It’s finally time to get back to work.
After nearly two weeks of holiday parties, ugly sweaters, sick kids and way too much food and beverage consumption, 2015 is here. Friday, we took a look at the first driver picked for the Nascar Final Four and a bunch of drivers on the outside looking in. Now it’s time to separate the rest of the field.
In: Jimmie Johnson
Kevin Harvick was the lock, but Johnson has the most consistency of any Sprint Cup team. Johnson also has an entire off-season to recalibrate under the new rules structure and how racing changed as a result of the new rules. With great history at Phoenix and Texas, Johnson races for history at Homestead.
Out: Brad Keselowski
Keselowski failed to make the Chase after winning the Sprint Cup. He then bounced back in 2014, only to anger half the garage. The combination of inconsistency and payback don’t loom well for one of racing’s most polarizing names.
Out: Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon
Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth have all come within a race of becoming a Sprint Cup champion. None responded well the next year. As happy as I was to see Logano emerge, I can’t fathom any of the drivers who raced for a title at Homestead and came up short to then make it back the next year. Sorry to Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. Also my apologies to Brad Keselowski, who I think needs a running buddy as much as anyone in the garage.
Gordon didn’t get a chance to race at Homestead, but he should have been there. Add some horrid luck, and I’m adding Gordon to the can’t repeat club.
In: Carl Edwards
Matt Kenseth had a career year after leaving Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing. Edwards is paired with Darian Grubb, who won a Sprint Cup title with Tony Stewart at Edwards’ expense. Edwards diversified his portfolio, winning outside his 1.5 mile wheelhouse and now has the best technology he’s had in years. Edwards feels like a threat in 2015.
Out: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch
Both have new crew chiefs. Nobody in more than a decade has won a Sprint Cup with a new crew chief. This is the only reason I am moving away from these two and to my final contender. I think both Earnhardt Jr. and Busch win at least three races in 2015 and wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see either running a relevant race at Homestead.
In: Matt Kenseth
Kenseth failed to win a race in 2014 and winning seven races in 2013. I expect Kenseth to meet in the middle on wins. Kenseth also has run 97% of the total possible laps since joining Joe Gibbs Racing. He stays on the track. And even though drivers are supposed to race for wins, racing for points matters when the Chase begins. Just ask Ryan Newman.
Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. Those are my Final Four picks on the fifth day of January. What could possibly go wrong over the next 11 months? Let’s all get back to work and remember Daytona is a day closer.