Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Clash

Saturday night the lights come on and the engines fire.

It's just a preseason race. No points, no championship implications, just money and pure racing.

It may only be A 75 lap race, but it is all racing fans want at this point. 

There is something about watching the best of the best mix it up without worrying about their points impact that shows the pure competition this wonderful sport has. Beating, banging, three-wide passes, and action that lasts for the entire race. 

17 drivers are set to take the track. It is also fans' first chance to see Daniel Suarez in a Cup car. The 25 year old Mexican driver is allowed to enter in replace of the now retired Carl Edwards.  

Also in their first clash is 2nd year Texan Chris Buescher who will benefit from the added seat time in his new ride.  

Interestingly, the sport's biggest star, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won't be piloting the 88 car on Saturday. Alex Bowman, Earnhardt's replacement for many races last season, will be attempting to grab his first win in a Cup car. 

Although there is no points awarded and the only impact the race has is bragging rights, there is guaranteed action awaiting for Saturday night. 

I suppose I need to make a prediction even though this is just a preseason event. I will predict the top 3 for every week of the season. 

Look for Toyota to look strong early in this race. I know that's not a very bold prediction following their most dominate season ever in the sport, but I feel they have an upper hand going into the season.

However, I do not think they will win. I like Brad Keselowski to take the checkered followed by Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliot.

One thing is for sure, coming to the line these guys won't be playing nicely, and whoever find the most luck will come away on top. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two Week Predictions Pt. 2

In part one of this series I previewed half of the cup series. In this part I will cover the second half.

Penske Racing has been arguably the second best team in the series over the past two years. The young combo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have been able to consistently win races and compete week in and week out. With one championship in 2012, the team came so close to grabbing its second of the chase era last season with Logano.

I expect the duo to continue to win races and run up front throughout the year. Both drivers should make the chase easily. I really think they have a solid chance at a title. If they can avoid some wrecks in the chase and maybe some other bad luck, they will compete late in the season.

The best single car team in the field is now a two car team. Furniture Row Racing enjoyed an extreme amount of success last year. The move to Toyota looked like a genius move for the Denver based organization. With the addition of Erik Jones, who I think could be the best rookie in the series since Kevin Harvick, the team is on the verge of greatness. Look for multiple wins from both teams this season. There might be some growing pains early in the year, but once the new car smell wears off the team will be a force.

The Ganassi boys made a little noise last season with Kyle Larson grabbing his first ever Cup win. Jamie McMurray made the chase and all seemed to be going well for the two car team. I think they achieved all they can hope for in a season. If McMurray grabs a win this year, which I think the chances are slim, the team will have to be satisfied. Expect maybe one win from the team, grabbing multiple is far stretch. I think the team just does not have what it takes to drive with the other top teams.

As far as the rest of the field, I don't expect much. Petty has struggled to compete this decade. JTG racing will have its competitiveness hurt with the addition of another team. Roush continues to fall. I expect the Ford team to struggle for top 10's. Especially with the loss of their veteran driver Greg Biffle.

The playoff field will be very similar to last year's. Look for Kyle Busch to lock up the regular season title. The fact that Harvick will be switching manufacturers and the 18's ability to dominate races sets up the perfect formula for him to earn those extra playoff points. The rest of the field will fall just about as expected. All four Gibbs cars should be in, despite the rookie Daniel Suarez joining the team. Both Penske cars, the 24, the 48, and the 88 from Hendrick, both Furniture Row cars, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick from SHR, Jamie McMurray, and my dark horse playoff pick A.J. Almendinger.

When the dust settles in Miami Kyle Busch with hoisting the first ever Monster Energy Nascar Cup. I know it's not a risky pick, but the Vegas product is just too good to pick against.

The first cars hit the track Thursday. I can already feel it. It's time. Let's go racing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Two Weeks Predictions pt. 1

Two weeks from Thursday cars will be on track at Daytona. What can we expect from this 2017 season?

This season will be different, plain and simple. New rules and a solid rookie class have set this up as a period of change in NASCAR. 

Last season we saw the domination of Joe Gibbs Racing for 2/3 of the season. This season won't see the same. With the retirement of Carl Edwards the four car team lost a valuable veteran input and a serious title contender. Kenseth, Hamin, and Busch will continue to win races. They'll be competitive every week and fight at the top of field week in and week out. They just will not dominate in the same fashion they did last season with Edwards missing from the team.

Daniel Suarez is coming off the heels of his Xfinity Series Championship, but ask any rookie driver and they'll tell you that the Cup Series is an entirely different animal. Without a single start in the series, he will struggle out of the gate. When the series begins visiting tracks for the second time his production will pick up. 

Stewart-Haas Racing has had a good three year run lead by the 4 team and Kevin Harvick. Now, standing on the horizon of Daytona, the team has new emblem on the front of the car. Switching from Chevy to Ford may not seem like a big deal, but I expect the team to stumble a bit. 

Going from the coveted Hendrick chassis to building their own will pose problems early. I think the same situation as Suarez applies here. They'll struggle out of the gate but as they get more comfortable in their new skin production will increase. Will the level of domination of the 4 team return? Probably not. Their production level was so high I don't think they have much of a chance with a new manufacturer. At least for now.

The Chevy banner is now solely in the Hendrick stable. With Jimmie Johnson winning his 7th title last season and Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his return, momentum has to be high around the shop. I see this year being a good year for the team. 

Chase Elliot has been around for year and I don't see reason why he can't snag his first win early on in the season. Johnson and Jr. will have a typical year. I'm going to say it right now, Johnson will win two races early and then take a break from victory lane for awhile. As everyone freaks out about this being the end of his career, he'll quietly continue to grind and find himself in the final four once again. 

This season is sure to have a different feel. Make sure you check out part 2 of this series Thursday to see my predictions for the rest of the field and my playoff predictions. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

It's Finally February -- 40 V8 Engines Firing

It is finally time we get to go racing.

The Super Bowl is Sunday. For most, it signifies the glorious end to another football season and the dawn of a long summer without America's new favorite sport.

For me, it means it's almost time. It is finally February. 

Every other sport has its biggest event at the end of the season. Fittingly, NASCAR has to do things a bit differently. 

The last weekend of February marks the biggest racing event of the year. The Daytona 500. Nothing else on earth is like it. 

40 V8 engines all firing for the first time since the beginning of a long winter. My heart is already racing in anticipation. The fanfare, the atmosphere, the name, the greats, the history, and the race. 

If you have never watched a race, let alone been to one, watch this one. Get into it. Pick a car and root for it. Feel the excitement of a 5 p.m. traffic jam at 205 mph. 

We are only four Sundays away. Get ready. Daytona is coming.