Take It To The Bank: My Top 10 Predictions for the 2010 Season
With a month left before the cars hit the track in Daytona Beach for the start of the 2010 season, everyone has begun to whisper about the upcoming season.
From who to watch, who will win, and who will stand supreme and take home the championship, everyone wants to be the one to say, "I called it."
As 2009 continues to get further in the rear-view mirror and the New Year is fresh upon us, it's time for the focus and attention to shift.
Instead of reflecting, it's time to look forward. Here are the top 10 predictions for 2010 that many might not have considered.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Will Make the Chase
Simple reason: It’s an even-numbered year.
After struggling in 2009 and making a crew chief change midyear, the No. 88 team seemed to hit on things in small strides.
While they never had the finishes that would indicate they had made improvements, the team headed into the offseason with confidence.
Earnhardt Jr. said after Homestead that he wished the year wasn’t over, as he wanted to keep racing and continue to learn things for next year.
But once the offseason came, changes began to be made in the shop, including the shock and personnel areas. It’s also said that Earnhardt Jr. now has teammate Mark Martin’s engineer.
On Monday, crew chief Lance McGrew said he was more than optimistic about the No. 88 team's chances next year and that the shop is stronger than ever.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No.88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet will be back in form in 2010.
9. Brad Keselowski Won't Carry Over Nationwide Success
Voted as one NASCAR.com writer's Nationwide Series driver of the year, and one of the few Nationwide regulars that could hang with the Sprint Cup Series guys on any given weekend, Keselowski gets his chance in the Sprint Cup Series full time in 2010.
The last two seasons he spent competing for a championship with JR Motorsports and seemed to be the heir apparent to Mark Martin’s No.5 machine.
But after winning the Spring Talladega race and Martin announcing he wanted to return in 2010, Keselowski demanded a cup ride...and got one.
Yes, he did win Talladega, but in an article that I published shortly after his victory, Keselowski may have gotten too big an ego because of it.
Simply put: Anyone can win Talladega, just as he did.
But Roger Penske hired him to replace David Stremme in the No. 12 and he'll take the wheel full-time starting in February. He ran the final three races of the 2009 season with the team, having a best finish of 25th at Homestead.
While Keselowski has found his place in the Nationwide Series and is a championship contender, right now there is nothing to show that he’ll be able to back that up in the Cup Series.
It also doesn't help that the car he's driving hasn't had success lately, not even when Ryan Newman was behind the wheel in 2008. It only earned one victory, the Daytona 500, and failed to make the Chase.
Keselowski's car seems to be the odd one out at Penske, like the 88 car was at Hendrick.
The No. 12 machine will continue to be a 15th- to 30th-place car even though Keselowski is now behind the wheel.
8. Richard Childress Racing Will Rebound, Led by Burton and Harvick
After none of his four cars made the 2009 Chase for the Championship for the first time, Richard Childress will be working hard during the offseason to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
They started 2009 on a promising note, as both Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton sat in the top ten in points and contending for wins. Then things went downhill.
Not one of them made it to victory lane and Childress began swapping crews and everything else he felt necessary.
Toward the end of the year, drivers Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick seem to hit on things and suddenly became contenders for wins instead of struggling so badly.
In their press conferences after the season finale in Homestead, both Burton and Harvick believed the entire organization was making a breakthrough and building better race cars.
It was a long way from the arguing and tempers many heard over the radio coming from Harvick.
If any of the RCR cars will break through to victory lane in 2010 and make the Chase, look for the team leaders of Burton and Harvick to be the two to do it.
Richard Childress will settle for nothing less than the best and he’ll do whatever it takes to get his cars running the way they should.
7. The Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin Feud Will Continue
At least in the Nationwide Series, it will.
These two drivers are very talented, very self-confident and don’t back down, which is the reason they’ve had so many on-track incidents.
While it has never seemed to affect them on Sundays, they’ll both be back in the Nationwide Series this season.
When that happens, expect more fireworks and words exchanged between the two. It’s clear they don’t like each other, whether they say they’re fine and over it or not, they'll continue to lean on each other and not play nice.
The fans want a rivalry, the media wants a rivalry, and NASCAR needs it.
A rivalry that isn’t just forced because people want one, but because there truly is hatred between two drivers. Hamlin and Keselowski are providing the perfect one.
Since neither one of them is bound to change their personality and since they’ll both be at the front when they climb aboard a Nationwide car, they’ll find each other and provide more highlights for the fans.
6. The Kurt Busch and Steve Addington Pairing Won't Last
In a year and a half, Steve Addington led Kyle Busch to 12 wins in the Sprint Cup Series.
Pretty impressive for any team, however, after they failed to make the 2009 Chase, he was let go as crew chief and began searching for a new job.
Kyle’s older brother, Kurt, snatched him up and in 2010, Addington will be atop the No. 2 Miller Lite pit box.
Addington is going from one feisty Busch brother to the other and since it seemed that most of the time he was never able to keep Kyle under wraps, why he would be able to do it with Kurt is beyond me.
Kurt can be just as fiery on the radio and throw out insults like his brother when things go wrong. Addington is very mellow and laid back and never seemed to get caught up in the moment.
If that happens with Kurt, the two just won’t mesh in the bad times, Kurt will get worked up while Addington will stay calm and methodical.
Addington needs to take on the role of Pat Tryson, former crew chief for Kurt, and make sure he can get in his face and settle him down, but if that doesn't happen, it would be surprising if Addington was the crew chief of the No. 2 car going into 2011.
5. Joey Logano Will Win a Restrictor Plate Race
No, it’s not a typo.
Even though he only won one race in 2009, coming from a fuel mileage gamble in New Hampshire, the kid was impressive on the plate tracks.
While he finished 43rd and wrecked himself in the Daytona 500, after that he was nearly perfect in the other three plate races. He didn’t cause any wrecks and avoided them as well.
He learned the art of drafting and impressed many with the moves he was making, including a three-wide situation during the July race at Daytona that he made work.
His finishes at the plate tracks in 2009 were: ninth at Talladega in April, 19th at Daytona in July, and then led laps and finished third at Talladega in the fall.
In the three Nationwide races he finished 20th at Daytona, pushed David Ragan to the win in the April Talladega race to finish third, and then finished fourth in the July Daytona event.
He seems to easily have taken to the big tracks and most of the winners come from being in the right place at the right time and Logano has shown he can do that.
Don’t be surprised if he’s in the thick of things in 2010 and it'll start with his first Budweiser Shootout in early February.
4. Mark Martin Won't Back Up 2009 Performance
One of the biggest stories of 2009 besides Jimmie Johnson winning four straight championships was the resurgence of Mark Martin.
Martin won seven poles, five races, and led the point standings before finishing second to teammate Johnson. He’ll be back in 2010 for another full season of competition.
When that happens it seems unlikely that he’ll back up the numbers he had last season.
For one, the focus won’t be on him as much as it was in 2009 for what was supposed to be his last shot to win the title. Instead, everyone will go back to watching Johnson try to make history again.
Second, Martin has never been able to back up a performance or improve on it. Just looking back over the past few years, 2005 to 2007, Martin’s numbers went down in every category one year to the next.
Oh, he'll also have to deal with that guy named Johnson again.
If the No. 5 team were able to duplicate or improve on their 2009 success, it would be surprising. They should be a top ten team, but the instant success they enjoyed in 2009 doesn’t seem likely to come back.
Every year at least one Hendrick Motorsports car seems to find trouble, unfortunately after being great last season, look for that car to be Martin's.
3. Tony Stewart Will Back Up 2009 Performance, While Ryan Newman Won't
Fresh out of the box in 2009 with a new team, Stewart-Haas Racing, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman both qualified for the Chase.
While Stewart had much better success than Newman, winning races and leading the points, Newman always seemed to be able to stick around and make something of the day.
That won’t happen in 2010.
Stewart should have no problem backing up his 2009 success; he rarely has a bad year. He’ll no doubt be back winning races and contending for the championship, most likely better than he did in the 2009 Chase.
Newman however, needs to pick up his performance but he seems to be another driver that flip flops between having good and bad years. This past year will be considered a good year since he made the Chase.
But since 2003, when he won eight races, he can't seem to find the consistency from one year to the next.
He hasn’t won a race since February 2008 and even though he was in good positions during portions of 2009, things always kept him from sealing the deal.
Newman has the pressure of seeing what Stewart is capable of and now he needs to go out and get it done, which I don't expect to happen.
2. Juan Pablo Montoya Will Win at an Oval Track But Won't Make Chase
Juan Pablo Montoya now knows what he and his team are capable of and he’ll be out for more blood in 2010.
He’s come so close to capturing his second career win, and first on an oval track, on many occasions.
He dominated both the Brickyard 400 and the fall New Hampshire before they slipped through his fingers.
Look for bigger things in terms of wins in 2010, however while he’ll win a race, I don’t see him making the Chase. It was almost too good to be true in 2009 and with the way things at EGR go, can they back it up next year?
Jamie McMurray will be joining the company and many don’t expect anything more from him than they've already seen, but Montoya made his presence known in a big way, sitting third in points at one time.
The problem is, Montoya wants to win, not points race which he did last year. In 2010 he'll grow tired of that and instead of sticking it out in the spot he's running in, he's going to go for it.
But after proving he was a contender and could rub fenders with the best of them, don’t count on Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing, or Roush-Fenway Racing cars to miss the Chase again, leaving Montoya on the outside looking in.
No.1: Jimmie Johnson Will Win His Fifth Straight Championship
This will most likely be on many people’s predictions list, but the fact is, the guy is unstoppable. And even with a new baby on the way, would that really slow him down anyway?
He simply doesn’t make mistakes and no driver has shown they can step up and flat out beat the No.48 team in the Chase.
Johnson will use the first 26 races of 2010 as a test session, like he’s done in years past. He’ll also win a few races and hang around the top five in points, like in years past. Then when the Chase gets started, he’ll show why he’s the king of NASCAR in this era.
However, he will have competition from Denny Hamlin and a few others and they won't make it easy for him.
But once again, no team plays the Chase like the Lowe’s team and as long as Chad Knaus is on the box, Johnson’s in the car, and they get their equipment from Hendrick Motorsports, they will be the champions.
After all, it’s not likely they’ll have 10 bad races.
Bonus: The Daytona 500 Will Have Another Surprise Winner
It has become a trend over the past few seasons.
After Jeff Gordon won his third Daytona 500 in 2005, there have been all new faces in victory lane: Jimmie Johnson in 2006, Kevin Harvick in 2007, Ryan Newman in 2008, and Matt Kenseth in 2009.
Obviously, some have been more surprising than others.
The Daytona 500 used to be the race were the cream rose to the top, and it still is, they only do so for most part of the race before someone comes in and steals it. Like previously mentioned, restrictor plate races are for those that are in the right place at the right time.
Why would that change in 2010?
Don't count on it, there will be another fresh face in victory lane, who will get a much needed win and one that is bigger than any they’ve had before.