In the immortal words of Nick “Goose” Bradshaw from Top Gun, “I feel the need. I feel the need…for speed.” While it was frustrating to watch all the wrecking at the end of Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited, it was good to have racing again. The 2016 season is a completely unwritten chapter of NASCAR history, and in today’s competitive climate, virtually anything is possible.
Half the fun is seeing if things play out the way you think they will. Although I will be proven famously wrong on some counts, here is my fearless forecast for the 2016 season…….
Daytona 500 Winner- Kyle Larson- After a promising rookie season, the sprint car stud from California took a bit of a step back in 2015. While forecasting plate track races is an inexact science, the feeling here is that 2016 will be Kyle Larson’s breakthrough year, and it starts with a victory in the Great American Race.
First Driver To Bring Out A Caution- AJ Allmendinger- Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that yours truly does not hate on the 47; however, Allmendinger is aggressive, and aggressiveness can sometimes lead to wrecks.
First Rain-Affected Race- Folds Of Honor Quiktrip 500 (Atlanta)- You can put me down as one who thinks the season is about 5-6 races too long, and should start a little later and end a lot earlier. It looks like the Mother Nature will smile on Speed Week, leaving the next logical place for a race-affecting weather event at Atlanta.
Sprint Cup Rookie Of The Year- Chase Elliott- Yes, this kid is that good. While there other quality young drivers in the series- Ryan Blaney comes to mind- Elliott has the backing to have the best maiden voyage.
Comeback Racer Of The Year- Kasey Kahne- Remember how HMS tweaked everything they could to get Dale Earnhardt Jr’s career revived? I sense that same energy invested in Kasey Kahne. He hasn’t forgotten how to drive. This is just a hunch that the 2016 season is where he gets his mojo back.
Camping World Truck Series Champion- Tyler Reddick- The youngster breaks through this year. I’ve got a good feeling about what he will accomplish.
Xfinity Series Champion- Erik Jones- This could actually become a fun series to watch if the old Buschwhackers stay home more. Jones is part of a field filled with racing potential that includes Ty Dillon, Daniel Saurez, and Bubba Wallace.
Chase Field- Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, AJ Allmendinger, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Final Four- Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson
NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion- Kevin Harvick. No one has been as consistent in recent years as Harvick. Busch and Johnson will push Harvick especially hard, but Harvick will be happier with more trips to victory lane.
Other predictions- Danica Patrick will score more top fives and top tens, but won’t win a race. Roush Fenway Racing will continue its slow fade. While Logano will be more measured in his use of the chrome horn, he will continue to be called upon to atone for the sins of 2015; in other words, no one is cutting the 22 any slack. With the new rules package, the racing will be somewhat improved.