Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

The NASCAR season ended just a few days ago and three champions were crowned. On the eve of Thanksgiving, it is time to look back and see how the predictions came out. There are a few that were wrong by a country mile. There were others that were spot on. Without further ado, here they are.

1. We Will See a Major Rule Change in One or All Three Series
Correct! We saw the qualifying changes at restrictor plate races after an unnecessary accident occurred in Daytona 500 qualifying and there were the downforce changes with the ridiculously large spoilers. Whether these were positive rule changes is debatable but they happened, the downforce changes were influential in races and they gave the NASCAR media something to fodder on for a few weeks.

2. Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray Both Win a Cup Race
Wrong! Neither won a race, although McMurray did make the Chase. While McMurray made the Chase, he barely had a good season. He led 14 laps all season and he didn't lead a lap after the spring Richmond race. Larson went from a great rookie season to a sophomore slump that brought he back down to the same level as fellow sophomore Austin Dillon. Both had ten top tens; McMurray had four top fives to Larson's two. I thought they would both build on the momentum from the end of 2014 but they fell back to a typical Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR form. The closest either came to winning was Larson last night, when he was charging down Brad Keselowski before the final caution came out.

3. Joe Gibbs Racing Wins Less Than Five Races
Wrong! By a large margin. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth each won five races apiece. Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin each won two races. Last year, Gibbs won two races and those were the only two Toyota victories in all of 2014. I thought the expansion to four cars would be spreading the team thin and Busch getting injured at Daytona didn't help. Little did we know that Kenseth would rebound, Edwards and Hamlin would have respectable season and Busch would not only return from his injury but win four of five over the summer and picked up his fifth victory in the final race to win the championship.

4. Darrell Wallace, Jr. Makes His Cup Series Debut
Wrong! He started all 33 races in NASCAR's second division but no Cup starts. I guess the era of development drivers getting a half a dozen races in an additional for a Cup team is over. I say that I realize Chase Elliott got a handful of races driving the #25 for Hendrick Motorsports but it use to be something that almost every big team did.

5. Tony Stewart Will Win a Cup Series Race
Wrong! Never close. Twenty-eighth in the championship. Three top tens. A sixth at Bristol in the spring was his best finish. I know he is retiring next year but perhaps he should just retire now. Maybe 2016 goes a little better, perhaps a race win falls into his lap and he gets back into the Chase but I don't think he has it to be a champion.

6. Roush Fenway Racing Fail to Win a Cup Race
Correct! Roush Fenway Racing is where Robert Yates Racing was a decade ago: Success not that far in the rearview mirror but clearly not the team they once were. Trevor Bayne hasn't done a thing since winning the Daytona 500 in 2011. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won consecutive titles in the second division but he has never blossomed into a competitive Cup driver. Greg Biffle is getting old. Ten years ago, Fenway Sports Group bought into the team coming off of consecutive Cup titles and was Ford's darling. Now, the team is in the back half of the grid on a regular basis and Penske are Ford's new squeeze. I just wonder if the Fenway of the sports team will sale their shares and if Roush could go the same way as Yates.

7. Chase Elliott Does Not Repeat as Grand National Series Champion
Correct! He finished second in the championship though to Chris Buescher. He is replacing Jeff Gordon next year in the Cup series. Not repeating didn't hurt him. But now the pressure will be on as he hits the big time.

8. NASCAR Continues to Ignore Cup Drivers Moonlighting in the Grand National and Truck Series.
Correct! Championship ineligible drivers won 25 of 33 races in the second division. That is 75.7%. While they didn't known anything to control moonlighting, the numbers in the Truck Series was the reciprocal of the second division as championship ineligible drivers won only six of 23 Truck races (26.08%). It's hard to read anything into the second division because there is so little success of the top drivers. The best driver won only two races. Ryan Reed won the first race of the season and that was his only top ten all season and he finished tenth in the championship. Ryan Sieg, Dakota Armstrong, J.J. Yeley and Jeremy Clements were the next four drivers in the championship standings and they all had only one top ten. That's not good.

9. The Truck Series Champion Wins More Than Three Races
Wrong! Erik Jones won three races. He had a good year and the Truck championship battle was pretty good between him, Tyler Reddick and Matt Crafton. It's still kind of puzzling though that Crafton could win double the races and have more top fives than Jones and only finished third in the championship.

10. Alex Tagliani Wins a NASCAR-sanctioned Race
Correct! He won in the Canadian Tires Series at Sunset Speedway. He might have deserved a win at Mid-Ohio but the Canadian Tires Series is NASCAR-sanctioned and it still counts.

11. Ratings Will Be Down Slightly on NBC, Mostly in the Grand National Series
Correct! Just look at the numbers. What really caught my eye is how high the ratings are after for the first six to eight weeks of the NASCAR season and then how they never get back to those levels. Fans are so starved that they watch but they don't stay for the long haul, or at least nothing after the first quarter of the season. I just wonder if fans get so turned off once the Chase comes around. It is tough to watch all 36 races. I've done it but it takes a lot of sacrifice. Perhaps NASCAR has oversaturated the fans with races. Maybe they should condense the schedule. Not the moronic level that IndyCar did and end before Labor Day weekend but end a few weeks earlier and have a few more off weeks during the season.

12. There Will Not Be a Winless Driver Eligible for the Cup Title Entering the Final Race
Correct! Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex, Jr. each had one victory. Kevin Harvick had three and Kyle Busch entered with four victories and picked up his fifth, which earned him his first Cup championship.

Six-for-twelve. That would be a pretty good weekend at the plate for Bryce Harper. There were a couple predictions that look completely ridiculously (the Gibbs one in particular) but overall, not terrible.