The advent of the Chase for the Championship in NASCAR’s premier division, which happened to coincide with the most competitive era ever seen in auto racing, has made prognosticating far less of an exact science than it was in the 1980s or '90s.
Time has taught me a few valuable lessons.
For starters, women don’t think you’re adorable after beer No. 12, despite what your semi-conscious mind tells you. Posting half-clothed photos of yourself on Facebook/Twitter/Tumbler is just never a good idea (actually, Anthony Weiner taught me that one). And, of course, making predictions is a fool’s quest.
The advent of the Chase for the Championship in NASCAR’s premier division, which happened to coincide with the most competitive era ever seen in auto racing, has made prognosticating far less of an exact science than it was in the 1980s or 90s. Therefore I’ve abandoned making any silly claims entering a new season. Instead, let’s focus on the most significant changes in the Sprint Cup Series this season, and the potential impact they could have over the next nine months.
Kasey Kahne – The first of the “show me” drivers, Kahne jumps into Rick Hendrick’s No. 5 Chevys this season – or as the rest of us refer to it: the best ride Kahne has ever had. He’s still working with longtime crew chief Kenny Francis, but at age 31, Kahne only has so many prime years left. His 12-for-288 career average should, by all logic, improve, but we’ve seen busts before.
A.J. Allmendinger – Amazing in open-wheel cars, wicked fast in sports cars and ... well, there’s potential in stock cars. This season should give better indication of what the Dinger is truly capable of. He joins Roger Penske’s team, replacing the mercurial Kurt Busch, and is joined by first-year Sprint Cup crew chief Todd Gordon. Allmendinger has four top-five finishes, in his career. Admittedly, he’s been with B and C-level teams, so driving for the Captain should boost him to another level. Right?
Clint Bowyer – Joining Michael Waltrip’s outfit is a step back on paper, but in moving to MWR he’ll be paired with crew chief Brian Pattie who molded Juan Pablo Montoya into a serious Cup contender. The MWR stable now includes Bowyer, Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr. – all winners. I think there’s more pressure on the organization than the drivers in this scenario.
Kurt Busch – Disgraced and embarrassed, Busch joined James Finch’s low-budget Phoenix Racing, so expect him to have a difficult time getting near a second Cup title, or making the Chase at all. That said, Finch has never had a driver of Busch’s caliber in his cars for an entire season. The team and the driver are both strong on the restrictor plate tracks and there’s a lot crew chief Nick Harrison can learn from a guy that spent time in the Roush and Penske organizations.
Danica Patrick – I know, she’s only running a handful of Cup races, but she’s still the most intriguing addition to the driver lineup this season. With Greg Zipadelli calling the shots from the pits, Patrick is working with a guy who helped another open-wheel convert become a champion in the stock cars. Still, Patrick hasn’t displayed the same kind of raw talent her boss Tony Stewart has.
Denny Hamlin – He’s still with Joe Gibbs, but his crew chief Darian Grubb is a rookie on the No. 11 team – but only there. Grubb has won races with Jimmie Johnson and Stewart, not to mention engineered that brilliant 10-race run to close out last season with Smoke’s third Cup. Released after a championship season – totally bizarre – now his task is making the schizophrenic Hamlin relevant in the championship chase again.
Tony Stewart – Nope, he didn’t go anywhere either (and why would he? Smoke owns the place) but he did make a major move in the offseason. After letting Grubb go, Stewart hired Steve Addington to guide his championship-winning team. This assignment might be the easiest one of Addington’s career, after spending the past four seasons with the volatile Busch brothers. On Stewart’s worst days, it will seem like a pleasant upgrade.
Just sayin’: Word on the street is that Kate Upton’s cover shot for the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has been doctored in Photoshop. This news is as shocking as the NCAA’s report that marijuana use among student-athletes has risen.
Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader in Corning, N.Y., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.