't the driver you expected to see here, but he's been quietly making progress with the Red Bull Racing team. Next season, he may be able to contend for the title. Look for the youngest Nationwide Champion to mark down at least one "W" this season.
Age seems to be a popular issue this year with Mark Martin, 50, and Joey Logano, 18, both being expected to make a lot of noise. However, Logano will struggle as he gets acclimated to the high-pressure, high-stakes world that is the NASCAR Sprint cup.
Scott Speed will win Rookie honors. I don't think many are even considering someone else to be better than Logano, but Speed seems to be very promising, where Logano got off to a rocky start last season.