FINALLY!! The long... well kind of long... actually pretty short NASCAR off-season is coming to a close! The Sprint Unlimited was this weekend, which means the Daytona 500 is less than a week away! With all the excitement, there is only one thing left for me to do before the season gets rolling, PREDICTIONS! In this post, I will lay out a total of ten predictions for the Sprint Cup season. Of the ten predictions, five will be easy predictions which require very little risk. The remaining five will be BOLD predictions, that may or may not come true. As a reminder, just remember that all of these predictions are simply predictions. These do not represent how I feel about a driver or team, these are for entertainment! Lastly, make sure you tell me your predictions by commenting on the article or tweeting me at @nascar_opinion! Well lets get the crystal ball out and get to it!
First, I will cover my five EASY predictions for 2016!
1. Chase Elliott win's the 2016 Rookie of the Year Award.
Chase Elliott is one of the best talents to enter the Cup series over the last few years. The hype surrounding Elliott is huge going into his first Cup season, the 2014 Xfinity Series champion, has plenty of expectations to fulfill in 2016. With Hendrick power and raw talent, I believe Elliott is a shoe in to win the ROTY award. Don't get me wrong, Ryan Blaney will give Chase a run for his money, but with Hendrick backing Elliott 100% I see the 20-year-old Dawsonville, GA native capturing the elusive ROTY award. I wish the Wood Brothers Racing team best of luck, but they have to show me results before I believe they can outrun a top tier team. As for the other contenders, I don't believe their experience, past resume, or team can push them to a run for the award.
2. Busch does NOT win the 2016 championship.
Nothing against the 2015 champion, but Kyle Busch WILL NOT win the 2016 title. The current chase format makes it difficult for anyone to have success in back-to-back seasons. Kevin Harvick is the perfect example. Harvick led all drivers with 23 top-5's and tied Joey Logano with a series high 28 top-10's, and still managed to be on the outside looking in at Homestead. I expect Busch to defend his title well, but not enough to go back-to-back. Many fans will claim that Busch now has the momentum of winning his first to go and win another, but let's not rush to this conclusion. Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick have both shown that winning one title doesn't guarantee you another. Look for Busch to run well this season, but don't expect him to hoist the big trophy in 2016.
3. Roush-Fenway continues to struggle.
Roush-Fenway Racing has changed completely over the last few years. Back in the early to mid-2000's, Jack Roush was known for fielding some of the best cars and drivers in the series, but those times have past. Changes were made during the off-season including a partnership with fellow Ford team Front Row Racing, but I don't see RFR making much progress in 2016. Of course, I do think some progress will be made simply due to the lack of results last season, but not enough to notice. Between three full-time teams, RFR collected a total of 9 top-10's in 2015, so a solid season by just one of the three drivers (Greg Biffle, Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) could top last seasons results. Needless to say if Jack Roush doesn't figure something out this season, it may be time to make some serious changes.
4. RCR goes winless.
As much as I would love to see Paul Menard earn his second career Cup series win, this season, I don't picture Menard, Newman, or Austin Dillon in victory lane. The best bet would be to win at either Daytona or Talladega, but I won't get my hopes up there either. Fans will question this prediction considering two of the three teams made the Chase last season, but just remember RCR hasn't won a race since 2013 with Kevin Harvick. Although Menard and Newman managed to make a post-season appearance, neither came close to taking home a checkard flag last season. If either of the three drivers were to prove this prediction wrong, I would say Austin Dillon earns his first career win, but I need more consistency before I believe the #3 car can return to victory lane.
5. 'Power Couple' struggles together.
Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse became the first major romance story in NASCAR history, but both make more headlines off the track than on. Last season, the power couple had a combined total of 5 top-10's, which in the words of Shania Twain, "don't impress me much". Danica Patrick has continued to struggle with adjusting to stock car racing, and 2016 needs to be the year that she proves she is more than a marketing tool. Stenhouse has been one of the biggest question marks of the 2010's. After capturing back-to-back Xfinity (then Nationwide) championships in 2011 & 2012, he has become more known for his mullet than his performance. My prediction is that both drivers show some sort of progress, but continue to struggle together. Don't bet on either to step into victory lane or make a post-season run.
Now, on to the BOLD!
1. Harvick makes it to the title race, AGAIN!
Kevin Harvick was arguably the best driver in the Cup series in 2015. With 3 win's, 23 top-5's, and 28 top-10's, Harvick was a contender every single weekend. Ironically, Harvick's biggest story line of 2015 was his excessive amounts of second place finishes (13), which bit him in the end as he watched eventual champion, Kyle Busch, drive away from him in the closing laps at Homestead. Even with the success of the last two seasons, I still picture the #4 car in the battle for a championship come November. For this reason, I predict that Harvick will make it to the title race for the third year in a row. Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have figured this new system out, the only obstacle could be the new aero package. Even with the changes in 2016, I foresee Harvick taking home a win late in the Chase that provides the opportunity to compete for another championship at Homestead.
2. #78 team goes winless.
Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing earned the respect of fans and drivers last season. Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn showed the garage that a small team based out of Denver, Colorado, could make a run for a championship. So with all the praise, why do I think this team will go without finding victory lane in 2016, the answer is simple. For one, the #78 team started strong in 2015 but fell off midway through the season. In the Chase, Truex scored just 1 top-5, and was irrelevant in the championship race. Yes, the team made it to the championship round, but struggled to contend for wins the second half of the season. Second, Martin Truex Jr. is known for long losing streaks. Nothing against Truex, but Truex has only scored 3 wins in his 10 year career. As much as I like the #78 team, I don't expect a manufacturer change (Chevy to Toyota) to solve all of they're issues. This team may still make the Chase based on points, but I need more than one solid season before I label them a contender.
3. Chase Elliott or Kyle Larson score their first win in 2016.
The 2016 season has the potential to become a year known for new winners. Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, and many others are looking to score their elusive first career win the Sprint Cup Series. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are the two biggest names in this category, and I believe one or both of these drivers could score win number one this season. The reason this prediction is in the bold category is because predicting new winners is never easy. Remember back in 2014 when most fans assumed Kyle Larson would easily win two or three races? Well, now entering his third full-time season he is still looking to find victory lane for the first time in a Cup car. Considering both drivers, I think Larson is overdue for a win, and Elliott has a high-level of talent, so look for one or both to take home their first Cup trophy in 2016.
4. Ryan Blaney gets signed for 2017.
Ryan Blaney has become another young face in the garage. Set to attempt his first full-time season in 2016, Blaney will finally get the attention he deserves. Driving for the Wood Brothers in the famous #21 car will give Blaney the opportunity to prove he can make mid-level equipment run competitive. My prediction is that Blaney finds a new full-time ride in 2017. Blaney has already shown he has talent, now he just needs a few more results before bigger teams and sponsors are chomping at the bit. Look for Blaney to potentially sign with Penske next season. Roger Penske has shown interest in Blaney and has even worked out a deal to partner with the Wood Brothers in 2016. The biggest obstacle has been sponsorship, which has held Blaney back from being a teammate to Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. If Penske does not offer Blaney, look for Roush-Fenway or Furniture Row Racing to consider. RFR could be looking for a new driver in 2017, and Furniture Row Racing has openly stated they would love a second car by next year.
5. Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano part 3.
After thinking about what happened last season, I can't help but predict that Kenseth and Logano will have another dramatic episode like last season. At first, I thought that both drivers have probably moved on, but then I remembered that racecar drivers never forget. Don't be surprised if Logano were to turn Kenseth to win or vis versa. I expect both drivers to race each other hard, which can always lead to pushing and shoving off the track. Honestly, I feel as though Logano never got his chance to pay back Kenseth for deliberately costing him a championship. I predict that Logano will play a little tough one weekend which could spark this rivalry back up in 2016.
Well thank for reading!!! Let me know some of your predictions for this season!! Also, let me know if you like or dislike mine! Remember to follow me on Twitter at @nascar_opinion!! Have a great day and an even better Daytona 500 weekend!!!