Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM


10 Bold Predictions For The 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Season

As the first and only preseason race of the NASCAR season has come and gone, we are only ONE (!!!!) day away from the start of the season and the Daytona 500. To gear up, I have ten bold (and a couple not so bold) predictions for the upcoming season. From rookies of the year to rivalries renewed, here’s what I think will go down in the Sprint Cup Series in 2016.

1). Ryan Blaney will beat out Chase Elliott for the 2016 Rookie of the Year.

After running a partial schedule for Wood Brothers Racing in 2015, Blaney showed that he can run with the big name teams. He recorded two top-tens in 15 starts and outran Chase Elliott when they were on the track together. I understand Elliott has championship pedigree (2014 Xfinity title) and is a proven winner, but Blaney and Elliott’s statistics in the Xfinity Series are virtually similar. His average finish was 10th in the NXS in 2015, so he can run consistently in the top ten. Flying under the radar, I think Blaney will open some eyes and secure a better ride for 2016.

2). On top of that, Blaney will win a race to make the Chase.

Whether it’s a superspeedway race (we know rookies can find the winner’s circle at Daytona, shoutout to Trevor Bayne in 2011) or a cookie-cutter mile and a half, I believe the No. 21 Wood Brothers team is going to find victory lane this season. Ford has escalated their program after a dismal 2015 (excluding Team Penske) and Blaney has flown under the radar. His father, legendary dirt track racer Dave Blaney, is a pro when it comes to low downforce. The Wood Brothers’ alliance with Team Penske will also greatly expedite the rookie learning process for Blaney, who will be in great equipment from the start.

3). The Joey Logano/Matt Kenseth rivalry will rear its head once again.

We all remember what happened at Kansas and at Martinsville between these two drivers. But as I said in the Victory Lane podcast – race car drivers have memories like elephants. They don’t ever let things go and they’ll let you know they’re unhappy with something you did to them. Whether it’s at the season opening race at Daytona, the season finale at Homestead, or anywhere in between, my gut tells me that this rivalry will be renewed at some point this season. Possibly even multiple times. And it might get even uglier, you never know.

4). The new low downforce package will produce the best racing we have seen in years.

It has been talked about and hyped up for a couple years now, but the low downforce package is here, and everyone is excited about it. From the drivers, to the fans, to the sanctioning body as a whole, everybody has a smile on their face and can’t wait to get to Atlanta (the low downforce package won’t apply at restrictor plate tracks, like Daytona). In short, lowering the downforce on the cars puts the car more in the hands of the driver, not the engineers and people working back at the shop. It slows the cars down by about 5-10 MPH, but in turn will create better racing, more passing, and happier drivers and fans alike. The more downforce you take off a race car, the more you put the car in the driver’s hands, and the true skill shines. This is exactly what NASCAR hopes will happen, what the drivers want, and what the fans deserve.

5). Tony Stewart will win one race in his farewell season — by luck.

Stewart is out indefinitely after having surgery on his back a couple week ago (Brian Vickers will fill-in for him). We all know by now that 2016 will be Smoke’s final season in the Sprint Cup Series as a full-time competitor. Last season, Jeff Gordon was in the same boat, ended up winning a race at Martinsville, and was alive for the championship up until the final lap. I highly doubt Tony Stewart will be alive for the title, but the racing gods have a funny way of working sometimes. So I think he will, someway, somehow, find victory lane ONE MORE TIME in 2016.

6). Hendrick Motorsports will field two of the four cars in the season finale at Homestead.

And they will be the No. 48 driven by Jimmie Johnson as well as (yeah, I’m going there, Junior Nation!) the No. 88 car driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Johnson, after a lackluster 2015 and part failure at Dover cutting his playoffs short, will be out for blood in 2016. You’d think a six-time champion and the best driver of this era wouldn’t have anything to prove. But he does. His teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., does as well. He has never gotten extremely close to winning the championship, and coming off his best season of his career, I think it’s a real possibility that he wins the title this season. It sure would be one of the most popular championship seasons in the history of NASCAR and sports overall. But we shall see.

7). No Joe Gibbs Racing cars will make it to Homestead for the season finale.

This is pretty bold, considering JGR was the dominant team for the majority of 2015 and fielded the championship winning driver. If it weren’t for Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth probably would have been in the championship four. Carl Edwards was a rain shower away from possibly making it to Homestead, and Denny Hamlin won a race on a torn ACL for crying out loud. But stardom doesn’t last forever, and although JGR does have the best driver lineup for 2016 (and beyond, with Erik Jones in the waiting), I think bad luck will bite them. JGR will be left without a single car in the championship hunt after 35 races and come up empty of repeating. Sometimes, change isn’t good. And all of their crew chief changes could prove to be a negative.

8). Joey Logano will win 5+ races in the regular season.

When he came into the sport, he was nicknamed “Sliced Bread” by one of his idols, Mark Martin. For the first couple years of his career, he didn’t live up to the hype, ran in the top five minimally, and won one rain-shortened race. But when Logano made the move from JGR to Penske, everything changed. Although he has ruffled some feathers, he’s been one of, if not the most competitive drivers consistently running for wins since 2013. After having a championship slip through his hands by a bad pit stop in 2014 and grabbing a career-high five wins last season, I think Logano will do more of the same in 2016 and lock himself into the Chase relatively early. He will lead the Ford brigade and see victory lane many, many times throughout 2016.

9). We will have three first-time winners in 2016.

Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott. Those are the names of young drivers who have yet to find victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series. Larson is the one that comes to mind immediately. He has been knocking on the door but has yet to break it down. With the No. 42 of Larson ready to step into the winner’s circle, and two rookies showing immense talent and blistering speed early on in 2016 Speedweeks, I think seeing all three of the aforementioned drivers, as well as some possible others, reach victory lane in 2016 wouldn’t be out of the question.

10). Kevin Harvick will tear up the Chase and win his second championship.

You can only finish second so many times – and nobody knows that better than Kevin Harvick. After setting the NASCAR record for second place finishes with a whopping 13 last season, he fell one point, and spot on the racetrack, short of winning back-to-back championships. The No. 4 car was far and away the fastest car week in and week out throughout all of 2015. Although Rodney Childers, Harvick’s Crew Chief, didn’t seem to have the No. 4 dialed in at Darlington and Kentucky (two races last season where low downforce was tested), I think it was because they were focused on something else: winning the championship THAT season. I wouldn’t be too worried about their performance in those two races, because with a champion like Harvick, a top-tier crew chief like Childers and equipment like Stewart Haas Racing has, Happy Harvick will be smiling. I think he and his team will take no prisoners and demolish the final ten races of the season. The No. 4 team will ease their way to Homestead-Miami Speedway, win that race for the second time in three seasons and win his second championship in three seasons as well. With someone who dominated as much as he did in 2015 to not come out with a title, I think that team will be out for blood, and more, in 2016, especially when it’s time to show the rest of the field who’s boss. The team, and Harvick, will hoist the trophy when the season comes to a close on South Beach.

Also, something to watch out for is if Harvick will be able to shake off the curse of finishing second. In the past eight seasons, the year after for drivers who finish second in the points standings is usually dismal, as those drivers have totaled ONE win in eight seasons. Obviously, I think that Harvick will reverse that curse – and then some – in 2016.

2016 could quite possibly be the best season that NASCAR has experienced in decades. But only time will tell, and it all starts at Daytona International Speedway this Sunday, February 21, 2016 at 1:00 pm on FOX.


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