Two weeks from today, the 2016 Sprint Cup season will officially begin with the Sprint Unlimited.
With actual action down the front stretch, it’s time to start making predictions about the 2016 Sprint Cup season. Next week, it’s Homestead predictions. This week, let’s look at four drivers who I believe will make the Chase and the four drivers who will be on the outside looking in this 2016 Sprint Cup season.
Out: Jeff Gordon/In: Aric Almirola
This is easy. Almirola had the most points of any driver not in the Chase last year. He is consistent, does well on road courses and avoids terrible finishes. If Ford improves the way many suggest, it makes sense for Almirola to qualify on points.
Out: Clint Bowyer/In: Kyle Larson
This is a transition year, and I don’t believe Bowyer will have the resources to eek out a win or enough points to qualify for the 2016 Chase. That said, he will be the first name on my list for the 2017 version of this column.
The driver Tony Stewart had initial interest in bringing in to fill his seat was a popular name last year, dealt with the sophomore slump and proceeded to find his groove the final 10 races. With Jamie McMurray’s stability, I see Larson making the jump this year. I’ll go so far as to say Larson wins a race and will qualify on points if needed.
Out: Paul Menard/In Kasey Kahne
I see Kahne winning at Michigan, Charlotte, Texas or a super speedway. That pushes a driver out of the Chase. Menard has one career Sprint Cup win, and I don’t see a track where he becomes a top contender.
Out: Ryan Newman/In Austin Dillon
Newman is the epitome of consistency. He always runs well but hasn’t won a race in years. Dillon has the sophomore slump but runs the super speedways well. Dillon won’t outpoint Newman; I do think Dillon takes his first Sprint Cup checkered flag and bumps Newman from the Chase.
I desperately thought about putting Greg Biffle in the Chase. In the end, I see more drivers winning Sprint Cup races in 2016, and I think Kahne is more apt to win that Biffle. If I’m wrong, I could see Biffle getting enough points to qualify. I can also see AJ Allmendinger winning a road course race and creating chaos.
What I can’t see are any of the drivers listed in this column making it to Homestead. Those predictions are a week away. Enjoy the possibilities that come with a new Sprint Cup season, and insert a random catchphrase here.