New Year's Resolutions for the Top Stars in NASCAR
What’s a new year without resolutions?
Many of us make annual vows to ourselves, most typically for self-improvement.
Among the more popular resolutions, we vow to lose weight, stop smoking, quit drinking, treat others better and so forth.
As we begin 2016, here are some fun New Year’s resolutions for some of the top drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Of course, everyone wants to win the championship, so that’s a given for most resolutions.
But there are other resolutions that are important, as well.
Let’s check them out.
Tony Stewart: Win His First Race Since 2013
It’s been a rough three years for Tony Stewart. He hasn’t won a race since 2013 and hasn’t made the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
And now he’s retiring at the end of 2016.
Sure, we’d love to see Smoke go out and earn a fourth career Sprint Cup championship, but let’s be a bit more realistic.
Our resolution for the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet is simple: Win a race in 2016 and qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Everything after that will be gravy.
Kyle Larson: Get That Elusive First Win
Kyle Larson won Sunoco Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors in 2014, only to suffer through NASCAR’s notorious sophomore jinx in 2015.
Through it all, his loyal fans have waited for Larson to finally earn his first Sprint Cup win—and they’re still waiting.
Much like Tony Stewart, our resolution for Larson in 2016 is to finally get that first win and make the Chase.
Jack Roush: A Resurgence for Roush Fenway Racing
It’s been a rough last couple of years for team owner Jack Roush, particularly 2015, when all three of his drivers finished 20th or worse, including missing the Chase and failing to visit Victory Lane even once.
Roush has talented drivers in Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. But for whatever reason, their talent is not being matched by the RFR equipment.
Our resolution for the Roush camp in 2016 is for at least two of the three Cup drivers to win a race and make the Chase.
If Roush is forced to endure another terrible season, then don’t be surprised if he does a complete housecleaning for 2017.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: What Else Is There but a Championship?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is arguably in the best place he’s ever been in life.
He’s with a great organization, will get married after the 2016 season, is developing as strong a relationship with crew chief Greg Ives that he had with Steve Letarte and is probably performing at the highest and most consistent level he has in his career.
All that’s missing is that elusive first Sprint Cup championship. Could 2016 finally be Junior’s year to earn that title?
We know quite a few long-suffering Junior fans who are still hoping it is.
Chase Elliott: A Strong Rookie Season
Chase Elliott is not a man to be envied. Not only is he the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, he’s also replacing a legend (Jeff Gordon) in an iconic car (No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) in the Sprint Cup Series in 2016.
Elliott will be one of four drivers competing for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. The others will be 2015 Xfinity Series champion Chris Buescher, Brian Scott and Ryan Blaney.
The biggest thing for Elliott—and for the other three key rookies—is not to let pressure or high expectations get to him (or them).
While I’m sure many want to see him become an immediate success and pick up where Gordon left off, the reality is Elliott likely will struggle more than succeed early on in the season.
He’ll likely progress and live up to his immense talent and, right now, is my odds-on favorite to win ROY honors.
Jimmie Johnson: Time for No. 7
If history is any indication, Jimmie Johnson will win his seventh Sprint Cup championship in 2016.
If he does that, he’ll tie NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most championships by a driver (seven).
Here’s where history comes into play for Johnson: He came close in the first two years of the Chase in 2004 and 2005, but fell short.
He then went on to win five championships in a row from 2006 through 2010.
Johnson then came up short again for two consecutive seasons in 2011 and 2012, only to rally back and win his sixth title in 2013.
He fell short in 2014 and 2015 (including failing to advance past the first round of the Chase).
Do you see the two-year trend here? It’s time for JJ to win again, plain and simple.
Martin Truex Jr.: Second Verse, Same as the First
Martin Truex Jr. was one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises in 2015, reaching the Championship 4 round.
In so doing, he made NASCAR history by advancing the furthest in the 12-year annals of the Chase by a driver of a single-car team.
Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn make a great combination, and I can very easily see them advancing to the championship round again in 2016.
And with an extra twist or turn in the season finale, I would not be surprised to see the driver of the No. 78 earn the championship.
Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth: Peace on Earth
While my sense is there is still a lot of anger and animosity simmering between Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth for their run-ins at Kansas and Martinsville during the 2015 Chase, I’d like to think otherwise.
I’d like to believe that they’ve forgiven and forgotten, kissed and made up and moved on.
Unfortunately, one thing NASCAR drivers never do is forget and, even worse, they never forgive. While this will be a rivalry that will be watched every week in 2016, don’t be surprised if another driver steps up to take Kenseth’s place as No. 1 on Logano’s hit list.
Call it a gut feeling. The question is who?
Kyle Busch: He Did It Before and He Can Do It Again
Kyle Busch went through one of the greatest comebacks in NASCAR history in 2015.
After suffering horrific injuries in a crash at Daytona, few people expected him to be back anytime soon. Yet three months later, he was back racing.
Then he became a father for the first time. And from there it was a Busch blur. He went on to win four races in the regular season, made the Chase—and then capped everything off with a win in the season finale and his first Sprint Cup championship.
With a full season ahead with little adversity in front of him (pending any unfortunate circumstance that may happen in 2016), can Busch become the first repeat champion under the new format and also the first repeat champ since Jimmie Johnson’s five straight titles from 2006 through 2010?
If anyone can, the younger Busch brother can.
Carl Edwards: Better Late Than Never
Carl Edwards tied for the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, the first driver in NASCAR history to do so—and then became the first driver to lose the championship on a tie-breaker to Tony Stewart.
It seems that what happened that season has dogged Edwards ever since. And it also seems that his performance in every season since has been measured against that great season and its ill-fated finish.
Edwards finished fifth in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015, an impressive debut as well as a promising sign of potential things to come.
Our resolution for Edwards: Finish what he started in 2011. It may be late, but like we said before, better late than never.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski