2015 NASCAR Season Preview

2014 was arguably the busiest season that NASCAR ever had.  It had brawls on pit road, clutch performances, drama on the track, tragedy off the track, a new and exciting playoff format and a first-time Sprint Cup champion.  The 2015 season will officially kick off this week at Daytona International Speedway.  From predictions, storylines and everything in between, let’s preview what to expect in the new season.

The offseason was filled with news, changes and excitement.  The ban of testing before the Sprint Unlimited (won by Matt Kenseth) last week made NASCAR fans, drivers and teams alike craving for their racing back, even though NASCAR has the shortest offseason in all of sports.  But when one of the greatest drivers in all of motorsports, Jeff Gordon, announced that this upcoming season would be his final competing full-time in the Sprint Cup series this offseason, the NASCAR community halted to a stop.  Many within the sport weren’t surprised by the announcement.

Gordon is currently 43-years-old with two children and has been racing in the premier series for a whopping 22 seasons. Talk of Gordon retiring has been a topic of conversation for awhile, and while most were not surprised, they were still taken back by the news.  This announcement was something like Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter or Wayne Gretzky telling the sports world that he is retiring.  NASCAR is obviously not a huge sport, but when you think of car racing it, people think Jeff Gordon.

Something that everybody will be looking for this season will be if Gordon can go out on the highest of highs and win the championship in his final season. He has gotten off to a pretty solid start, as he won the pole for the Daytona 500 on Sunday with a speed of over 201 mph in his famous No. 24 Chevrolet.

Another storyline to watch this season will be Carl Edwards’ performance with his new team at Joe Gibbs Racing.  After a solid ten seasons at Roush Fenway Racing in the No. 99 car, Edwards decided to make the move to a new team for the upcoming season, trying to finally get that championship that has eluded him his whole career.  He hopes to follow in defending champion Kevin Harvick’s footsteps: win the Sprint Cup championship in his first season with a brand new race team.  It’s no secret that Joe Gibbs Racing has been more successful than Roush in the past five years. It will be interesting to see how Edwards meshes with Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, his new teammates, and how he performs this season.

Major Storylines to Follow

Sam Hornish Jr. is back in the Sprint Cup Series in the No. 9 car, replacing Marcos Ambrose. Chase Elliott (defending Xfinity Series champion) will race part-time in the cup series, Alex Bowman has moved from BK Racing to Tommy Baldwin Racing, Jeb Burton has taken Bowman’s spot at BK. Trevor Bayne has moved part-time from the Wood Brothers to Roush, taking Carl Edwards’ spot in the No. 6 car, Ryan Blaney has taken Bayne’s spot in the No. 21 for the Wood Brothers. and Cole Whitt landed a ride with Front Row Motorsports after getting released by SWAN Racing as the carousel of musical chairs when it comes to NASCAR free agency has finally stopped.

Another driver, Brian Vickers, will miss the first couple races of 2015 due to more health issues.  This time, he had heart surgery, and will return for Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota at Las Vegas (as of now).  Until then, owner Michael Waltrip will race that car for Vickers as he rehabs from the aforementioned procedure.  Also, one of the faces of the sport, Danica Patrick, needs to prove herself this season.  It’ll be her third full-time season and her best career finish was fourth. Will she finally show the haters that she can drive?  Or will she disappoint with another average season?  What about her owner Tony Stewart?  Will the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy be behind him and will he be able to make the chase and return to the Smoke of old this season?

Some more storylines for this upcoming season are all the new crew chief/driver pairings, most notably with the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and his new crew chief Greg Ives.  Ives was the lead engineer on Jimmie Johnson’s championship winning team and the crew chief for Chase Elliott’s championship run in the Xfinity Series last season, so I would say he’s in good hands.  Everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing (besides Matt Kenseth) and Kyle Larson Racing , among others, will have new crew chiefs for 2015.

Premier Series Predictions

Now that you’ve heard most of the big storylines heading into the 2015 season, let’s get to some predictions across all three premier series, Sprint Cup, Xfinity & Truck.

Let’s start with the truck series.  Personally, I think the Camping World Truck Series has the best racing in all of NASCAR.  I mean, think about it; pick-up trucks, tricked out to have major horsepower, racing, bumping, banging and trading paint upwards of 180 mph.  How does that sound? Pretty awesome, right?

As for the drivers go, Matt Crafton is the two-time defending champion in this series.  I believe that Crafton, Johnny Sauter and John Hunter Nemechek will be the three major contenders for the championship.  Kyle Busch will win his six to eight races like he always does in the truck series, but overall, I would have to go with Matt Crafton again for the 2015 title, which would be his third title in three years.

Now let’s move up one rank into the Xfinity Series, formerly called the Nationwide Series. 18-year-old Chase Elliott (yes, 18) won the championship last season in his first full-time season, and I don’t see anything that would make me stay away from picking him and his No. 9 team to win it again. The kid has it in his genes, as his father is NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. I think that the Dawsonville, Georgia native will make it back-to-back championships and move into the cup series in 2016, replacing Jeff Gordon, with two Xfinity titles under his belt.

Who knows, maybe this guy could be the next Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson, as they all race for Hendrick Motorsports.  He has the equipment and talent to win, and as shown last season, that’s what he does.  But don’t count out guys like Brian Scott, Elliott Sadler, Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon and Erik Jones to compete as well.

As for the Sprint Cup Series, to say that the trophy at Homestead is anybody’s for the taking has never been more accurate.  The chase format is exactly the same, and winning is still a premium.  And that is why I think that Kevin Harvick will repeat as the Sprint Cup Series champion in 2015. Why?  Here are some reasons:

1) Harvick told the media that he is “way more confident” heading into this season than last, due to his team and shop being 100% put together. He knows what to expect and what it takes to win a championship.

2) Harvick’s owner/teammate/friend Tony Stewart is in the best place mentally that he has been in about 2-3 years.

3) Harvick himself is in the best mental, as well as professional, place that he has been in his career.  He’s proven that he can do it with a brand new team. If he’s happier than he’s ever been, I don’t think anybody can beat him and his crew chief Rodney Childers this season. He already has one championship under his belt and he knows what it takes.

Final Predictions

My bold prediction has already been stated, but it’s kind of hidden in this article. All three drivers across NASCAR’s premier series will repeat as champions in their respective series, which has never happened in NASCAR’s 50+ year history.

As for the chase, here are the 16 drivers that I think will make it: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Landon Cassill.  And my final four going into Homestead in November is Harvick, Gordon, Johnson and Kenseth.

Yes, LANDON CASSILL!  Why?  We saw a dark horse team make the chase last season in A.J. Allmendinger’s No. 47 by winning at Watkins Glen, so why not this year?  I think that Landon Cassill, who has showed that he can race on restrictor plate tracks, will win one of the races at Daytona or Talladega before the Chase begins and gets in as the dark horse this season.

Davey Segal is the host of Victory Lane for Impact Sports