NASCAR is in for a big 2017. It will include a new logo, new title sponsor for the Cup Series, new competition enhancements, rules changes, downforce regulations and more. Safe to say, this will be one of the strangest and most important seasons in NASCAR history.
But have no fear, it’s your favorite time of year: when Davey tries to predict things that will happen during the upcoming NASCAR season and miserably fail. But for some reason, I have an outlet to try this thing again. So without further ado, let’s get to it.
I’ll start out with ten predictions for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. But before that, let’s look at how I did with my predictions that were made before last season.
Yeah … not good. I got three out of my ten “bold” predictions correct: Tony Stewart winning a race, three first-time winners and the new low downforce package producing some of the best racing we saw in years (for the first half of the season, at least). But like Hannah Montana said: everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days (or years). I’m moved on.
“Enough dilly dallying Davis! Get to your predictions that will be wrong!” Alright, alright. Settle down now. Don’t hold me to these, but when I go 10-for-10, just remember this article.
1). Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford Enjoy their Marriage: The speeds that were shown at the Phoenix test this offseason coupled with the early place atop the speed charts at Daytona point to SHR’s manufacturer switch from Chevrolet to Ford going smoothly. With three championship caliber drivers in Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer, plus Danica Patrick, who is hungry to prove herself even further in 2017, I say three cars make the playoffs.
2). Dale Earnhardt Jr. Returns to Form: After sitting out the final 18 races of the 2016 season due to a concussion, the sport’s most popular driver is ready to do what he loves: race. Starting second for the Daytona 500, a race he’s won twice, isn’t a bad start.
I truly believe Earnhardt Jr. is in the best place personally and professionally he’s ever been in his life. He became a married man this offseason, has a newfound sense of health, confidence and drive (no pun intended) to be the best. With Hendrick equipment, a championship isn’t unthinkable for the No. 88 in 2017.
3). Zero Rookies will Win a Race: As a baseball player, hitting a 90 mph fastball when you know it’s coming isn’t incredibly difficult. Hitting a 95 mph fastball or a slider is a bit more difficult. And trying to hit a 100+ mph fastball or a curveball or a change-up or a knuckleball is very hard. That’s sort of like climbing the ladder in NASCAR from trucks to XFINITY to Cup.
We saw last season how difficult it is to win a race as a rookie, as Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney failed to do so and Chris Buescher—well, let’s face it—got super lucky. I don’t see Daniel Suarez or Erik Jones, despite the top-tier equipment, finding victory lane this season. And Ty Dillon is far from ready to compete week in and week out at the top level, as he only has one win in XFINITY in his career. Just like Elliott and Blaney in 2016, though, they’ll get close.
4). Monster Energy Makes a Monstrous Impact: That was a really bad attempt at a pun, wasn’t it? Regardless, Monster isn’t afraid to be bold (like these predictions, see what I did there?), and that’s what NASCAR needs. In today’s age of social media savviness, instant news, trying to attract the millennial generation, etc., Monster knows how to do those just about as good as anyone else. Sprint gave the sport a wonderful 13 years as the title sponsor. But change is inevitable, and it was time for one. Will this be the one NASCAR needs/wants? Let’s hope so.
5). There Will be Multiple First-Time Winners: We had two last season in the form of Kyle Larson and Buescher. But with a handful of young drivers such as Elliott, Blaney, Austin Dillon and more chomping at the bit to taste victory lane, it’s foreseeable that all three of those drivers can, and will, win a race in 2017. Plus, I could be wrong with my third prediction (but I won’t be) and Suarez and Jones can have astonishing rookie seasons and both win a race and qualify for the playoffs.
6). Retired (or Semi-Retired) Drivers Stay Away: I understand why everyone involved in the sport can’t believe that Carl Edwards would just walk away after being 10 laps from a championship with no warning whatsoever. But I don’t understand why they can’t take a man who has never lied on record and is considered one of the nicest, most honest, humble and honorable guys in the sport, at his word.
I do, and I don’t think we’ll see Edwards back in a car in 2017. The same can be said for Stewart. I think he’s happy with racing on dirt in smaller series and his time in NASCAR is done. He’ll be at the track most weeks as an owner, but on the track, he’s done.
7). We Will Have One Winner Nobody Saw Coming: It seems to happen every season, so why should this year be any different? Keselowski in 2009, Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne in 2011, David Ragan in 2013, Buescher last season, etc. Maybe Ty Dillon sneaks his way into the winner’s circle for Germain Racing’s first ever win, or Landon Cassill wins at a plate track (I’ve been calling that since 2013, I swear). Who knows, but strange things usually happen like this.
8). The “Power Five” Will Dominate Once Again: I know what you’re saying. “I thought the power five was in college football?” Well, think again! There’s one in NASCAR, too, that I kind of made up. Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, Furniture Row Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing make up the “Power Five.” In total, there are 16 cars in those five organizations, and those 16 tend to dominate the sport. I don’t see that changing in 2017.
In fact, 12 of the 16 drivers last season made up what was then known as “The Chase.” Only Chip Ganassi Racing’s duo of Larson and Jamie McMurray, coupled with Austin Dillon and Buescher, kept more “Power Five” drivers out. But now, with the advent of a second car at FRR, a healthy Dale Jr. and a rejuvenated Kasey Kahne with his job on the line, I expect that number to balloon towards 14 or 15 this season.
It’s the nature of the beast. The more money you have, the better resources you accumulate, and the better chance you have at winning a championship. It’s not rocket science, it’s just business. A really fast, 200+ mph business.
9). New Format = Big Results: Ever since the competition enhancements were announced on late-January, I’ve been a fan of them. Regardless of what you think of the changes, most can agree that something needed to be done. With the arrival of Monster Energy, the departure of legends like Jeff Gordon and Stewart and entrance of young guns we haven’t seen in decades, the sport needed to be re-energized in some way, shape or form. And that’s what NASCAR did.
The advent of stages is the biggest change of the offseason. Points will be awarded at the end of stages (usually after each quarter or third of the race, depending on the track) to provide an incentive for drivers not to lay back for the first half or so of the race. Those points can be of use when the postseason comes into effect.
Playoff points, as well as crowning a regular season champion, were both brilliant ideas, in my humble opinion. The sanctioning body needed a way to incentivize running up front during every race, not just going all out to win one and relax until Chicagoland. I steadfastly believe they accomplished that with these enhancements. Like them or not, one thing is for sure: 2017 is a BIG year for NASCAR. B.I.G.
10). We’ll Have a First-Time Champion: Eight-time sure does sound nice (and unprecedented), but Jimmie Johnson will have to wait (don’t worry, JJ, you’re still the G.O.A.T.) for now. Yup, that’s right. I’m saying it. DANICA PATRICK IS GOING TO DEFY THE ODDS AND SHE WILL WI—no way, Jose. I’m not going that far.
But Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are all drivers who have yet to earn a MENCS championship. Keselowski, Harvick, Johnson, the Busch brothers, Kenseth, and more will have a say in keeping those drivers out of victory circle at Homestead. But as the old saying goes, you need to lose a title before you win one. All four of those drivers have lost titles at the top level, but I think one will rise above the rest in 2017.
Joey Logano, the 27-year-old Middletown, Conn. native, will win his first championship in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford, carrying the banner for Ford as they win the manufacturers championship (haven’t won since 2002). In 2014, his pit crew failed to give him a shot to battle Harvick, who went on to win his first title. In 2015, Kenseth wasn’t going to let him get to Homestead. And in 2016, Edwards wasn’t going to let Logano past him. But 2017 will be Logano’s year, and he will be squinting to his heart’s content, hoisting the first-ever Monster Cup trophy in Miami.
Phew, congratulations! You made it through. But lucky for you, I’m not done yet! Now, I’ll give you my playoff brackets for all three series, along with my regular season champion, championship four and champions (in no particular order).
MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
1). Joey Logano 5). Kyle Busch 9). Chase Elliott 13). Landon Cassill
2). Brad Keselowski 6). Matt Kenseth 10). Clint Bowyer 14). Kyle Larson
3). Martin Truex Jr. 7). Dale Earnhardt Jr. 11). Kurt Busch 15). Denny Hamlin
4). Kevin Harvick 8). Jimmie Johnson 12). Erik Jones 16). Austin Dillon
REGULAR SEASON CHAMPION: Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 for Furniture Row Racing
1). Joey Logano 2). Kevin Harvick 3). Martin Truex Jr. 4). Kyle Busch
2017 MENCS CHAMPION: Joey Logano, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford for Team Penske
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES
1). Elliott Sadler 5). William Byron 9). Brennan Poole
2). Matt Tifft 6). Blake Koch 10). Ryan Reed
3). Cole Custer 7). Daniel Hemric 11). Brendan Gaughan
4). Justin Allgaier 8). Brandon Jones 12). Michael Annett
REGULAR SEASON CHAMPION: William Byron, No. 9 for JR Motorsports
1). Elliott Sadler 2). William Byron 3). Justin Allgaier 4). Matt Tifft
2017 NXS CHAMPION: Elliott Sadler, No. 1 OneMain Financial Chevrolet for JR Motorsports
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
1). Matt Crafton 5). John Hunter Nemechek
2). Timothy Peters 6). Spencer Gallagher
3). Christopher Bell 7). Austin Cindric
4). Johnny Sauter 8). Ben Rhodes
REGULAR SEASON CHAMPION: Christopher Bell, No. 4 for Kyle Busch Motorsports
1). Matt Crafton 2). Spencer Gallagher 3). Johnny Sauter 4). JH Nemechek
2017 NCWTS CHAMPION: Matt Crafton, No. 88 Menard’s Chevrolet for ThorSport Racing
Well, there you have it. Those are all my predictions for the upcoming 2017 NASCAR season. If I’m right, you owe me a fist bump. And if I’m wrong, well, I owe you nothing.
Anyways, enjoy the season, folks. Sometimes we get too caught up in the specifics of the sport to sit back, relax, and enjoy some good ol’ racin’. Let’s enjoy this season. I know I will!