Ed Clark makes annual predictions for 2016 NASCAR season
With the 2016 NASCAR season set to kick off next month, Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark has offered his annual predictions of what to expect during the new year:
"Here we are! Another season of racing is almost here! Here at Atlanta Motor Speedway, everyone is working hard on getting ready for an exciting Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 NASCAR weekend, and we also have a lot of fun new elements for fans to enjoy throughout the weekend!
"Now, let's get down to predicting the 2016 season. While I did pretty good with my 2014 predictions, my 2015 predictions were largely off-base, as I got about two and half of them correct. In fact, some of my staff begged me after last year to never make predictions again out of fear of embarrassment."
Stewart will win
"I'm not sure where it'll happen, but Tony Stewart will win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in his final season behind the wheel. Remember, you heard it here first! If he pulls it off here in Atlanta, what a celebration it would be for both Tony and his many vocal fans that have supported him at Atlanta Motor Speedway through the years as he has won a total of three times."
Cream will rise to the top
"Get ready to see something exciting this year. NASCAR's new low-downforce aero package for the intermediate tracks will produce much better racing. Look for racing to be more in the hands of the drivers and less about the cars than ever before, and those that can race best on the ragged edge will consistently rise to the top! Not only that, but it'll also make the chances of seeing a first-time winner a likely possibility."
Johnson will win his seventh title
"Well, I've managed to jinx drivers here in the past, so we'll see what happens for this year's championship prediction. I look for Jimmie Johnson to shake off the past two years' disappointments in The Chase and entire legendary company by winning his seventh championship in NASCAR's top division, and he'll win a total of five times this year."
Epic Rookie Race
"Ask long-time fans of the sport, and they'll rave about how exciting the 1979 rookie of the year battle was between Dale Earnhardt Sr., Terry Labonte, Harry Gant and Joe Millikan. But this year's crop of rookies may match, if not surpass it.
"The big attention-grabber for this year's group is, with good reason, Chase Elliott. But there'll be more to this year's rookies than that. Ryan Blaney goes from running part-time to full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the Wood Brothers. In the races that he ran for them last year, he had the No. 21 car running well, and it won't hurt his case in 2016 to have Penske horsepower under the hood.
"Over at Front Row Motorsports, Chris Buescher will be in the No. 34 car. With the momentum of being the defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, he'll be looking to take that next step forward, and he'll do so with engineering support from Roush Fenway Racing.
"And don't count out Brian Scott, either. Finally in NASCAR's top level, he'll be eager to prove his mettle driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. This will definitely be a fun group of rookies to keep up with."
Erik Jones will win spirited fight for XFINITY title
"Look for Erik Jones to continue to see his star rise as he'll win the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship a year after doing so in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. In the process, he'll magnify the good problem Joe Gibbs Racing will face in having only four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seats and five outstanding drivers. But what a great dilemma to have!
"That said, it won't be an easy championship to win. Jones will have to contend with the likes of Justin Allgaier, Ty Dillon, Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez. All three drivers will be formidable opponents. Allgaier has raced on NASCAR's highest level and his teaming with JR Motorsports could prove to be a powerful combination. Dillon has been a factor to win the series title and has the experience of racing for a championship. Bubba Wallace has a year of experience in the series now, and racing for a Roush Fenway organization that won the championship last year doesn't hurt either. And when you combine Suarez's talent and equipment from Gibbs. No doubt, the 2016 XFINITY championship battle will be one for the ages.
"Regardless of what happens, it's going to be another exciting season of NASCAR racing! As to how right or wrong I am…time will tell!"