SPRINT CUP PREDICTIONS REVISITED

Before the 2009 season, I made predictions about the year ahead. Now with the 2009 season behind us, I have decided to take a look back at my picks to see how I fared. The five categories were 1.) Driver leading the standings after 26 races 2.) Driver who would miss the Chase 3.) Biggest surprise 4.) Biggest disappointment 5.) Sprint Cup champion.

Points leader after 26 races
Prediction: Carl Edwards
Actual points leader: Tony Stewart (before Chase reset)
Like many, I figured Carl Edwards would lead the standings heading into the final ten races. In 2008, Edwards was the only driver who gave Jimmie Johnson a run for his money, scoring nine wins and finishing 69 points behind Johnson. Unfortunately for Edwards, success from 2008 did not transfer to 2009. After his best season, Edwards struggled throughout the year and failed to visit victory lane. While Edwards made the Chase, he did not lead the points going into the final ten events. In fact, Edwards failed to lead the series standings at all in 2009. So much for that prediction.

Fail to make the Chase
Prediction: Clint Bowyer
Bottom line: Nailed it
Next on the agenda was picking a driver who would fail to make the Chase. For this, I looked to the restructured Richard Childress Racing and Clint Bowyer. In 2009 RCR added Casey Mears to its lineup. In doing so, it moved Bowyer out of the No. 7 and into the No. 33. Working with a new crew seemed like too much to overcome for this driver and organization. Bowyer barely made the Chase in 2008 and with all the changes at RCR, I felt it would be too tall of an order. This prediction came to pass. Not only did Bowyer struggle, but RCR as a whole had a dismal year. None of its drivers went to victory lane (not counting the non-points Budweiser Shootout in Daytona that Kevin Harvick won) and none made the Chase. Bowyer actually started the year off well, but by May he had fallen out of the top ten in points, finishing 15th.



Biggest surprise
Prediction: Rise of Stewart-Haas
Bottom line: Nailed it
For the biggest surprise of the year I chose the new Stewart-Haas Racing organization. After 2008, veteran driver Tony Stewart left Joe Gibbs Racing to become co-owner of this new team. He was joined by Ryan Newman, crew chiefs Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson and Bobby Hutchins as the director of competition. With such a quality group of guys working with him, it appeared Stewart and his new organization would turn heads in 2009. The team turned heads in Daytona, but not for reasons it would have liked. Newman blew an engine and wrecked two cars, taking out Stewart in one of those incidents, just days before the season-opening race. As the season progressed the team refused to give up and in the end it put both cars in the Chase. Stewart took home his first win as an owner/driver in the Sprint All-Star Race and backed it up with wins in Pocono, Daytona, Watkins Glen and Kansas. Taking the points lead after Dover in June, Stewart led the standings for the final 12 weeks of the regular season.

Biggest disappointment
Prediction: Joey Logano
Bottom line: I was wrong
As far as the biggest disappointment of the year, I went with the much-hyped rookie contender Joey Logano. Dubbed the biggest thing since sliced bread, I figured the adjustment to big-time stock car racing would be too much for the kid to handle. The start of the season seemed to back up this prediction. Logano wrecked in the Daytona 500 and had only two finishes of 15th or better in the first ten events. Thanks to a great call by veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli to stay out when the rains came in New Hampshire, Logano became the youngest winner in Sprint Cup history. Logano battled inconsistency throughout the year. He finished 20th in points with one win, three top-5s and seven top-10s. Battling Red Bull Racing’s Scott Speed, Logano took home Rookie of the Year honors. Was Joey Logano the biggest disappointment in NASCAR this year? Probably not.

Champion
Prediction: Jeff Gordon
Actual champion: Jimmie Johnson
Bottom line: Wrong
When it came to picking the 2009 champion, I thought long and hard. Sure Johnson and Edwards were front runners, and Kyle Busch was probably going to be a threat (or so we thought), but I decided to go with a veteran who was overdue. I felt 2009 would be the year Jeff Gordon earned his fifth NASCAR championship. The Hendrick Motorsports driver had one of his most disappointing seasons in 2008, going winless for the first time since his rookie year in 1993. It seemed there was no way one of the sport’s best drivers was out of talent.

Starting the season by marking the 25th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon had a fire in his eyes and a new black paint scheme to match. He started with a bang, taking the points lead after the third race of the year. Breaking his winless streak, Gordon scored a victory in Texas – his first at the 1.5-mile speedway. The four-time champion lost the points lead after a 37th-place finish in Talladega in April, regained it for the next three weeks and then fell to second after a 26th in Dover.

With only one win on the season, Gordon started the Chase from the sixth spot. He and his No. 24 DuPont team were good during the Chase, but his Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin were better. In the end, Gordon ended up third, securing a 1-2-3 finish in the season standings for team owner Rick Hendrick.

So, all of my predictions did not come true. Critics and media types can analyze the upcoming season all they want, yet no one can truly predict what will happen. With the 2010 season right around the corner, it’s time to break out the statistics and watch the films and get ready for more preseason predictions.

Related links:
Four-timers’ club: Johnson vs. Gordon
Three DNFs doomed Hamlin’s Chase
He came, he drove, he almost won
For sale: One ruined career