Wednesday, November 22, 2017

2017 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

We have made it to the end of another NASCAR season and it is time to look back at the predictions made nearly a year go when Christmas trees started appearing on curbs and retail stores were full of people looking to make a return.

1. Toyota Does Not Repeat as Manufactures' Champions in Cup
Wrong! Toyota won 16 races for the second consecutive season while Ford and Chevrolet each won ten races and Toyota took the Manufactures' Championship for the second consecutive year with 1,292 points with Ford scoring 1,254 points and Chevrolet scoring 1,247 points. I didn't expect this. I thought Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing would remain competitive but I didn't expect Martin Truex, Jr., winning eight races. Chevrolet ended the season without a victory in the final ten races. Hendrick Motorsports took a step back and Jimmie Johnson still won three races. Chevrolet is introducing new bodywork in 2018. Can it bring the manufacture back in earshot of Toyota? We will have to wait and see.

2. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Makes it to the Semifinal Round of the Chase
Wrong! I had a feeling heading into this season that it would be Earnhardt, Jr.'s final year in NASCAR and I was hopeful that he would have one final chance to show he was leaving on a high note. Unfortunately, he struggled to get going. He finished fifth at Texas and that would be his only top five finish of the season. By the time the series reached Charlotte it became clear the only way he was going to make the Chase was by winning a race and it was clear by the time the series returned to Daytona that he was going to have one shot at it. For the man who had so many fairy tale results, this wasn't a story that would end with happily ever after.

3. Stewart-Haas Racing has Fewer Victories, Top Ten Finishes and Drivers in the Chase than 2016
Correct! Despite having Kevin Harvick finish third in the championship, Stewart-Haas Racing won three races, down from six, the team had 52 top ten finishes, down from 57 and only Harvick and Kurt Busch made the Chase, one year after those two and Tony Stewart made the Chase. It was a really good year for Stewart-Haas Racing. The team did win the Daytona 500 but this year was going to be down a bit with the manufacture switch.

4. Jimmie Johnson is Fourth All-Time in Cup Victories by the End of 2017
Wrong! Johnson won three races in a seven-race stretch from Texas in April to Dover in June. He got to 83 victories, tied for sixth all-time. Johnson had one top five finish the rest of the season! If he had won one more race he would have at least tied Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth all-time. It seemed certain he would win at least five races after he had three victories by early June. He led 29 laps in the final half of the season. It wasn't his year and yet you shouldn't write him off for an eighth championship in 2018.

5. Less Than Five of the Chase Drivers are Different From 2016
Correct! Only four drivers were different from the 2016 Chase. The new drivers were Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. The four drivers that did not make it back to the Chase this year were the retired Tony Stewart, the retired Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Chris Buescher.

6. AJ Allmendinger Makes The Chase
Wrong! Allmendinger had one top five finish (a third in the Daytona 500) and five top ten finishes in the first 26 races but that was not enough to get him into the Chase. He started fifth at Sonoma but contact with Kyle Larson took him out of contention for victory. He didn't have what it took to contend for victory at Watkins Glen and unfortunately those are Allmendinger's two bites at the apple. If he doesn't succeed at either of those two tracks than he is likely not going to make the Chase. He has been a competent NASCAR driver considering how lost he was a decade ago when he moved over from Champ Car but he still has the handful of tracks where he is expected to get results and others where he isn't given a chance.

7. Erik Jones' Average Starting Position is 3.5 Points Lower than His Average Finish
Wrong! Erik Jones average starting position was 14.6 while his average finish was 17.1 so the difference was 2.5, not 3.5. It was a good year for Erik Jones and now he moves to Joe Gibbs Racing. I expect he will do better in 2018 and maybe win a race. Although, he just left the championship winning team.

8. Championship Ineligible Drivers win more than 16 of the first 26 Grand National Series Race
Correct! Championship ineligible drivers won 17 of the first 26 races in NASCAR's second division this season. Kyle Busch won five of those 17 races, Kyle Larson won three of those, Erik Jones won two of those, Brad Keselowski won two of those, Denny Hamlin won two of those and Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola each won once.

Of the nine races won by championship eligible drivers, William Byron won three of those races while Justin Allgaier won twice. Ryan Reed won the season opener at Daytona, Jeremy Clements won at Road America, and part-time drivers Ryan Preece and Sam Hornish, Jr., each scored a victory.

9. All Four JR Motorsports Drivers Make the Chase
Correct! Not only did Elliott Sadler, William Byron, Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett all make the Chase in NASCAR's second division, the first three of those drivers swept the top three positions in the championship with Byron taking the championship ahead of Sadler. With neither Team Penske nor Joe Gibbs Racing fielded championship drivers, this is the premier team in the second division when it comes to the drivers' championship. If the Chase didn't exist, the team would have still swept the top three except with Sadler taking the title ahead of Byron. Next year the team sees Tyler Reddick enter for the departing William Byron but the team should still be the mightiest on the grid.

10. A Rookie is in the Top Four of the Truck Championship
Correct! Austin Cindric made the final four the Truck championship battle but he didn't make many friends along the way. His victory at Mosport came after an unpopular move to spin Kaz Grala on the final lap but it put him in the Chase. The Brad Keselowski Racing driver was consistent during the final seven races and he made the final four after his main rival for the final spot in the top four, Ben Rhodes, had his Phoenix race end after contact between the two drivers. Cindric finished fifth in the season finale at Homestead and that earned him third in the championship.

11. Someone Becomes the 28th Driver to Win in All Three National Touring Divisions
Correct! Not only did we get a 28th driver to accomplish the feat but we had a 29th driver as well. Austin Dillon's conservation run at Charlotte that led to his victory in the Coca-Cola 600 made him the 28th driver to win in the Cup, Grand National and Truck series. Two weeks later, Ryan Blaney became the 29th driver to join the club with his victory at Pocono.

12. There Will Not Be Any Fights In Any of NASCAR's Three National Touring Series
Wrong! These schmucks.

So down to six-for-12 after going eight-for-12 last year. It could have been worse.