Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2020 IndyCar Predictions

We close another year with IndyCar predictions and we end 2019 with 75 days until the 2020 season opener at St. Petersburg. IndyCar heads into 2020 with a change in ownership ready to be finalized. Sometime in the first week of the year, ownership of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway with official be transferred to Roger Penske. IndyCar's greatest owner will control the entire kingdom. The Hulman-George family era will come to a close after nearly three quarters of a century in power. It is scary to think about such a seismic and previously unthinkable change.

But it is happening and there is nothing we can do about it. We will live with it. We will focus on the races and worry about the future will bring later. The 2020 season will see the introduction of the aeroscreen, a return to Richmond, a tweak to the push-to-pass system and a handful of new faces on the grid. What will happen on track? Here are 12 predictions for you to track...

1. Team Penske does not win either Indianapolis race
In year one of ownership, Roger Penske will not be crowning himself winner of either IndyCar race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Team Penske has won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis five consecutive times. Team Penske has won the Indianapolis 500 the last two years. The numbers are not on Team Penske's side in either case.

There have been cases of teams winning six consecutive races at one track. Chip Ganassi Racing did it at Mid-Ohio from 2009 to 2014. Andretti Autosport did it at Iowa from 2010 to 2015. From some rough research, those are the only two times a team has won six consecutive races at one track.

As for the Indianapolis 500, only twice has a team won the race in three consecutive years. Lou Moore did it 1947 to 1949 and Team Penske did it 2001 to 2003. That is it. Once again, numbers are not on Team Penske's side.

But if there were any team to buck the trend, wouldn't it be Team Penske? Wouldn't it make sense for Penske to keep adding to the record book?

It is very well possible. This is Team Penske after all. The team could sweep the season and nobody would be surprised. I see the strength in IndyCar and somebody else is going to breakthrough in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Chip Ganassi Racing is going to win that event eventually. It nearly did in 2019. Andretti Autosport will eventually win that race. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis could be a race where Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing gets a victory or perhaps it is a race where Ed Carpenter Racing takes a surprise victory.

As for the Indianapolis 500, Josef Newgarden could win the race in 2020 and that would make sense. It would be three consecutive Team Penske victories with three different drivers and Newgarden would check off the final box for his IndyCar career. However, there are many strong drivers at the Indianapolis 500.

Alexander Rossi has done the race four times and very well could have won all four. Ed Carpenter is knocking on the door. Scott Dixon is bound to have another Indianapolis 500 where he is in the conversation late. Ryan Hunter-Reay has had strong runs at Indianapolis. It would not be a surprise if Colton Herta has a knack for Indianapolis Motor Speedway in year two. Perhaps one of Graham Rahal or Marco Andretti could have that dream day and add to their family legacies.

Team Penske got a lot of attention for things achieved at 16th and Georgetown in 2019. For 2020, maybe it will be a year where others will get to experience the glory that only Indianapolis Motor Speedway can provide.

2. Alexander Rossi wins at least two races by less than six seconds
Rossi won two races in 2019. He won at Long Beach with a margin of victory of 20.236 seconds and he won at Road America with a margin of victory of 28.439 seconds.

They were two of the most impressive races we have seen in some time in IndyCar. The only problem for Rossi is those were his only two victories in 2019 and he finished third in the championship.

There were a few other races where Rossi came close but was not able to pull out a victory, notably at the Indianapolis 500, the first Belle Isle race and Texas, those latter two races Rossi was second to Josef Newgarden.

Rossi is going to win races in 2020. If 2018 was the year where Rossi had great days but found ways to cough up points and 2019 was the year where Rossi found consistency but did not have the muscle to take the championship then 2020 is the year where he perfects the balance and has great days combined with consistency and the muscle to win the title.

I think two victories is the minimum for Rossi and he is going to have one or two races where he might not have the best car but he finds a way to win, whether that is through pit strategy or improving the set up as a race goes on. Rossi's 2020 season is going to look different from his 2019 season and it should be for the better. Rossi is going to be at the top of the championship for another year. This could be the year he breaks through.

3. Felix Rosenqvist gets his first career victory in the first half of the season
The 2019 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Felix Rosenqvist did not get a victory in his maiden season but he had a few races where he came very close.

Rosenqvist led on debut at St. Petersburg before getting shuffled down the running order at St. Petersburg. He was blindingly quick at Long Beach before an accident in the second round of qualifying kept him from advancing to the Fast Six and he had to start 12th. He won pole position for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but did not have the right set up come time for the race. His most notable race was Mid-Ohio because Rosenqvist probably had the best car that day, ran the best strategy but fell 0.093 seconds short of his first career victory thanks to his teammate. And then there was Laguna Seca, where causing a local yellow kept Rosenqvist from advancing from the first round of qualifying, forced him to start 14th when he had one of the two best cars in the field and then he drove his way to fifth in that race.

Rosenqvist is knocking on the door and I do not think it will take long. I think he could win St. Petersburg. He knows St. Petersburg very well. I think he could win Long Beach. I think we could win either of the Belle Isle races. Rosenqvist has made a name for himself on street courses. It would only be fitting if his first IndyCar victory came at one.

Since IndyCar has an odd-numbered total races the midway point of the season is the ninth race at Texas, meaning there are eight before and eight after. There are not two equal halves. That means for this prediction to be fulfilled, Rosenqvist has to win one of the first eight races. I think that is going to happen and if he strings together a few wins early we could be looking at a new face in the championship race.

4. The difference between Colton Herta's average starting position and average finishing position is less than 3.0
While Herta's rookie season will be remembered for his two victories and impressive drives, Herta immediately set himself up as one of the best qualifiers in IndyCar.

These are not quite Will Power numbers but for a rookie these were damn impressive. If you throw out Pocono, where qualifying was rained out and entrant points' set the grid, Herta's average starting position was 6.9375, fifth best in IndyCar in 2019 behind only Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden and Power. In fact, only one position separated Power and Herta throughout the entire season.

The next best qualifier in 2019 after Herta was Simon Pagenaud at 9.0625.

The qualifying results were there but the race results weren't always there. That is not all on Herta. He made a few mistakes but most of the time it was mechanical problems that cost him promising results. That led to an average finish of 13.235 and among drivers that started at least 70% of the races that was 13th-best.

I don't think Herta is going to have the same type of problems in 2020 and I think he can easily close that gap.

At Long Beach, Herta was running tenth and brushed the wall ending his race. At Texas, he was set for a top five finish before he and Dixon got together. The half shaft broke at Iowa when Herta was going to finish seventh or eighth. He spun on his own when likely going to finish seventh or eighth at Pocono. If you gave Herta finishes of tenth, fifth, eighth and eighth his average finish was drop from 13.235 to 10.647.

Also remember the gearbox broke on Herta after three laps in the Indianapolis 500 after three laps. I don't know what Herta's day would have been if the gearbox did not immediately fail him but if you gave Herta 18th, the first car one lap down, and combine that with those other four results his average finish would have been 9.7647.

Herta doesn't have to win four more races to get his average finish down to something more reflective of his ability. He just needs to have the equipment last him for the entire race and bring the car home when he is running is a good position. I think Herta will do that in 2020 and with it should come an improved championship finish.

5. Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay are within 2.0 points per race of each other
When I wrote this prediction down we weren't sure how many races each Askew and VeeKay would run in 2020. There were thoughts Askew would be part-time with Chip Ganassi Racing but how many races beyond his three scholarship-funded races was not clear. VeeKay was always in line for a seat at Ed Carpenter Racing but it was thought he would run the road courses in the #20 Chevrolet.

Instead, Askew will be full-time with Arrow McLaren SP and VeeKay will be full-time in ECR's #21 Chevrolet.

The original thought for this prediction was how could we compare these two drivers, who have been championship rivals in all three levels of the Road to Indy, if one runs a significantly smaller portion of the races? The thought was points per race would allow us to look at VeeKay if he made 12 starts and Askew if he made five or six starts and give us an idea how each did.

The good news is both should be full-time but I will stick to points per race because that will give us more of an idea of how close they are to one another. Championship position can be misleading. They could be right next to each other in the championship but if one driver scores 50 points more than the other they weren't as close as they appeared. However, there could be five championship positions between them but if it is one of those clusters where 25 points cover six drivers than the numbers would point to these drivers being close despite a few drivers in-between them.

How much is 2.0 points per races?

Felix Rosenqvist took Rookie of the Year with 425 points, five more than Colton Herta. Based on points per race the difference was 0.2941 points per race. Comparing Santino Ferrucci and Marcus Ericsson, Ferrucci had 351 points, Ericsson had 290 points but started one fewer race, meaning the difference was 2.522 points per race in favor of Ferrucci.

I think these two will be close, not just they have been close in U.S. F2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights but because they are in similar circumstances. VeeKay joins ECR, which has been struggling to find an identity since the departure of Josef Newgarden. Askew joins a team that is taking on a new identity with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports becoming Arrow McLaren SP and switching to Chevrolet engines.

These are two teams that are in the same ballpark. Last year, SPM had James Hinchcliffe finish 12th in the championship and ECR had Spencer Pigot finishing 14th in the championship. While there was only one position between these two drivers, Hinchcliffe averaged 21.764 points per race to Pigot's 19.705, a difference of 2.059 points per race with the advantage to the SPM driver.

Will that change now that AMSP will take on Chevrolet engines while ECR has years of experience with the manufacture? Will VeeKay adapt to IndyCar quicker than Askew? I think these two rookies, the top two from the 2019 Indy Lights championship, are going to be easy to compare head-to-head throughout 2020.

6. Jack Harvey does not meet the goals Mike Shank has set
Mike Shank stated on The Marshall Pruett Podcast his goals for 2020 are finish in the top eight of the championship, advance to the second round of qualifying at every road/street course race and have two to three podium finishes.

Shank says those are realistic goals but that is asking a lot.

Harvey was 13th in the championship after the Indianapolis 500 in 2019 and he had run every race through the Indianapolis 500. Harvey did have a third place finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and he spent a fair portion of that race as a contender for the victory and pretty much that entire race in the top five. Harvey made it out of the first round of qualifying five times out of nine times he participated in knockout qualifying.

Let's start with the championship: We can pretty much pencil in three Team Penske cars, Dixon and Rossi into the top eight of the championship. That leaves three spots with two more Ganassi cars, four more Andretti cars, two Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing cars and Arrow McLaren SP will likely hope to have at least one car fighting for the top eight.

Add the Shank car and that is ten cars competing for the final three spots in the top eight. Good luck.

As for advancing from the first round of qualifying at every road and street course races: Only one driver did that in 2019 and that was Scott Dixon. Will Power had one race where he did not advance (Toronto). Alexander Rossi had one race where he did not advance (Grand Prix of Indianapolis). Josef Newgarden was the champion and failed to make it out of round one on three occasions. Simon Pagenaud ran the full season and he made it out of the first round of qualifying the same number of times Harvey did.

Shank has to set the bar somewhere but for a single-car team that will be in its first full season I think his goals cannot be met but the season still be considered a success. I think if Harvey ends up tenth in the championship, only makes it out of the first round of qualifying seven times and has one podium finish the team should not be ashamed of those results and nor should Harvey lose his job.

When Shank stated these goals I got a little scared for Harvey. I would hate to see him get canned after 2020 just because he wasn't in the top eight. Harvey has not an outstanding job working his way to IndyCar and he has found the right program for him. The team has shown early success and it is good to set goals and set the bar high. Everyone needs something to shoot for but failure to meet these goals should not lead to a complete overhaul of the program.

It is going to be tough and I think Harvey will be somewhere between 11th and 15th in the championship, which might not sound good, but I think he will have bright spots throughout the season. There will be races where Harvey is a driver that gets a lot of attention afterward for what he did.

Keep in mind Harvey will be going to three ovals he has never been to before and another that he has not been to since 2015. The team will still be learning. There are going to be rough patches and I hope the team stays together for 2021 and beyond.

7. Graham Rahal does not have a fifth consecutive decline in championship finish
The second half of the 2010s was good but concerning for Rahal. He was a championship contender in 2015 only to finish fourth in the championship, a disservice to the season he actually had.

Since that fourth in the championship, Rahal has finished fifth, sixth, eighth and tenth in the championship. He has slowly slid back each season. Winning a photo finish in Texas and sweeping a doubleheader at Belle Isle did not stop the bleeding. If the slid continues into 2020, Rahal will finish outside the top ten of the championship for the first time since 2014.

That will not be the case in 2020 for Rahal. It is hard to pick out what ten drivers will make up the top ten of the championship, mostly because you list 15 names that you definitely think will be there and at least five will end up on the outside.

All Rahal has to do to fulfill this prediction is finish tenth again. He doesn't need to finish ninth or eighth or fifth or first. He just needs to finish tenth, which is basically the middle in IndyCar. That sounds easy but once again, out of Rahal, Newgarden, Pagenaud, Power, Rossi, Herta, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Rosenqvist, Sato, Ericsson, VeeKay, O'Ward, Askew, Ferrucci, Palou and Harvey, which seven do you think will not be in the top ten?

The one thing in Rahal's favor is the grid, on paper at least, seems to be slightly less competitive than when Sébastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe were there. That might just be familiarity and the names Bourdais and Hinchcliffe seem like more of a threat than Palou and Askew but Rahal will have experience over those drivers. Add to it that A.J. Foyt Racing and Carlin have yet to announce drivers and the number of possible top ten finishers is smaller than if they had already announced their lineups.

I am not saying Rahal is going to have a standout year. Sato won two races in 2019 but Rahal had more top ten finishes. The difference is when Sato had a good day it was a very good day and Rahal had too many days where he was somewhere between seventh and ninth and never had a race where he was fighting for a victory. Rahal can win a race in 2020 but it is going to take a lot for him to repeat his 2015 efforts.

8. Santino Ferrucci finishes outside the top eight in oval points
In 2019, Ferrucci was one of the most unexpected success in the IndyCar oval races. He ended up with three top five finishes, four top ten finishes, completed 1,123 of 1,124 laps and scored the fourth most oval points behind Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi.

The next best rookie on ovals in 2019 was Marcus Ericsson, who scored 93 points in five oval races while Ferrucci score 170 points.

Ferrucci was fantastic but his results came with a bit of fortune. Every successful driver is going to have fortune goes his or her way and Ferrucci got a seventh place finish after five cars ahead of him were taken out in an accident. He got up to fourth at Texas after similar circumstances and strategy. He was fourth at Pocono after five cars that were starting ahead of him were taken out on lap one.

We do not know where Ferrucci would have finished in any of these races if none of these accidents had occurred but it likely would have been a few places down the order. A few places down the order in three races adds up. That could be 20 points per race. Take away 60 points from Ferrucci's total and he would have been 12th in oval points.

The other thing to consider is Ferrucci has lost engineer Mike Cannon, who has taken the same position on Scott Dixon's pit stand, and Dale Coyne Racing has lost Craig Hampson, who is moving over to Arrow McLaren SP.

Remember how far down the order Dale Coyne Racing was on ovals prior to the arrival of Hampson and Sébastien Bourdais in 2017?

From 2014-2016, Dale Coyne Racing had zero top ten finishes and an average finish of 18.945.

I don't think Ferrucci and Dale Coyne Racing will immediately return to its 2014-16 form. It might have lost Hampson and Cannon but the team is not going to lose all of its speed. Ferrucci might still be able to fight for a few top ten finishes but I do not think he is going to have as many top five finishes. I also don't think Ferrucci is going to have the same type of fortune and gain five spots because of a big accident. There is probably going to be an oval race where Ferrucci brushes the wall or is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The 2020 season will be one where we learn a lot about Ferrucci. He had all the pieces around him in 2019 to help him succeed. Those are all gone. There might be capable people at DCR and the bottom will not fall out but I expect more difficult days for Ferrucci and it is going to test his patience.

9. Richmond has somewhere between 400-600 passes
This is a wide range but I am not entirely sure what race we will see at Richmond.

Iowa went from 955 passes in 2018 to 579 passes in 2019. Gateway went from 396 passes in 2018 to 275 passes in 2019. The 2018 Phoenix race had 280 passes.

Richmond falls in line with these three tracks. It is smaller than Iowa but has similarities with Phoenix. It does not have progressive banking. It could end up being like Phoenix but while we had three Phoenix races that were not great we have last year's Gateway race that had fewer passes than the 2018 Phoenix race and people cheered as a good race.

I think Richmond and IndyCar should be shooting for this range in terms of number of passes. Whether or not the race is good is not dependent on the number of passes but it certainly helps. Whether or not Richmond produces a good race comes down to if passes are possible, if passes can be made for the lead, if one car with better tire degradation can work its way ahead one that is struggling with tires and if traffic can be negotiated in a steady fashion.

10. There are at least nine different race winners
There were only seven different winners in IndyCar in 2019. That does not sound bad but that is the fewest number of winners in IndyCar since the 2010 season.

Seven different winners is not bad. It is a debate of quality versus quantity. You had Colton Herta win two races with Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Alexander Rossi won two races. Scott Dixon won twice. Takuma Sato won twice, one of which was a short oval race.

Team Penske did win nine of 17 races but that is kind of the norm. A bunch of different teams win but Team Penske still finds a way to win half the races. These aren't the days when Team Penske and Ganassi combined to win 16 of 17 races.

While Team Penske continues to have a firm grasp on IndyCar the field is deep and there are plenty of potential winners out there. The 2020 grid does appear to have taken a bit of a hit with Sébastien Bourdais exiting the series and James Hinchcliffe on the sidelines and with a full-time ride appearing to be less and less likely with each passing day.

There are still a lot of great drivers out there and drivers capable of winning. All three Team Penske drivers are going to win again in 2020. Add to that Dixon is going to win at least once; I already said Rosenqvist is going to win one of the first eight races, Rossi and Herta are both going to win races and we have seven winners already.

Though Ryan Hunter-Reay has not had the same frequency of victories as he once did you cannot rule him out from putting a race together and ending up on the top step of the podium. Sato could replicate his road and street course pace again in 2020. Sato has won a race in three consecutive seasons after all. It would not come as a surprise if Sato made it a perfect 7-for-7 of 2019 winners getting a victory in 2020.

This could be the year Graham Rahal ends his drought or maybe Ed Carpenter finds that oval magic. Maybe we get another surprise winner and either Oliver Askew, Patricio O'Ward or Rinus VeeKay score a first career victory.

IndyCar is still a place where on any given race day any team can have the pieces fall in place and take a victory. I think we will see IndyCar trend upward a little bit, balancing out the slight dip we saw in 2019.

11. Marcus Ericsson finishes ahead of the second AMSP driver in the championship
Ericsson's sophomore season will occur in a new location with the Swede moving from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ericsson's rookie season was not spectacular but he did have plenty of promising days. He did get a runner-up finish in the second Belle Isle race. He had a respectable seventh his first time at Texas. His rookie season is full of missed opportunities. He had a top ten run going at Austin but a pit lane penalty for unsafe released dropped him to a 15th place result. He was the best Schmidt car in the Indianapolis 500 before he spun entering the pit lane. He had a top ten run going at Iowa before a penalty for improper pit entry.

The mistakes should be out of the way for Ericsson. He learned the tracks. He learned the limits. His 2020 season should be an improvement over 17th in the championship with 290 points.

However, how will his hopeful improvement compare to the two Arrow McLaren SP drivers?

Oliver Askew will be a full-fledged rookie. Patricio O'Ward ran seven races in 2019 but he still has a lot to learn. Schmidt Petersen Motorsports was not having great success in recent seasons with championship results. The team has only one top ten championship finish since 2015 and that was James Hinchcliffe in tenth in 2018.

In 2015, James Jakes was 16th in the championship. In 2016, Hinchcliffe was 13th and Mikhail Aleshin was 16th. Hinchcliffe was 13th the year after that and Aleshin was 17th in the championship when he lost his full-time roll after Iowa. In 2018, Hinchcliffe was tenth and Robert Wickens was 11th after spending much of the season sixth in the championship before missing the final three races. Last season, Hinchcliffe was 12th and Ericsson was 17th.

O'Ward is highly touted but out-performing Schmidt's past will be difficult to do. Askew will be completely new to this. Askew won the Indy Lights championship and took the fast track up the Road to Indy spending only one season in each step on his way to IndyCar.

The one thing in Ericsson's favor is even the third-best Ganassi car on the grid is a good car. From 2011 to 2017, the average championship finish for the third-best Ganassi was 10.2 with that driver finishing in the top ten of the championship in four of seven seasons.

I think we are looking at a season where Ericsson could be somewhere between tenth and 14th in the championship. He may finish behind one AMSP car but both seems like much. Ericsson will be in the right equipment. The question will be whether or not AMSP makes significant progress with two young drivers.

12. There will not be one race that starts on one day and ends on another
We are not going to have a repeat of Iowa. We are not going to be starting at 11:30 pm on a Saturday night and end around 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

We are not going to have a repeat of Barber from a few years ago where we got about 20 laps in, it poured, the track was lost and the final 63 laps were run on a Monday afternoon.

We are not going to repeat Texas 2016 where we did 70-plus laps on a Sunday in June and finished it on the final Saturday in August.

We are not going to have the nightmare Indianapolis 500 that gets four laps in on Sunday, gets another 50 in on Monday and is finished on Tuesday.

However, this prediction is not ruling out rain-delayed races. All this predictions says if the race starts on one day it will end within that day. That means if the Indianapolis 500 is delayed to Monday and no laps were run on Sunday and the race is officially over when Monday concludes then it still falls within this prediction.

If Mid-Ohio gets delayed two weeks for some reason but the entire race takes place within one day than this prediction is still good.

I left a lot of wiggle room for this prediction.

That is it! All the predictions are complete. If you missed predictions for NASCAR, Formula One, sports cars or Et Cetera, please check those out.

I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and we will quickly get into in 2020. Some fun is planned but we also have some business to attend to. Races are coming up quickly and previews are in order. Keep an eye out for those over the next few days and weeks. We are going to be in the thick of motorsports season before we know it.

Monday, December 30, 2019

2020 Sports Car Predictions

We are in an active time for sports car racing as we enter the new decade. We are in the final days of the LMP1 class before entering the unknown with the hypercar class. IMSA is trying to fit in with DPi and find a way to be connected to the ACO and FIA and make it possible for the top teams in North America to end up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The European Le Mans Series seems to be doing just fine. The 2020 season will be interesting on many different levels. What should you keep an eye on?

1. IMSA: At least four cars have multiple overall victories in DPi
IMSA's top class is going to be going through a transition in 2019. The Nissan Onroak DPi is gone after CORE Autosport closed down its prototype program. Action Express Racing will be a single-car program. Juncos Racing's program is influx. Mazda is committed to the first two races with Team Joest but after that the team will not be on the grid unless another customer program steps up (*cough* Dyson Racing *cough*).

We could be down to six DPi entries after Sebring and they will be five really strong cars.

You would have the champions, the #6 Acura Team Penske of Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya with the sister car of Hélio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor.

Wayne Taylor Racing has Renger van der Zande and Ryan Briscoe in the #10 Cadillac. Action Express Racing keeps its Lusophone lineup of Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr in the #31 Cadillac.

João Barbosa moves to JDC-Miller Motorsports and brings Sébastien Bourdais with him in the #5 Cadillac and the other JDC-Miller Cadillac will be Chris Miller and Juan Piedrahita.

I don't think one or two cars will dominate the championship. I think there will be a rotation of winners. Both Penske cars could win two races apiece. Wayne Taylor Racing is going to win more than it did in 2019. Derani and Nasr are going to win races and Barbosa and Bourdais can win races.

This is a class with likely only six entries but five legitimate championship contenders. The deduction in entries is a concern but for the 2020 season 80% of the class could end up with the championship. That will be fun to watch.

2. DragonSpeed easily wins the LMP2 championship
The good news for IMSA is there seems like there will be an LMP2 class worth watching in 2020.

Performance Tech Motorsports and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports are returning and the class is expanding. DragonSpeed, Rick Ware Racing, Era Motorsport and Starworks have all announced programs for the 2020 season. After being dwarfed in comparison to every other class in 2019, LMP2 is going to be nearly the same size as DPi and GT Le Mans.

DragonSpeed is coming in with plenty of LMP2 experience from the European Le Mans Series and the FIA World Endurance Championship. That experience will come in handy. I think DragonSpeed is going to crush the competition. This is a foe Performance Tech and PR1/Mathiasen are not ready for. Rick Ware Racing is not going to stand a chance. Era Motorsport is a new team. DragonSpeed is on another level and it should be lifting the class championship trophy after Petit Le Mans but it will be locked up before the checkered flag at Road Atlanta.

When it comes to easily wins the LMP2 championship I mean it is either wrapped up at Laguna Seca or all the car has to do is start Petit Le Mans.

3. Corvette picks up multiple victories
The 2019 season was a dismal one for the Corvette factory effort. It was shutout of victories for the first time since the program's first season in 1999. It's most recent victory was Long Beach 2018.

A shakeup has occurred. Jan Magnussen has been released and Jordan Taylor has been brought in to join Antonio García. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner will both return but you have to think the pressure will be on them.

It is not that Corvette is on some disastrous decline. Since its most recent victory, Corvette has had 17 podium finishes and nine of those were runner-up finishes.

I think the program is due for a turn around and Taylor will lift the program. I think the #3 Corvette of García and Taylor alone will get multiple victories.

4. There will be fewer consecutive winners in GTD than 2019
In the 2019 season, there were consecutive winners on three occasions. The #11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini won the first two races at Daytona and Sebring. The #14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus won at Mid-Ohio and Belle Isle. The #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche won at Lime Rock Park and Road America.

For a Pro-Am class with Balance of Performance that seems like a lot of consecutive race winners for one season. The GT Daytona class is full of capable winners and I think we will see a greater variety of winners. I think there could be one or two occasions when a team wins back-to-back races. There is going to be a team that gets it right for multiple races or wins one race on pure pace and the next on strategy but to think there could be teams that win consecutive races on three different occasions does not seem likely.

5. FIA World Endurance Championship: One more manufacture confirms a hypercar program
We have Toyota, Aston Martin, Peugeot and Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus confirmed for hypercar programs. Toyota and Aston Martin will be there for day one in 2020, Glickenhaus will come the year after that and Peugeot is scheduled for a 2022 debut.

I think they are going to have some company.

We seem to be heading toward DPi/Hypercar convergence. We could see Cadillac and Acura all of a sudden become eligible and then those two manufactures announcing a new car for this combined class for either 2021 or 2022. Convergence appears to be what could draw in McLaren, Porsche or other manufactures. It seems like one set of prototype regulations that covers IMSA and WEC will bring out more manufactures. There will be fewer headaches, less weighing the options of whether or not to run a world championship program or a domestic series and it will be the best for both sides.

I think 2020-21 is out of the realm of possibility for a program announced in the next few months. Any of these announced programs will be coming in the 2021-22 at the earliest. If convergence is agreed upon I think we will have a few announcements within the first few months. Even if convergence is not ironed out I think there is another manufacture out there that will see the new regulations and decide to dive into the pool.

Think of it this way: This upcoming Le Mans will be the final Le Mans before the hypercar introduction. Doesn't it make sense for the ACO and FIA to have a big announcement of another hypercar entry coming on at Le Mans? Doesn't it make sense for that manufacture to have a big display at Le Mans? Even if that car will not be ready for the 2020-21 season, don't you want to make waves and get the most attention?

6. There will be at least one LMP2 podium not to feature a French driver
At least one French driver has finished on the LMP2 podium in 22 consecutive races.

The last time a French driver was not on the LMP2 podium was Shanghai 2016 when the winners were Romain Rusinov, Alex Brundle and Will Stevens for G-Drive Racing, Extreme Speed Motorsports were runner-up finishers with Antonio Giovinazzi, Tom Blomqvist and Sean Gelael and the third-place finisher was RGR Sport by Morand with Ricardo González, Filipe Albuquerque and Bruno Senna.

To extend it further that Shanghai race is the only one since 2016 without a French driver on the LMP2 podium.

It sounds crazy to think that will stop especially when the LMP2 championship class leaders include Frenchman Gabriel Aubry.

The realistic podium for this prediction to be fulfilled would include the United Autosports entry, which has Albuquerque, Philip Hanson and Paul di Resta; Racing Team Nederland, which is an all-Dutch lineup with Giedo van der Garde, Frits van Eerd and Nyck de Vries; and Jota Sport with Anthony Davidson, António Félix da Costa and Roberto González.

That could happen and if doesn't happen in the final four races of the 2019-20 season we still have the first four races of the 2020-21 season and who knows what LMP2 will look like when that season starts.

7. The #92 Porsche finishes on the podium in less than half the GTE-Pro races in the 2020 calendar year
The #92 Porsche was on the podium in six of eight races in the 2018-19 season and has finished on the podium of three of the first four races in the 2019-20 season.

There are only six cars in this class, all you have to do is finish in the top half of the class and Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre have been phenomenal. It is hard to see how this duo will finish off the podium more times than not but there will be eight races in the 2020 calendar year. The #92 Porsche needs four podium finishes to crush this prediction. That seems easy. What team will keep the Porsche's regularly off the podium?

The #97 Aston Martin has finished third in all four races in the 2019-20 season. The #95 Aston Martin has won twice. Can Aston Martin keep up this pace? Can AF Corse right the ship and get back into the fight?

This prediction is a stretch but you have to take a risk with some of these.

8. At least three different entries win a race in GTE-Am
Through the first four races of the 2019-20 season there have been three different winners, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari, the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin and the #57 Team Project 1 Porsche.

Entries that have not won a race yet are the #54 AF Corse Ferrari, the defending champions the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche, the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche and the #98 Aston Martin. There are plenty of capable entries in GTE-Am. A few of them are going to win. There are only four races left in the 2019-20 season but three different winners and new winners at that in the final four races is not entirely improbable.

9. European Le Mans Series: There will be at least four different LMP2 winners, breaking the pattern
Here has been the pattern in the European Le Mans Series:

2013: Four different winners.
2014: Five different winners.
2015: Three different winners.
2016: Three different winners.
2017: Four different winners.
2018: Three different winners.
2019: Four different winners.

There have not been consecutive seasons with four different LMP2 winners or more since 2013 and 2014. The LMP2 class is going to have 16 to 18 entries in every race. There could be six different winners through six races. This class is going to have variety and there is not going to be one entry that dominates and wins three or four races.

10. British entries will combine for the most LMP3 victories among team nationalities
In 2019, there were seven British entries in the LMP3 class and those seven entries combined for one victory.

That is going to change. United Autosports typically fields two cars. Last year, one of the United Autosports entries had four podium finishes but did not get a victory. The only British victory in class came from 360 Racing.

Inter Europol Competition is going to be tough to beat. Eurointernational is the defending champions. However, I think it will come down to power in numbers and that favors the British teams.

11. At least one GTE winner does not feature an Italian driver
Every GTE winner in 2019 featured at least one Italian driver. I think that was an anomaly.

In 2018, the most frequent nationality to win in GTE was British, three times. In 2017, four of six GTE races had a British victor. In 2016, five of six GTE winners featured a British driver.

I do not think we are going to see the reverse and every race have a British winner in GTE but one nationality on the top step of the podium at the end of every race will not happen.

12. A whole number of points is the difference between first and second in each championship
The LMP3 was decided by 8.5 points in 2019. In 2018, the margins for each championship were 34.25 points for LMP2, 7.25 points in LMP3 and 7.5 points in GTE. The 2016 LMP3 championships was decided by 16.5 points.

The reason for the fractions is a finisher outside the top ten in class gets a half-point. In 2018, the Spa round was shortened due to weather and that led to half-points being awarded, meaning half of a half-point led to cars getting a quarter of a point.

I want one year where the margins are ten points, 12 points and three points. This prediction can still be fulfilled happen if a class champion has 112.5 points because the vice-champion could end up on 80.5 points and then the difference is 32 points.

Either the top two in each championship will end on whole numbers or both are going to end with a half-point somewhere in the season. This is a ridiculous prediction but it is something different to watch for in 2020.

We have completed four of five predictions. Feel free to look at the NASCAR, Formula One and Et Cetera predictions. Tomorrow, we end the year with IndyCar predictions.

Friday, December 27, 2019

2020 Et Cetera Predictions

We are back with our annual look at a plethora of series from around the globe. There are just too many series to do specific predictions for each. In this case we will make one prediction for notable series, from domestic series to international, two wheels and four.

1. MotoGP: There will be at least three first-time winners
Fabio Quartararo should have picked up his first career victory in 2019.

Álex Márquez will be moving up to Honda.

Those are the two obvious candidates for first-time winners in MotoGP in 2020. It seems like it will be only a matter of time for Quartararo. The younger Márquez is another story. He is on the right bike. His brother Marc was the only one to get a handled of the Honda in 2019. It would be a slightly foolish to think Álex will jump on the bike and immediately be keeping up with his brother or in a few cases beating him. However, it would not be crazy if Álex figures it out and he pulls out a victory.

It would be easy if I said there would be at least two first-time winners with Quartararo and Á. Márquez but let's make this interesting.

Aleix Espargaró, Johann Zarco, Tito Rabat, Francesco Bagnaia, Takaaki Nakagami, Brad Binder, Pol Espargaró, Iker Lecuona, Miguel Oliveira, Joan Mir and Franco Morbidelli are the other riders entering 2020 without a MotoGP victory.

Mir could do it. Zarco was the guy knocking on the door for a while and then made the wrong career-move, went to KTM and now he is at the team that finished last in the championship in 2019, Avintia Racing Ducati. Binder has shown strength in Moto3 and Moto2, has been a contemporary to Álex Márquez for a few seasons and maybe 2020 is the year KTM surprises us. Pol Espargaró has done a good job with KTM. He would be a worthy winner.

On top of that, it is MotoGP; we have seen plenty of surprise winners. All we need is a rainy day and then anyone could be champion.

2. Indy Lights: The winner of the first race of the season does not drop out midseason
Last year, Zachary Claman won the first race at St. Petersburg, he had a good season going, was fourth in the championship and his season ended after the sixth race of 2019.

It was a shame because Claman went to IndyCar, had respectable results in IndyCar, went back to Indy Lights and it seemed like it was going to be a great chance for him to get track time and potentially win the scholarship to get back to IndyCar.

Things have gone quiet on Claman's career and the 2020 Indy Lights grid is still a work in progress. We know Robert Megennis is staying, David Malukas will remain, Kyle Kirkwood dominated the Indy Pro 2000 championship and has the scholarship and Nikita Lastochkin will move up with Exclusive Autosport after five years in the Road to Indy between U.S. F2000 and Indy Pro 2000 where he has made 75 starts, has zero victories, two podium finishes and 18 top five finishes.

I don't think we are going to have a repeat of the Claman situation, at least I hope we will not. Indy Lights really cannot afford that.

Setting the criteria, this has to be if the driver runs fewer than 70% of the races and then does not return. If the driver runs the first five rounds, misses one because of injury, illness or funding but returns and runs the remainder then that does not count as a midseason drop out. Now, if the driver runs the first four races and then does not run again until the finale, this will count as a drop out.

3. Supercars: At least four teams and at least two teams from each manufacture win a race
In 2019, three teams won a Supercars race, the Ford teams of DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing and the Holden team of Triple Eight Race Engineering.

Both full-time Penske entries of Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard, both full-time Triple Eight Race Engineering entries of Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen and Chaz Mostert of Tickford Racing were the winners. That was it.

In 2018, five teams won a race. In 2017, five teams won a race. In 2016, eight teams won a race.

Things have taken a turn and that happens when McLaughlin has a historic season but I think 2020 will see the pendulum swing and a few more different winners. McLaughlin, Whincup and van Gisbergen are all going to win a race. Mostert is moving to Walkinshaw Andretti United. That team has too much invested into it not to have some success. I think it will get back to the top step.

David Reynolds was sixth in the championship in 2019 but did not pick up a victory for Erebus Motorsports. Tickford Racing retained Lee Holdsworth and Cameron Waters. Waters had six podium finishes in 2019. Will Davison had two runner-up finishes in 2019 and he will return for 23Red Racing.

4. World Superbike: American Garrett Gerloff will be no better than the fifth-best Yamaha rider
This is a big jump for Garrett Gerloff. The American rider was third in the 2019 MotoAmerica Superbike championship behind Cameron Beaubier and Toni Elias with four victories and 15 podium finishes from 20 races.

That is good but World Superbike is a lot more competitive than the top Superbike championship in the United States. This isn't the AMA Superbike of old where Ben Spies could leave and then immediately win the World Superbike championship and be in MotoGP the year after that.

Gerloff is 24 years old and he is going to race on 13 tracks that are completely new to him. Add to it that the other Yamaha riders are Toprak Razgatlioglu, Michael van der Mark, Loris Baz and Federico Caricasulo. You have two World Superbike race winners, a World Superbike race winner who has spent time in MotoGP and the reigning World Supersport vice-champion. Gerloff is a fish out of water.

I am pulling for Gerloff. American motorcycle racing has waned. There has not been that next generation to follow Kenny Roberts, Jr., Nicky Hayden, Colin Edwards and Ben Spies in international racing. Add to it the top domestic series was ruined a decade ago and it is just starting to recover but it is significantly diminished and the quality is not there yet.

Hope for the best but expect the worst and I am afraid the results will not be there for Gerloff and he will be quickly replaced in the Yamaha fold.

5. World Supersport: Randy Krummenacher wins an even-numbered race
Krummenacher had four victories in 2019 on his way to taking the championship. However, Krummenacher won the first, third, fifth and seventh races. In the Swiss rider's World Supersport career he has six career victories, five of which were an odd-numbered race in that calendar.

The one caveat is Krummenacher is leaving Yamaha and will join MV Agusta in 2020. Yamaha won 10 of 12 races in 2019, swept the 2018 season and won six of 12 races in 2017. That is a record of 28 victories in the last 36 races for Yamaha. MV Agusta only had two podium finishes in 2019 with Kawasaki responsible for the other two victories in 2019. The most recent MV Agusta victory was the 2017 season opener at Philip Island with Roberto Rolfo.

The 2020 season could be another Yamaha beat down but for one of the six even-numbered races Krummenacher will end up on top.

6. GT World Challenge: Italian manufactures will not take multiple championships between World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup, Intercontinental GT Challenge and World Challenge America
Lamborghini took the Endurance Cup and World Challenge Europe titles with Orange1 FFF Racing, Ferrari took the World Challenge America title with R. Ferri Motorsport and Porsche took the Intercontinental GT Challenge title.

Ferrari has taken the last two World Challenge America titles. Prior to that the previous four champions were Cadillac, Porsche, McLaren and Porsche.

The Endurance Cup champions since 2014 were Audi, Audi, McLaren, Bentley and Mercedes-AMG.

Europe Sprint Cup champions since 2014 were Mercedes-AMG, Bentley and three consecutive Audi championships before 2019.

Intercontinental GT Challenge has only existed since 2016 and the champions have been Audi, Audi, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche.

These GT3 championships have been German-dominated for the most part. I think that will show up again. I think Ferrari has World Challenge America under its thumb with R. Ferri Motorsport. The other three championships will have plenty of competition and see Audi, Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, maybe even Honda fighting for silverware.

7. Asian Le Mans Series: None of the class champions sweep the season
Last season, CarGuy Racing swept the GT class. That is not going to happen again, even if it is only a four-race championship.

Let's go class-by-class: LMP2 had G-Drive Racing take the season opener after the Carlin entry got a penalty. Carlin has Harry Tincknell and Ben Barnicoat as drivers. Tincknell has an ELMS championship, won at Le Mans, won in IMSA and was in the Ford GT program. Barnicoat has had success in GT3 competition. Eurasia Motorsport has two cars, one has former Formula One driver Roberto Mehri and the other should have Nick Cassidy for a few races.

LMP3 had Inter Europol Competition take the season opener and that team is a regular LMP3 winner. This is the one class where I think it could happen but Nielsen Racing has two promising entries and Graff Racing has a good team.

The GT class is too deep. D'station Racing AMR won the season opener but CarGuy Racing is still there, Spirit of Race and HubAuto Corsa are race winners and Rio Haryanto is in an entry.

We are going to see a mix of winners in each class.

8. Super Formula: There will be at least two repeat winners in 2020
In seven Super Formula races in 2019 there were seven different winners. That is quite impressive. It is a series with plenty of quality drivers. There are more than seven potential winners on that grid. Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima and Lucas Auer were on the 2019 grid and did not win a race.

We could have three or four different winners to start the 2020 season and continue this stretch of different winners up to ten or 11 but that is unlikely.

It seems like Nick Cassidy will return and Naoki Yamamoto could return but he could have more Formula One responsibilities with Honda and one of the two Red Bull programs. These have been the top two drivers in Super Formula the last two years. It would be fun to have a season where both these drivers win two or three races each.

There have not been multiple repeat winners in a Super Formula season since 2017 when Pierre Gasly and Yuhi Sekiguchi each won twice and the champion was Hiroki Ishiura with one victory. The 2016 season saw Sekiguchi, Yuji Kunimoto and Stoffel Vandoorne each score two victories with the title going to Kunimoto.

There has not been a Super Formula season with multiple drivers with at least three victories apiece since 2007 when Takashi Kogure and Satoshi Motoyama each had three victories and the champion was winless Tsugio Matsuda, who started the season with two runner-up finishes, two finishes of third and then did not score a podium finish in the final five races of the season.

9. Super GT: No manufacture has a winning streak of three races or more in GT500
There has been a trend in Super GT that when one manufacture gets it right it gets it right.

Last year, Lexus won five consecutive races. In 2017, Lexus won the first four races of the season. Nissan won the first four races of 2016. Nissan had another three-race wining streak in 2015. Lexus closed out the 2013 season with three consecutive races. The 2012 season had a three-race winning streak for Nissan.

It happened of five of the ten seasons last decade. Lexus is rebranding with the Toyota Supra returning. That could mean a less successful season for that make, it could mean Nissan or Honda have a breakout year but I think it will be balanced.

10. DTM: Ed Jones has a better rookie season than Pietro Fittipaldi did
Jones will make a switch to DTM after three years in IndyCar. It is quite a switch for Jones. We don't normally consider IndyCar drivers to be on the radar for DTM. Other than Danny Sullivan, I cannot think of another driver who went from IndyCar directly to DTM.

Although, Pietro Fittipaldi ran IndyCar in 2018 and then was in DTM for 2019 but Fittipaldi is a bit different then Jones. Fittipaldi ran almost everything in 2018. He ran in the LMP1 class with DragonSpeed, he ran the season opener of Super Formula and he ran an IndyCar. Fittipaldi was not tied to any one series. He was searching the world but still had an eye on Formula One and he became a Haas F1 test driver for the 2019 season after his year skipping over the ocean into many different race cars.

Jones spent three years in IndyCar and before that was in Indy Lights for two years. It seemed like Jones would be set in IndyCar. His results were encouraging and someone would keep giving him an opportunity. The talent is clearly there because he got an Audi factory ride out of his time in IndyCar. That says a lot about Jones' talent.

Fittipaldi's rookie year was not spectacular. He scored 22 points and was 15th in the championship with six finishes in the points and his best finish was fifth.

This is a tough series and if you start slow the results will not go your way. The one thing in Jones' favor is Aston Martin has left the series and there is no guarantee the grid will have 18 cars next year. I think we are looking at 14-16 cars. In that case, Jones is going to win by default.

Here is how we are going to do this: Jones has to finish in a better percentile of the championship combined with scoring more points. With Fittipaldi finishing 15th in the championship with 18 drivers running majority of the races, he was in the top 83.333% of the championship. That means Jones has to finish better than the top 83.333%. If there are only 16 entries then Jones has to finish 13th in the championship or better and he has to score more than 22 points. If Jones is 13th but only has 20 points then this prediction will not be fulfilled. If there are only 14 entries then Jones needs to finish in the top 11 of the championship and score more than 22 points.

11. World Touring Car Cup: There will be at least one nightmare weekend for Goodyear
Oh Goodyear... Goodyear, Goodyear, Goodyear.

For some reason, Goodyear is making its way back into international motorsports. It is taking over as sole tire supplier in the LMP2 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship, although it is just re-branding Dunlop tires since Goodyear owns Dunlop. It is taking over the World Touring Car Cup, a random series for Goodyear to get in bed with.

Goodyear has basically only been in NASCAR for close to twenty years. It has not had spotless times in NASCAR. Goodyear has a reputation of getting it wrong and I feel like this will be too new for Goodyear. There will be one weekend when Goodyear is the storyline, drivers will be upset and it will sound familiar to NASCAR fans.

I could see that being the case for the Nürburgring Nordschleife round. I could see Goodyear's wet weather tire being garbage. It could be a hot race weekend in Vila Real, Aragón or Sepang where the tires cannot last the very short race distances.

You can expect a few hiccups for any new tire manufacture but I think Goodyear's hiccups will be quite noticeable.

12. WRC: Multiple Sébastiens win a rally in 2020
Let cut to the chase, Sébastien Ogier and Sébastien Loeb are both going to win at least one rally in 2020.

Ogier seems like a lock for one victory with the five-time champion moving to Toyota. Loeb moved to Hyundai for a few rounds in 2019 and those results were good but Loeb had one podium finish in six starts. In 2018, Loeb won Rally Catalunya, his final of three starts that year.

I think both will have at least one victory. It will be an interesting WRC season with it basically being Toyota vs. Hyundai. Ott Tänak is leaving Toyota fresh off a championship to Hyundai. Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville will both be in the Hyundai camp. Sordo and Loeb will be part-time Toyota will have Jari-Matti Latvala, Takamoto Katsuta, Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä join Ogier. Latvala and Katsuta will be part-time. Ogier is definitely the leader of the Toyota camp. Hyundai will have a lot of big names and not a clear number one. That should be fun to watch.

Three sets of predictions down and two sets remain. Check out the NASCAR and Formula One predictions and the next set of predictions will come Monday.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

2020 Formula One Predictions

It is the Boxing Day tradition of Formula One predictions. The 2020 season will be the 71st in Formula One history and while the 2019 season saw Formula One have its 1,000th grand prix, the 2020 season is shaping up for possibly a lot of historic moments. One thing that we know will happen is the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix from the streets of Hanoi. Formula One returns to the Netherlands for the first time since 1985. There is a lot to be excited about. Here are 12 things you should keep an eye on throughout next season.

1. Lewis Hamilton gets his 92nd grand prix victory before November
This means Lewis Hamilton will break Michael Schumacher's record for most grand prix victories by at least the United States Grand Prix.

Hamilton only needs eight victories. Winning eight out of the first 19 races seems about right for Hamilton. After all, he has averaged 10.333 victories a season in the last six seasons and he not won fewer than nine races in a season during this hybrid-era.

There are a few storybook places for Hamilton to break this record.

The first is Hamilton winning the first eight races, a historic start to a season, and getting it at Azerbaijan, the least sexy place Hamilton could do it.

The second is Hamilton doing it at Silverstone, which means winning eight of the first 12 races. That is a pretty high winning percentage but let's not rule it out. Mercedes has been the best team for the last six years and this is a lame duck season before the new regulations in 2021. Some teams might be focusing on 2021 and not be making up any ground in 2020. It could be done at Silverstone.

The third is Monza. Monza is the fairy tale place for Hamilton to do it. He would do it in front of the tifosi that loved Schumacher more than life itself for a decade. It would be a fitting place for such a record-breaking performance to occur.

The final one I will mention is the United States because Hamilton very well could lock up his seventh world championship in Austin. If Monza is the fairy tale place, the fairy tale of all fairy tales would be Hamilton tying Schumacher's record for world championships and breaking Schumacher's record for grand prix victories in the same race. That doesn't have to be in Austin. It would be if I want this prediction to be fulfilled but that could happen at any of the final four venues. That story in and of itself is chilling to think of.

The other place to note is Spa-Francorchamps. That is the location of Schumacher's first career victory and it is the location where Schumacher picked up his 52nd career victory, surpassing Alain Prost for the all-time lead, in 2001. Coincidentally, Prost tied Jackie Stewart's all-time record of 27 grand prix victories at Spa-Francorchamps in 1987.

Let's not be surprised if this date with history occurs in the Ardennes.

2. Ferrari will announce a driver change for the 2021 season before the Japanese Grand Prix
And I will put money down that it is Sebastian Vettel exiting the team.

I just don't see the leadership in place to turn this team around. Add to it Charles Leclerc is the number one driver in the team, Vettel is not going to be able to handle it, Ferrari is not able to handle it and Vettel will be out the door.

There will be a breaking point, probably sometime before the summer break. At that point Ferrari will have been relegated to the third best constructor, Mercedes will be on its way to another championship while Max Verstappen is carrying Red Bull and trying to give Hamilton all he has for the title. Leclerc will have one or two victories but a bunch of finishes of fourth and fifth to go along with it. Vettel will be regularly finishing off the podium and miserable.

I know the popular rumor is Vettel is going to retire. It is possible. I don't think he goes away though. Where would Vettel go though? Would Hamilton, possibly with seven championships, welcome Vettel in 2021 at Mercedes? If Hamilton goes to Ferrari then that opens a clear landing spot for Vettel but Verstappen's contract is up at the end of 2020 and Verstappen could go to Mercedes. Would Mercedes take Vettel as well? Unlikely.

If Hamilton goes to Ferrari in 2021 and Verstappen goes to Mercedes in 2021, would Vettel return to Red Bull? Formula One is not overflowing with drivers. Look at how long Kimi Räikkönen has been on the grid. Vettel isn't going anywhere. Someone will give him a shot.

3. One team will have a driver change midseason and it will be Haas F1
Haas F1 is a mess and it retained both its drivers from, both of which the team seems ready to dump and both of which probably wouldn't have minded being let go.

Haas showed pace at times. It made the final round of qualifying. It appeared to have a car that could compete for points regularly. It did not do that.

There will be a breaking point. Either Romain Grosjean will have another long string of results without points and leave the team will have no choice but to replace him or Kevin Magnussen will say something to get him fired. The team has Robert Kubica as a reserve driver. I bet the team would not mind putting in Kubica if it had to. Nico Hülkenberg is unemployed. If the team doesn't have faith in Kubica getting better results than the outgoing driver then Hülkenberg will get a call quite quickly I would imagine.

Outside of Kubica and Hülkenberg there isn't another driver Haas could throw in that would not be a complete surprise. Pietro Fittipaldi is not ready. Haas is not getting Marcus Ericsson out of his IndyCar deal with Chip Ganassi Racing. There isn't another Ferrari reserve driver it could bring it. The team is not going back to Esteban Gutiérrez. Haas still thinks Alexander Rossi is not good enough. Felipe Massa is not walking through that door.

You see what I mean? There are not that many options out there.

4. Esteban Ocon will be the top Renault driver but both drivers will be in the top ten of the championship
Ocon returns after a sabbatical at 23 years old and being Mercedes-Benz's reserve driver.

I think he returns hot and it will seem like he was never gone. Renault's reliability is the real question. Renault had six retirements in 2019 and there were those races where it didn't have the pace. I don't think Renault is going to move up the pecking order but it can maintain fifth in the constructors' championship.

Toro Rosso, which will become Alpha Tauri in 2020, will be its main threat with an improving Honda engine. Outside of that, I think Renault will be fine.

I could see Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo finishing ninth and tenth in the championship respectively. I do not think either will be pushing for sixth or seventh. Ricciardo will get his second year with the team and his first year had encouraging moments. He was the clear number one over Nico Hülkenberg. I don't think Ricciardo will lose a step but Ocon will come in hot after a year off. Ocon has a lot to prove and with intriguing openings for 2021 at Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Red Bull he cannot have poor results.

The top ten of the championship will be something along the lines of Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Leclerc, Vettel, Albon, Sainz, Jr., Norris, Ocon and Ricciardo with Gasly and Räikkönen the first on the outside.

5. Alexander Albon gets his first career victory but Max Verstappen will have more than double Albon's number of victories
Albon switched over to Red Bull before the Belgian Grand Prix and it took him no time to settle in. At Red Bull, Albon scored points every race but one, Brazil, when he was spun out from third thanks to Lewis Hamilton.

Red Bull is getting better. Honda is getting better. The 2020 season is crucial to both. I think Red Bull will push Ferrari for second in the constructors' championship and I think there will be at least one race where Albon is leading the way or strategy works out to Albon being Red Bull's best shot and he will pull it out.

With that said, I think Albon wins one race or two, not more than that. I think Verstappen could win four or five races. We already saw Verstappen win three races in 2019. I think he will be primed for more. It will all come down to how Red Bull gets out of the gate. If Red Bull starts slow I think Mercedes will again take control of the world championship and Red Bull will get three or four victories spread out throughout the season. However, if Red Bull starts strong, gets a victory in the first three or four races, clearly surpasses Ferrari as the second best team I think Verstappen could provide a challenge to Hamilton for the title.

I am not saying Verstappen could take it to the finale but I think Verstappen could be second in the championship for majority of the year and Hamilton still locks it up in Mexico, the United States or Brazil.

6. Lando Norris breaks into the top ten of the championship
Though he was not the best rookie on paper in 2019, Norris was stellar and he was one position short of making the top ten of the championship in his rookie year. I think Norris will improve greatly in 2020. He really didn't make any mistakes in 2019, at least nothing that has you concerned for his sophomore season.

Carlos Sainz, Jr. was sixth in the championship. McLaren is heading in the right direction. I think Norris does not have the same problems he had in 2019 and he will score more points. I think McLaren will have a few races where it is in the top six and Norris could be that guy finishing fifth or sixth. Both McLarens are going to be strong and Norris is going to continue to be McLaren's shining light.

7. No British manufacture finishes on the podium for the Dutch Grand Prix
There have been 30 Dutch Grand Prix that have counted toward the Formula One World Drivers' Championship. Of those 30 races, only four times has a British manufacture not had a podium finisher.

The first time was 1952 when the Ferraris of Alberto Ascari, Nino Farina and Luigi Villoresi went 1-2-3. The following race in 1953 had Ascari and Farina finish 1-2 for Ferrari with a Maserati split between Felice Bonetto and José Froilán González in third. There was no Dutch Grand Prix in 1954 but, in 1955, Juan Manuel Fangio took victory for Mercedes ahead of his teammate Sterling Moss with the Maserati of Luigi Musso in third.

The Dutch Grand Prix was held 27 times over the next 28 seasons (1972 being the one exception) and in 26 of those races a British manufacture had at least one podium finisher. British manufactures won 17 of those 27 races. The only one of those races without a British car on the podium was in 1977 when Niki Lauda won for Ferrari ahead of the Ligier of Jacques Laffite in second and the Wolf of Jody Scheckter in third.

It is tough to see a British manufacture put a car on the podium at Zandvoort in 2020. For starters, Briton's hope rests in McLaren, Racing Point and Williams. We can cross off Racing Point and Williams. That is not happening. McLaren could breakthrough, we saw Carlos Sainz, Jr. get on the podium in Brazil, but that required a lot of help.

Let's put it this way: Pencil in at least one Mercedes on the podium, Max Verstappen is going to have try to have the greatest race of his career at home and Ferrari will still put two cars into the top five. How are any of the British cars going to make it through that contingent? It isn't going to happen unless it is really wet or a well-timed safety car comes out and cycles a McLaren into the top three. Passing is going to be difficult.

8. This will be Kimi Räikkönen's final season in Formula One
Räikkönen will likely surpass Rubens Barrichello's record for most entries and most starts in 2020. The Finn is 40 years old. I think he will have enough of Formula One after this year.

He is not going to keep going to extend his entries and starts record. He can only take so much from a middle team. Ferrari is one thing. He could at least get podium finishes and could pull out a race victory. Alfa Romeo isn't going to put him on the podium. He is fighting for seventh at best in most races.

Halfway through 2020, Räikkönen will realize it is time for someone else to fight for seventh. Everyone seems to think Mick Schumacher is destined for a Formula One ride in 2021. Let's see how the kid does in Formula Two in 2020. Ferrari academy drivers Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong are moving up to Formula Two in 2020 after the two drivers finished first and second respectively in the Formula Three championship this past season. There are a bunch of young Ferrari prospects knocking on Formula One's door. One will end up in an Alfa Romeo for his first taste of Formula One.

It is time for Räikkönen to say goodbye and let a young driver get his opportunity.

9. Racing Point does not finish seventh in the World Constructors' Championship
Racing Point has ended up seventh in the World Constructors' Championship the last two years. What are the odds it happens a third time?

That means Racing Point is either going to be moving up or falling back. It was 12 points off Toro Rosso for sixth and 16 points ahead of Alfa Romeo. It is hard to say Racing Point will be better in 2020. Sergio Pérez carries the weight, and he deserves a lot of praise for getting tenth in the World Drivers' Championship in 2019, but he can only do so much. I don't see Lance Stroll bringing his game to another level.

Alfa Romeo definitely could challenge for seventh. If Haas F1 can stop making mistakes, retain the qualifying pace it showed in 2019 and turn that qualifying pace into race results then maybe Haas can vault up the championship order. Either way, Racing Point is either going to over-perform or take a step back.

10. Pierre Gasly has at least two drivers between him and Daniil Kvyat in the World Drivers' Championship
The 2019 championship comparison between these two is not quite accurate since Gasly spent the first two-thirds of the year with Red Bull before switching to Toro Rosso.

However, in the nine races they spent together as teammates Kvyat scored ten points and Gasly scored 32 points. Now, 18 of those points came from Gasly's runner-up finish at Interlagos, a fortunate result indeed, but if you throw that result out it was still 14 to 10 advantage Gasly.

Let's also remember Kvyat's best race was third in a fortunate race in Germany. If you take those 15 points away he would be left with 22 points over 21 races. If you extrapolate Gasly's 14 points from eight races he would be on pace for 38.5 points.

Gasly grasped the Toro Rosso quickly and with a Honda engine that appears to be improving I think he could end up scoring close to 40 points with Kvyat somewhere between 20-25 points.

I am not saying either driver will be wonderful but I think Gasly could end up 12th in the championship and Kvyat could be 15th or worse.

11. Williams at least triples its World Constructors' Championship points total
Williams was bad in 2019, there is no way around that, but the one thing Williams had going for itself in 2019 was reliability. The team did not have a retirement until Singapore and had four retirements all season.

Haas had nine retirements, McLaren had seven retirements, Renault had six retirements and two disqualifications, Racing Point, Toro Rosso and Ferrari each had four retirements. Williams has the reliability part down, now it just has to find the speed.

This grid will be tough but George Russell was smart for all of 2019. Nicholas Latifi is coming in off a promising Formula Two season. Three points is a low total, very low. It will be tough for Williams but I think it can do it. I think it can have three races where cars end up in the points. It doesn't sound like much but it is asking quite a lot.

12. Every driver that wins the race on the road will be the official winner of every grand prix
That means we are not going to have a repeat of Canada 2019. We are not going to have Sebastian Vettel earning himself a five-second penalty for driving off track and then pinching Lewis Hamilton to the barrier. We are not going to have a technical infringement lead to a victor being disqualified; it has been a while since we have seen that happen. All 22 drivers that take the checkered flag first will be in the record book at the end of the season as the race winner.

This is our second set of predictions complete. Take a look at the NASCAR predictions. Tomorrow we will take a gander at a dozen different series.

Monday, December 23, 2019

2019 Motorsports Christmas List

Christmas is almost here and Hanukkah has just started. It is the fantastic time of the year. There is plenty of reasons to be joyful. There is a lot to look forward to over the next week to ten days. People are taking time off to spend time with friends and family. What else could you want in the world?

Like every year, we are giving out gifts but this year is a little different. These gifts are not necessarily what these people may want but this is what these people need. A gift should be something that provides use, not some luxury item that is not appreciated. Some of these may be tough too swallow.

Too bad!

Let's hand out some presents.

To IndyCar Fans: Acceptance that IndyCar is not returning to Pocono in 2020 and may never return again and it is not the end of the world.

To Canadian IndyCar Fans: A better television deal and getting over 2019 quickly.

To: A.J. Foyt Racing: Funding for two cars and two competent drivers and two competent engineers.

To McLaren's IndyCar program: Some sense of direction... although it seems to have gotten that with Craig Hampson so Christmas may have come early in that camp.

To Colton Herta: Reliability.

To Alexander Rossi: Winning a race by less than 20 seconds.

To Scott Dixon: A Swedish-to-English dictionary.

To Felix Rosenqvist: One great oval race to quiet any naysayers.

To Marcus Ericsson: A carbon-fiber glasses case. I need a glasses case this Christmas. I figured Ericsson could use a durable one.

To Simon Pagenaud: Appreciation for more than his dog.

To Sébastien Bourdais: An IndyCar ride to pair with his full-time IMSA ride. Maybe with Chip Ganassi Racing, come Chip, you like winners, don't you?

To Dale Coyne Racing: A few engineers.

To Santino Ferrucci: Patience... he is going to need it in 2020.

To Tony Kanaan: A proper farewell.

To Scott McLaughlin: A house on Lake Norman... he is going to need it.

To James Hinchcliffe: Courage to look outside the bubble.

To Spencer Pigot: That one breakout race he never got in four seasons at Ed Carpenter Racing.

To Ed Carpenter: His annual present, more oval races. At least two more, preferably three but at least two.

To Graham Rahal: A prototype he can fit in.

To Jack Harvey: Job security even if he does not meet Mike Shank's lofty expectations.

To Rinus VeeKay: People appreciating his ability and not becoming obsessed with how his name sounds. It is bound to happen. One or two television personalities are going to get distracted with his name and forget to learn anything else about him. I think you can figure out who those two are and, hint, one is not on IndyCar full-time.

To Oliver Askew and Patricio O'Ward: A longer leash than Hinchcliffe got and if McLaren wishes to discard either it will be done in a much more timely manner.

To Carlin: At least one full-time car in the Indianapolis 500.

To Fernando Alonso: Sunscreen since he is going to run the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.

To Laguna Seca: Competent leadership.

To Circuit of the Americans: Grass and sand for proper run-off areas and respectable attendance for its FIA World Endurance Championship race that was a replacement for São Paulo.

To Iowa Speedway: A title sponsor for its IndyCar race and one clear night.

To Josef Newgarden: A Cup ride for a Bristol race.

To Will Power: Reliability, a lot of reliability going around this year.

To Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves: An Indianapolis 500 entry for each.

To Juncos Racing: An investor with pockets as deep as this team's passion for motorsports.

To James Davison: More racing opportunities than the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Maybe full-time USAC Silver Crown with a half-dozen IndyCar races and a half-dozen NASCAR races, including all the road course races in NASCAR's top two series.

To DragonSpeed: Fewer visa issues and more IndyCar races.

To NASCAR Fans: Acceptance NASCAR is not going to Nashville not matter how hard they try.

Also to NASCAR Fans: Acceptance North Wilkesboro is not coming back. The place is falling apart. Wilkes County does not need $100 million pumped into a racetrack that will be used three days a year.

Also to NASCAR Fans: Realizing a street course is not necessary.

To Jimmie Johnson: Nothing because he is going to get too many stupid retirement gifts next year... actually, an industrial paper shredder because he is going to get a lot of trash in 2020.

To Kyle Busch: More opportunities outside of NASCAR. How about an American-run, Toyota Racing Development Toyota TS050 Hybrid for Le Mans for Busch and two other drivers, which means...

To Kyle Busch and that American TS050 Hybrid Team: A NASCAR off-weekend falling on Le Mans weekend... and a Saturday night race the weekend of the Le Mans test day.

To Martin Truex, Jr.: A little more respect. A championship and two runner-up championship finishes in the last three years. Come on people.

To Denny Hamlin: An intramural sport that will not destroy his body. The guy has blown out both knees and could not run in next month's 24 Hours of Daytona because of shoulder surgery. Maybe darts is the game for him or shuffleboard.

To Erik Jones: A parachute, just so he can have a softer landing.

To Cole Pearn: Peace and quiet and no one asking if he is considering a comeback to NASCAR.

To Team Penske: One likable NASCAR driver.

To Kyle Larson: A contract extension with Chip Ganassi Racing and one that allows him to run the Indianapolis 500 at least once.

To Alex Bowman: Maple syrup... for pancakes and waffles.

To Darrell Wallace, Jr.: A move on up.

To Cole Custer: The ability to smile with it not looking like he is in pain.

To Daniel Hemric: Diapers, he has a kid on the way.

To Daniel Suárez: A job in any series.

To Brett Moffitt: A promotion to at least the Xfinity Series.

To A.J. Allmendinger: Clearing technical inspection after every race in 2020.

To Garrett Smithley: The attention span to remember what his spotter told him.

To Gateway Motorsports Park: A NASCAR Cup race and a weeknight race at that because it is the one venue set up to try it.

To the Brickyard 400: A suitable weekend.

To the 400-mile Daytona race: A return back to Independence Day weekend. It is going to be the 2020s version of the Southern 500.

To Homestead: A return back to the season finale slot after the 2020 season because Phoenix is going to be a downer.

To Formula One: Realizing no cares if Formula One races in Miami and to stop pursing the effort.

Also To Formula One: One race where DRS is kept open for the entire race. Let's just see what happens.

To Lewis Hamilton: Some books. There is nothing wrong with reading more.

To Valtteri Bottas: An entry in Rally Finland.

To Max Verstappen: A respectable showing in his first Dutch Grand Prix.

To Williams F1: Another second on the timesheet.

To Haas F1: One season where the only attention it gets is for what it does on the racetrack and not because it has a psycho sponsor or team officials are constantly talking.

To Charles Leclerc: A better teammate.

To Sebastian Vettel: A trip back to 2013.

To Lando Norris: An IndyCar one-off during the summer break at Mid-Ohio. It would be fun to see race with his old teammate Colton Herta again.

To Jan and Kevin Magnussen: A one-off at Le Mans in an LMP2 car.

To Robert Kubica: A great DTM ride and not having to drive for Haas F1.

To Nico Hülkenberg: The ability to accept a ride somewhere.

To IMSA: At least one full season Ferrari and Aston Martin in the GTLM class.

To Jack Hawksworth and Townsend Bell: The other two seats in the American TS050 Hybrid at Le Mans with Kyle Busch.

To America FIA World Endurance Championship Fans: Every race in their entirety on MotorTrend's television channel. There is no need for Classic Car Garage and other repeat programming that fills between the first and final hour of the races.

To the World Endurance Championship: Two full-time Corvettes in the GTE-Pro class. The class needs it more than ever.

To all the developing hypercar programs: Nothing but success in testing and leading to the best class out of the gate that the WEC could imagine.

To Super GT and DTM: A combination series that spans autumn to spring. It would start in Japan in autumn, has a round in winter in Asia-Pacific and perhaps the Middle East with maybe that round rotating with North and South America as well and concluding in Germany in the spring.

To Marc Márquez: A clever celebration for his ninth championship.

To Álex Márquez: People not getting on him for not being his brother.

To Fabio Quartararo: One race where he starts the final lap leading by at least one-second. If he can't win with that much of a gap then it is on him.

To Valentino Rossi: A GTE entry in the European Le Mans Series and 24 Hours of Le Mans. He would miss the season opener and the season finale of the ELMS season but the other four races are on MotoGP off weekends and this would be good for Rossi and the European Le Mans Series.

To Nick Cassidy: Some consideration from some IndyCar teams. Imagine if IndyCar had Dixon, McLaughlin and Cassidy on its grid. The series would have to give New Zealand a round at that point.

To Jaime Chadwick: A fair shot in Indy Lights, Formula Three or Formula Two.

To Indy Lights: At least eight more full-time teams and drivers because that grid is pathetic in terms of size. There might be some talented drivers in the Road to Indy but fields of eight or nine cars are not going to get any respect or Super License points, which is an important thing for a junior series.

To Pocono Raceway: Clear weather for its doubleheader NASCAR weekend.

To the World Rally Championship: Adopting electric cars. Does it make sense if the World Rally Championship had electric cars?

To Nick Tandy: More stock car races. Let's get him in a NASCAR race at Richmond, Watkins Glen, Road America, Mid-Ohio and Martinsville.

To Joey Hand, Dirk Werner and Richard Westbrook: Full-time rides somewhere. How is it that three of the four full-time Ford GT drivers from IMSA are unemployed? They are all race winners. They have all been around the block. They should all have jobs.

To Ben Keating: No post-race issues after Le Mans.

To Chris Dyson: A clean bill of health and the Mazda DPi program.

To Simona de Silvestro: Porsche running her in a few IMSA races in the United States where she has some fans.

To Sébastien Loeb: One more shot at the Dakar Rally.

To Formula E: Fewer calendar conflicts with other major series.

To Sam Bird: A sports car opportunity he can pair with his Formula E responsibilities.

To World Superbike: No cancelled races.

To MotoGP: A better television contract in the United States. One where more people can watch and not have it cost an extra arm and leg.

To the Dutch TT: A move back to running on Saturday. Let's have one different event on the MotoGP calendar. I know it is tough with the number of back-to-back weekends but let's keep the Assen on a Saturday.

To Eli Tomac: Motocross-level of consistency during the Supercross season.

To Kuno Wittmer: A make-up for his pit lane speed limiter/radio button mishap at Road America.

To World Touring Car Cup: No Goodyear tire issues.

To Roger Penske: Advil. He is now running IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Those entities come with headaches.

And finally, I want to say Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone! Enjoy the time you have with all your friends, family and loved ones.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

2020 NASCAR Predictions

We are a few days away from Christmas and we will get started with our predictions. The NASCAR season ended a little over a month ago but here we are, less than two months away from the first race of 2020. It is time to look ahead even though we are still getting the sand out of our shoes from the finale in Miami.

1. Kyle Busch Will Not Have a Winless Drought Greater Than 12 Races
Though Kyle Busch did win the 2019 championship, the most notable thing about his season was the 21 races he did not win between Pocono in June and the Homestead finale in November. It was one of Busch's longest droughts in his Cup Series career.

Things seem slightly different now that Busch broke through and won his second championship. The title comes in a period where a lot of drivers were sitting on one title and Jimmie Johnson was the only driver with multiple. Busch's second title lifts above his other contemporaries and even ahead of Johnson, who has not won since Dover in May 2017 and finished 18th in the championship in 2019.

I feel like things have clicked for Busch. He has reached another level. I do not think he is going to win five consecutive championships but I think the 2020 season will be one where we see him win on a more consistent basis.

There were plenty of races during that 21-race drought where Busch had a good shout at victory. He lost in a photo finish to his brother Kurt at Kentucky. He was leading late at Darlington before he lost the race off pit lane to Erik Jones and Jones had the benefit of clean air the rest of the night. He led the most laps at Richmond before Martin Truex, Jr. took the lead. He very well could have won at Phoenix, the race before Homestead.

All these races are not going to go against Busch in 2020. He will be on the right side of the photo finish. He will get the benefit of clean air on a final restart. He will have the car that is getting better over a long run. He is going to win one of the first 12 races and then I expect him to win another race within the next eight-ten races for the rest of the season.

2. There Will Be at Least Two Different Drivers in the Championship 4
Busch, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick have made the Championship 4 the last two seasons. Joey Logano made it in 2018 and Denny Hamlin made it in 2019. Two of Busch, Truex, Jr. and Harvick are not going to make it in 2020.

Life is a numbers game. What is the probability that the same every drivers make the final four for three consecutive years? How many times have the same three teams made the conference championship games in the NFL playoffs in three consecutive years or the same three teams made the league championship series in the MLB postseason in three consecutive seasons? The answers are once for football, 1974-76 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Rams, and once for baseball, 1976-78 with the New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals and Philadelphia Phillies.

It is possible but not likely. All three could make it back but all things must come to an end. Truex will have a new crew chief in 2020. Busch is coming off a championship and has made the final four in five consecutive seasons. Harvick has made the final four in three consecutive seasons and has made it five of six seasons. Eventually, this stretch is going to end for both Busch and Harvick and Truex is going to have one year where is excellent but not tremendous.

Logano, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, William Byron, Alex Bowman, heck Johnson are all names that could conceivably make the final four and just two of these nine drivers need to do it.

Hamlin might be the one driver everyone pencils in to not make it back. Then who will make it? Could Penske put multiple drivers into the final four? Could Hendrick make a comeback? Could an unexpected driver make a breakthrough?

3. Jimmie Johnson is Not the Worst Finishing Hendrick Motorsports Driver in the Championship
I wrote this prediction before Johnson announced 2020 would be his final season and I will stand by it.

It cannot get worse than it was for Johnson in 2019. He was 18th in the championship. He has gone two full seasons and then some since his most recent victory. All three other Hendrick Motorsports drivers made the playoff. Something has to turn around for Johnson. He does not need to be great. He just needs to be ninth and have Bowman be 12th. Or Johnson needs to make the playoffs and have one of Bowman or William Byron to miss out.

I think Johnson will improve from 2019. I want to say he will win a race but outside of the first Texas race there wasn't a race in 2019 where he was close. I think he will get one victory for old time's sake but overall I think he is looking at five to seven top five finishes at most, 15 to 18 top ten finishes at most and if he makes the playoffs maybe he can sneak into the round of eight but his final championship finish will be somewhere between seventh and 14th.

We have seen some dismal exits in NASCAR in recent seasons. Tony Stewart was a shadow of himself. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. could not capture any magic. While Jeff Gordon put together one final hoo-ray, history is not pointing to Johnson doing the same but wouldn't it make sense if he did? He is a seven-time champion. What is one more championship run?

A championship run isn't what necessarily will fulfill this prediction. Johnson just has to be 80% of what he was at his very best.

4. Christopher Bell Will Finish Ahead of Matt DiBenedetto in the Championship
Bell moves up to the Cup Series with Leavine Family Racing while DiBenedetto moves to Wood Brothers Racing from Leavine Family Racing.

DiBenedetto had better results in the second-half of the 2019 season with top five finishes at Sonoma, Loudon and a runner-up finish in Bristol. He had seven top-ten finishes in 2019, almost double his career total entering the season. He did get a career-best championship finish of 22nd.

However, while Wood Brothers Racing is back to being a full-time team and is a popular team with fans, DiBenedetto may be making a step back. While Ryan Blaney did win a race with the team and finished ninth in the championship, the team's three other seasons since returning to full-time competition in 2016 had championship finishes of 20th, 19th and 19th.

Leavine Family Racing will be in its second year with Toyota but Bell has been Toyota's golden child for a handful of years now and he is a loanee from Joe Gibbs Racing. I think that equipment will get better and I think Bell is ready for the Cup Series. A victory for Bell pretty much guarantees him a top-16 championship finish.

Will DiBenedetto be able to do enough to make the playoffs in that case? While DiBenedetto almost won a race and actually finished behind Paul Menard in the championship, Menard had only four top ten finishes all season. The Wood Brothers' only top five finish in the last two years was at Michigan in June 2018.

I feel like Bell is heading to a team on the ascension while DiBenedetto is jumping on one gliding back to Earth.

5. At Least Three Rookies Finish Better than 25th in the Championship
This piggybacks off the Bell prediction. In 2019, Daniel Hemric was Rookie of the Year in 25th. The next rookie was Ryan Preece in 26th and Matt Tifft was 31st.

The 2020 rookie class will include Bell, the reigning two-time Grand National Series champion Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole and Joey Gase.

Bell and Custer are entering cars that were in the top 25 and Reddick is going into a car that was 25th. I already said I think Bell will do better than DiBenedetto did, Reddick should do noticeably better than Hemric and I think Custer will at least be around where Daniel Suárez was.

I think Nemechek could do well for the equipment he will be in. In the three races he ran with Front Row Motorsports in 2019 he was the top finisher of the three-car effort each time and that was against veterans Michael McDowell and David Ragan. The other two rookies will be field fillers.

6. Chris Buescher Will Set a Personal Best for Laps Led in a Season
Buescher moves over the Roush Fenway Racing and he is coming off his best season in laps led in 2019 where he led... 13 laps.

In Buescher's four full seasons he has led 12 laps, five laps, one lap and 13 laps.

Roush Fenway Racing has not been going through glorious times either in recent years. The team has two victories in the last five seasons. The team has only 24 top five finishes in the last five seasons.  The team has only two pole positions in the last five seasons.

However, 13 laps is a low total. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. led 133 and 109 laps in his final two seasons with the team. Ryan Newman led 19 laps last year in his first year with the team. I am not saying Buescher is going to be great or win a race. He just needs to be fortunate at a superspeedway or stretch his fuel at a mile-and-a-half track or just led one or two laps through pit cycle in a little under half the races or stay out under caution to try and get stage points and end up as the leader and have that caution extended a lap or two and pick up five easy laps led without the racing going green.

I think Buescher will do better in the #17 Ford than Stenhouse, Jr. did in 2019 but he just needs to lead about 20 laps. Heck, Buescher only needs to lead 31 laps to double his career total. That doesn't seem that crazy either.

7. Quin Houff Completes Less Than 12,000 Miles
Houff is replacing Landon Cassill in the #00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet.

Cassill did what he could with an under-funded team. He had four lead lap finishes but was running at the finish of 32 races. He completed 12,461.83 miles, 91.8% of the laps run in 2019.

Houff ran 17 races in 2019, had zero lead lap finishes but was running at the finish of 14 races. However, Houff only completed 86.8% of the laps run in his 17 races. If you extrapolate that over 36 races, he will only run about 11,958.5 miles.

Now, Houff will be in a better car than he was in 2019 but I am still leaving the door open that he does not complete the full season. 

8. At Least Three Championship-Ineligible Drivers win a Grand National Series Race
As much as people complain about too many Cup drivers winning races in the second series only two championship-ineligible drivers won a Grand National Series race in 2019, Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain.

I think that will change. We can pencil in Kyle Busch but one of the Penske drivers is bound to win in a one-off, whether it be Blaney, Logano or Keselowski. Add to that we may see Bell, Custer and Reddick run more one-offs and they will not be eligible for the championship.

Two was a low-number, it felt historically low considering what this series has been like in the last 15 years. I think that number goes up, not by a massive amount but just enough. 

9. JR Motorsports at Least Doubles Its Number of Victories While Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing Each Has at Least a 25% Decrease in Victories
JR Motorsports won two races in 2019, the season opener at Daytona with Michael Annett and the penultimate race at Phoenix with Justin Allgaier. It was a rough season for that bunch.

Meanwhile, Joe Gibbs Racing tallied 13 victories between Christopher Bell (8), Kyle Busch (4) and Brandon Jones, and Richard Childress Racing had six victories, all at the hands of Tyler Reddick.

Bell and Reddick are gone. Childress hasn't even committed to running a full-time car yet but will at least run Myatt Snider, Anthony Alfredo and Austin Dillon in a part-time car. Joe Gibbs Racing will have Jones return with Riley Herbst and Harrison Burton entering the team, two drivers with a combined zero Truck Series victories.

Busch is going to win some races but he will now only have five chances to run in this series. He could go five-for-five, we have seen him do it before, but if Busch leads the team in victories than this will not be a great year for the Gibbs bunch. The other Gibbs drivers are bound to win some races. The cars are just going to be too good not to have one or two or all three pick up at least one victory but will Gibbs really win ten races in 2020?

Will Childress really win five races with two drivers that have combined for zero Truck victories and Dillon?

Annett, Allgaier and Noah Gragson all return for JR Motorsports. Allgaier only had one victory in 2019. I think that will change and he could win four on his own. We have seen him do it before, only once but he has still won at least four races in a season. Gragson has to win and with how depleted the grid will be in this series he should pull one or two races out. Daniel Hemric will run 21 races for the team with Jeb Burton running 11 and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. running the Homestead race. I know Hemric and Burton have never won in this series but it feels like it will be time for Hemric to get a breakthrough. Burton might even have a special day in the sun. Even Earnhardt, Jr. could pull off a stunner. 

10. The Truck Series Regular Season Champion Has at Least One Victory
Not only did the Truck champion not have a victory in 2019 but the 2019 regular season champion did not have a victory.

Grant Enfinger took the regular season title without a victory and then was bounced in round one when he lost an engine in Las Vegas.

That is not going to happen twice. Either Brett Moffitt is going to win four races and win the regular season championship or Matt Crafton wins once or twice and wins the regular season championship or Christian Eckes gets three victories and is the best over the regular season.

It is not going to happen twice.

11. At Least Four Drivers That Started a Truck Race But Did Not Win in 2019 Gets a Victory in 2020
This is pretty straightforward:

Matt Crafton is bound to win one race.

Grant Enfinger is bound to win a race.

Sheldon Creed is bound to win a race.

Christain Eckes is bound to win a race.

Chandler Smith could win a race.

Raphaël Lassard could win a race.

Sam Meyer could win a race.

Ty Majeski could win a race.

If Ben Rhodes returns he could win a race.

If Chase Briscoe runs Eldora he could win that race.

If Alex Tagliani runs Mosport he could win that race.

If Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace and/or John Hunter Nemechek return for a one-off they could all win a race.

I just listed 14 drivers, all who ran Trucks in 2019 and did not win. At least half of those drivers will have a realistic shot of a Truck race victory in 2020. At least four will get that race victory.

12. There Will Be Fewer Than Two Different Tracks on the 2021 Cup Schedule
We are supposedly getting the 2021 schedule before April Fool's Day in 2020. This is the long-awaited 2021 schedule where NASCAR is going to shake it up. Guess what? NASCAR won't.

Where is NASCAR going to go?

Nashville? The track that needs a renovation and is not getting the funded necessary from the city to make it happen? 

Rockingham? The track everyone brings up but has been mostly abandoned for the last 15 years?

North Wilkesboro? The track that is crumbling and only morons think could host a race tomorrow after getting next to no attention for the last 23 years?

Where is NASCAR going to go?

Do you see Austin being added to the schedule? Or Gateway? Or Road America? Or Mid-Ohio? Or Mosport? Or Iowa?

Where is NASCAR serious about bringing the Cup Series that currently does not have a race?

It appears all eggs are in the Nashville basket and I do not think that will be ready for 2021. There are a handful of racetracks that host only Grand National Series and Truck races that you would think would be suitable for a Cup race that NASCAR is somewhat ignoring despite talking about shaking up the schedule.

A lot of people have been calling for a Cup race in Iowa for the last decade and even that has no wind in its sail. Gateway is ready for a Cup race. Look at the crowd it gets for IndyCar. A NASCAR Cup race would fill the place.

People are talking about a street race but what municipality is going to decide in the next four months it is going to cough up the money for a NASCAR weekend in 2021?

I will leave room for one new track, even that seems like a stretch but it is not impossible. Outside of that, I think this shakeup will be more pieces moving around the chessboard, another doubleheader added to the schedule and it being change but everything being the same.

It is going to leave a lot of people disappointed.

One set of predictions are done, four more are to go but first we will have the Motorsports Christmas list for Monday. Predictions will return on Boxing Day.