Hello there, race fans! This is Atlanta Motor Speedway President and GM Ed Clark! At the beginning of this year, you may recall that I made a handful of predictions about what would happen this season in NASCAR.
If there's one thing about racing, it is that you just never know what will happen. One of the greatest things about this sport is that sometimes, the unexpected occurs.
Here's how this year's predictions turned out. It looks like I'll be having some nicely fried crow to eat based on how some of these predictions turned out.
Prediction No. 1
Jimmie Johnson and defending champion Brad Keselowski will again be title contenders right down to the final race, but they will be joined by Kasey Kahne, who will win the championship.
"Kasey Kahne is my pick to win the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. He will have the best year of his career to date. He's right in that time period of his career where drivers excel. He's driving Hendrick Motorsports equipment, so he's got the equipment to do everything. He'll win races and if his early-season luck is better than 2012's, he'll win it all. I just hope I don't jinx him, as I picked Carl Edwards as my championship winner last season and he didn't even make the Chase!"
Sorry to all the Kasey Kahne fans, but it looks like I did jinx him! There was a rumor going around Homestead last weekend that drivers were hiding from me so that I wouldn't jinx their title hopes in 2014!
While Kahne did win twice this year, he was unable to avoid bad luck. In fact, the first four races of the year were a microcosm of Kahne's up-and-down season. He finished 19th or worse in the season's first two races and finished no worse than second in the next two.
Prediction No. 2
Ricky Stenhouse will win a race and win and earn Rookie of the Year honors.
"Ricky's going to pick up and continue the momentum he had in the Nationwide Series right over into the Sprint Cup Series. After all, he's in Roush-Fenway Racing equipment, so it won't take him long to get up to speed and run with the leaders on a fairly regular basis. "
This one turned out to be on target aside from Stenhouse, Jr. getting a victory. Having a solid team in place helped Stenhouse have a solid rookie season with three top ten finishes. He also won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole position here on Labor Day Weekend, leading the field to take the green flag in the AdvoCare 500.
Prediction No. 3
When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into Atlanta Motor Speedway Labor Day Weekend for the AdvoCare 500, all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars will be positioned well to lock themselves into the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
"Newly-added Matt Kenseth will provide a positive lift to the whole team. He always shows up at the end of the race near the front, after taking care of his equipment all day. He's a proven, steady championship contender. His maturity will show through and will elevate his teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch."
Matt Kenseth's arrival at Joe Gibbs Racing paid off for both he and the team. The No. 20 returned to the form of being a championship factor and Kenseth was one of the top drivers in NASCAR all season long. Kyle Busch, who picked up the win here at Atlanta on Labor Day Weekend, returned to the Chase and was well in contention for the title before a bad finish at Kansas derailed the momentum. The only exception was Denny Hamlin, whose back injury caused him to miss multiple races. Hamlin did, however, garner some momentum going into the offseason with his win at Homestead. Expect him to be eager for 2014 to arrive and make up for missing the Chase.
Prediction No. 4
Speaking of Kyle Busch, he will have a much-improved season, winning as many as four races and contending for the championship.
"Kyle is going to carry the momentum from the end of 2012 into 2013. He had fast cars last season, but had lots of bad luck. He will make noise all season and be a threat for the title."
Busch did indeed have a bounce-back season, contending for the lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship early on and winning, as predicted, four races!
Prediction No. 5
Expect to see unusual faces at the front early in the season with teams still figuring out the new Generation-6 cars.
"It always takes teams a while to figure out a new body style or a new chassis. The learning curve that the new Gen-6 car will throw the teams and should provide a window of opportunity for guys not normally up front to run there before the bigger, better funded teams get their typical handles on the car."
If there's anything that the early part of the season showed, it's how important the overall depth of organizations can be. When teams have more resources at their disposal, adjusting to things such as new car designs or rules packages handed down by NASCAR is made much easier. That certainly showed as this season began. Each of the season's first nine races were won by drivers from Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing or Richard Childress Racing.
Prediction No. 6
The Nationwide Series will be more competitive than ever with the infusion of talent of Sprint Cup drivers.
"Several Sprint Cup drivers have dropped down to the Nationwide Series and have found success and reinvigorated their careers. When you throw in talented drivers like Brian Vickers and Regan Smith joining up with Elliott Sadler and Sam Hornish Jr., the younger drivers will be racing against the best-of-the-best each week. Plus, other Sprint Cup drivers like Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski will make appearances in the series. This will only help the young guys, like Austin Dillon, Trevor Bayne and Travis Pastrana, develop into better drivers, and quicker."
As expected, fans have been treated to hotly contested race for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship with Regan Smith, Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon being the leading contenders for the series title throughout 2013 with Dillon edging Hornish for the title.
And that's it for this year's predictions! Needless to say, I won't be picking anyone's lottery numbers any time soon!