Earlier this year, the staff at Atlanta Motor Speedway decided to pick my brain and see how much about the upcoming NASCAR season I could accurately predict. The best part about making these predictions? You are right 100 percent of the time when you make them.
The flip side, meanwhile, is that your odds of being right stand a chance to be deflated as the season goes on.
So, how on-target were the five predictions I let all of our fans in on way back in January? Well, let’s have a look:
Prediction Number One:
Wins in 2012 will matter even more than they did last season
“Wins mattered a lot in 2011, but they will matter even more in 2012. Consistency was the norm for so long but the whole paradigm has changed to where you have got to run for the win. Because wins are going to mean so much and based on last year’s results, you’ve got to run for the win instead of just a decent finish. It’s more and more become the norm and that’s something that’s going to be a huge interest to fans because that’s what they wanted to see all along.”
What Happened: This one turned out to be on-target. Whether it was Denny Hamlin’s two wins in a row in an effort to begin the Chase strong or drivers needing a win to gain a wild card spot, wins became very important as the season went on.
Think about it. If Jeff Gordon doesn’t win at Pocono, he doesn’t make the Chase. And if Kyle Busch doesn’t have a last-lap problem at Watkins Glen, he wins the race and it’s likely him, not Gordon, that gets the final wild card spot for the Chase. And remember Denny Hamlin’s furious charge through the field in July at New Hampshire? It wasn’t to get a strong finish. It was motivated by the desire for a win.
Prediction Number Two:
Dodge will contend for its first Sprint Cup Championship in several years with Brad Keselowski
“You are going to see a Dodge as a contender for the Sprint Cup Championship right to the very end with Brad Keselowski. Keselowski is going to have a multiple win season again. I think he’s got the stuff to be a two-time or three-time champion. He is destined for a big-time year. I think to do what he did in his second year was remarkable. Dale Earnhardt was a rookie in 1979 and won the championship in his second year. Good drivers don’t take long to get to the top.”
What Happened: It’s turned out to be Dodge’s final shot at a Sprint Cup title with them exiting the sport after this season, and so far they are in a very good position with Keselowski’s Chase-opening win which put him atop the standings for the first time in his career.
Don’t be surprised at all if this year’s championship comes down to Keselowski against Jimmie Johnson.
Prediction Number Three:
Speaking of championships, Carl Edwards will finally claim his first Sprint Cup title in 2012
“Carl Edwards is already one of the most determined guys to ever drive a car in NASCAR. You know he’s thinking about the end to 2011 every waking moment. He won’t forget what happened last year and he won’t let that happen again. You don’t want to be in his way because he’s going to the front.”
What Happened: I’m eating a full plate of crow on this one. It’s been a tough year for Edwards over at Roush Fenway Racing, to say the least. Depending on what happens over the final eight races, Edwards may be in danger of career-lows for the number of top ten and top five finishes in a single season.
But here’s the thing. Carl Edwards is too good of a driver to stay down for long. Great drivers don’t forget how to drive. I keep going back to the 1992 season, when both Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Rusty Wallace were not factors in the Championship. The next year, they fought tooth and nail for the title with both winning more races than anyone else in 1993 with Earnhardt winning one of his seven championships at the end of the season.
Prediction Number Four:
As a top-ranked Googled athlete, Danica Patrick will bring a new wave of media interest to the sport
“Aside from bringing new media attention to NASCAR, Danica Patrick is going to have some competitive runs. She’s going to surprise a lot of people with some good runs. She’s going to be in good equipment and she’s going to be working with good people, including Tony Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli.”
What Happened: Like any driver transitioning into NASCAR, Danica has had some good and bad runs. She was right in the thick of the hunt for a few Nationwide Series wins at Daytona, Montreal and Road America. In fact, she probably had the car to beat at Road America before being taken out of the race. On the Sprint Cup side, there’s obviously been a learning curve, but it’s very remarkable that in her first Sprint Cup race at Bristol, she was on the lead lap with less than 100 miles to go. That’s no small feat for anyone racing their first 500-mile race at Bristol.
Prediction Number Five:
Michael Waltrip Racing will win multiple races
“Michael Waltrip Racing has every opportunity, with the new driver and crew lineups, to win races and compete at the front of the field on a regular basis. Many people may be questioning Clint Bowyer’s decision to move to the No. 15 car, but he could be a dark-horse Chase contender.”
The days of Michael Waltrip Racing struggling to qualify for races are long gone. They’ve placed not one, but two cars in the Chase and might have had a third if Mark Martin was running a full-time schedule. Both Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. have been consistently strong all year long. And with two wins so far this year, Bowyer’s move to MWR looks like a very wise decision.