This weeks mission was to predict who might reign supreme at the close of the 2008 Sprint for the Cup. Being an avid, hardly ever biased fan of the sport, I chose to accept this challenge and put forth my predictions for November.
13th – David Ragan – Ragan will serve notice to the field over the last 10, a warning for what’s coming next year. I think Ragan will be thrust to star status at Roush, finally representing Georgia for the driving talent. Ragan steals 1 win from the grasp of the Chase contenders in the 2008 Chase.
12th – Clint Bowyer – History will again shine as the bubble going in will hold the bubble going out. Clint won once during the regular season, but I think he will be struck by 3-4 sub 30th place finishes during the Chase, rendering him 12that the end.
11th – Matt Kenseth – Matt’s new crew chief has still not found his true footing, and this will be his first Chase. In addition, Matt hasn’t run as well and consistent as we are used to seeing him run. His eleventh place finish will propel him to greener pastures next year, but this year will end just ahead of Bowyer, without a win.
10th – Tony Stewart – Tony will win this year. I don’t know when, but I just think he will within the first 5 races of the Chase. But combined with a few other less than stellar finishes during the last 8, his time in the 20 car will come to an end 1 or 2 races early. I think he will be looking to step out of the 20 car and into the 14 car to work with Grubb at Homestead and get a head start on next year, but not before he figures out he can no longer win the cup. Also, if you heard Zippy crawling his ass after the race last week, you can hear things might be a little tense at JGR with Tony.
9th – Jeff Gordon – Gordon just hasn’t run as well this year. He should already have that 5th cup, and would if not for the Chase format, which has never agreed with him. 2008 will be the first year in a while where didn’t win a race, but I don’t see him winning. DuPont signed on for two more years, and Jeff has a baby and wife at home now. I think he will start talking retirement for 2010. Too bad, I had just started warming up to him. I look for him to get a new crew chief soon. Letarte is in over his head.
8th – Denny Hamlin – After a regular season with one win, Denny will follow up with one more win in the Chase, but he will have a couple of bad weeks, which will prove to be insurmountable in this years Chase.
7th – Greg Biffle – The Biff will finally show some real signs of life for the Chase. I think he will win at Homestead, but just like Hamlin, will be struck by a couple of bad weeks, which will take him out of the hunt. Next year there will be some shakeups at Roush and will net the Biff a stronger run at the cup next year.
6th – Jeff Burton – Jeff will continue his consistency, only consistently 12-15th. He will have one bad week where he finishes in the 40’s, and it will mire him behind the top 5. I don’t think he will win anymore this year, but he will run strong in through the middle part of a few races. I don’t know about next year, seeing another Burton in a Caterpillar car will be fun.
5th – Jimmie Johnson – Now I said I was almost never biased… just remember the almost part. Jimmie enters strong, winning one of the first two chase races, following it up with another win later in the chase. But the magic he and Knaus have found the last two years is absent this year. He has one big mulligan which breaks his momentum and mires him to fifth place in the chase.
4th - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Jr. continues his normal results from this year. He fails to win another race this year, but he makes it without a mulligan. He finds himself in the wall for one of the races, hopefully off of the bumper of someone else besides Kyle Busch. Despite the contact, he rebounds to finish top 20. The Jr. fans will cry, then call everyone else crybabies. His average finish for the chase ends up around 12th, which is good enough to get him 4th.
3rd - Carl Edwards – Cousin Carl performs strong in the Chase, winning 2 more races for the year. A couple of weeks cause him problems, nothing major but around 20th place, leaving him too far out to go for the cup. He reaffirms his place as Roush’s top driver for the time being.
2nd – Kevin Harvick – Happy Harvick shows out for the Chase. He remains a top 10 contender for the first half of the chase, when something clicks. He makes a run for the Cup, winning twice in the final half of the chase. Despite his late run, he falls just short of the eventual Champion.
Champion – Kyle Busch – Kyle comes out at New Hampshire this week and will struggle for the early portion or the race, but will rebound to finish top 15. That will be Kyle Busch’s version of a mulligan for this post season. He returns to early 2008 form for the remainder of the Chase, winning once per 3 races, or 3 times total for the chase. The other 2/3 of the time he pulls off a string of runs that would make the Jimmie Johnson of 2007 blush with envy. I expect his average finish to fall somewhere near 5th.
Kyle Busch probably won’t find the same success next year, but this year is his! I think next year will be the return of Childress to the Cup Championship. Kevin Harvick is waiting to bust out. Bowyer will be vengeful from an inadequate chase this year. Burton is a perennial contender, I would love to see him get a cup.
This set of predictions doesn’t account for drivers outside of the chase winning. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brian Vickers win one.
Other explanations: Tony jumps JGR ship early, but he isn’t alone in it. Sorenson makes the first move, jumping to the 10 car before the end of the season. That sets the domino’s to falling… Newman jumps on to Haas, meaning Stremme jumps to the 12 car. Logano jumps into the 20 early, freeing up the 96 for Scott Riggs from Haas. Mark Martin gets freed up from the 8 car and forces Mears out of the 5, and Childress manages to get Mears in a 33 car for a race at the end.
Also… I don’t know if you noticed it, but Dodge pulled support from numerous Truck Series teams earlier this week. With all of the manufacturers suffering, Dodge especially, I foresee more of the same. Dodge might make it another year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they cut back support for the rest of NASCAR within the next year. What does that have to do with the price of eggs in China? Nothing. But for NASCAR it means Dodge falls back out leaving the real big three automakers to compete. Evernham probably goes to Chevrolet, forms development programs with Hendricks and Stewart-Haas, and drastically improves performance. Penske and Ganassi go to Toyota, and drastically improve their performance. Petty goes to Ford, where they have a program with Roush and Yates, drastically improving their performance. In 2 or 3 years nobody remembers Dodge ever came back.
But, within the next 10 years we will hear rumblings of NASCAR buying a automobile manufacturer. They will start producing their own cars with their own engines. Eventually all cars in NASCAR will be like IROC cars used to be… identical expect for the color and driver name.
I love this soapbox!
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