Friday, December 31, 2021

2022 IndyCar Predictions

The final day of the year brings our annual tradition of closing the year with IndyCar predictions. The 2021 season saw a surprise first-time champion and IndyCar continued to be a wide-open championship with race winners coming from any and nearly every team. 

We can expect more of the same in 2022, but what exactly should we look out for? Here are a dozen predictions! 

1. Scott Dixon will be the top Ganassi finisher in at least seven races
Last season, Dixon was beat in the intra-team Ganassi battle, and handily for the first time since Dario Franchitti left the team. 

It wasn't a bad year for Dixon, as he was fourth in the championship, but Álex Palou won the championship and Palou was the top Ganassi finisher in seven of 16 races. Marcus Ericsson was top Ganassi finisher in five races. Dixon was the top Ganassi finisher in only four races! He went 11 consecutive races at one point without being the top Ganassi finisher. It was only the third time in Dixon's career he went more than five consecutive races without being the top finisher for a race team! 

Dixon was good, but he never had a team where two teammates were at his level prior to 2021. He has had one before, but typically Dixon was at least second in the team. Ericsson's level of success was unexpected. The Swede was going to be a top ten driver, but I don't think anyone saw him winning more races than Dixon and challenging for a top five championship finish.

In 2014, Dixon had a stretch of ten races without being the top Ganassi finisher. He bounced back and won the 2015 championship while being the top Ganassi finisher in seven of 16 races. 

I don't necessarily think Dixon will win the 2022 championship but being the top Ganassi finisher in seven of 17 races is possible. Palou and Ericsson both could come down to Earth. Both those drivers will be competitive, but not keep up the same pace as they had in 2021. Dixon will be strong and will be back leading the Ganassi contingent. 

2. Andretti Autosport will have multiple top ten finishers in at least eight races
It has been a strange few seasons for Andretti Autosport. Alexander Rossi hasn't won a race since June 2019. Colton Herta has been great but has let races slip and could have been champion in 2021. Ryan Hunter-Reay had two of his worst seasons with the team. Marco Andretti backed away from full-time competition and James Hinchcliffe returned only to have a disappointing season.

In 2020, Andretti Autosport had multiple top ten finishers in only six races! Only twice did the team have multiple top five finishers. 

The team is mixing it up in 2021. Romain Grosjean is in for Hunter-Reay. Rossi is in a contract year. Delvin DeFrancesco is replacing Hinchcliffe. No one expects DeFrancesco to contribute greatly, but between Herta, Rossi and Grosjean, Andretti should be a regular race winner and should have multiple championship challengers. 

A successful season for this team is all three of those drivers winning races and at least one of them competing for a championship. If it wasn't for some of the mechanical issues, Herta could have been been in the fight in 2021. Herta arguably could have had five victories in 2021 if it wasn't for mechanical issues, and an accident that was on him. If Herta converts those results, he could have been champion. 

Andretti Autosport needs to have a great year. It is approaching ten years since its most recent championship. A "Big Three" team can't go a decade without a championship. 

3. There will be at least three first-time winners
In 2021, there were four first-time winners in IndyCar. 

Álex Palou won the season opener, Patricio O'Ward won the second Texas race, Rinus VeeKay won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Marcus Ericsson won the first Belle Isle race. There were four first-time winners in the first seven races of 2021. 

For all the first-time winners IndyCar had in 2021, there are just as many drivers out there still waiting for their first career victory. 

Romain Grosjean, Jack Harvey and Scott McLaughlin have all finished on the podium before. Jimmie Johnson will be running a full season and his oval expertise could prove important. There are some exciting young drivers with Christian Lundgaard, Callum Ilott, Kyle Kirkwood and David Malukas joining the series. The road/street course position in Ed Carpenter Racing's #20 Chevrolet is still unfilled. 

Here is the one thing going against this prediction: Since reunification there has never ben multiple first-time winners in consecutive seasons. There were three new winners in 2008 and then no new winners until 2011, when Mike Conway and Ed Carpenter each won. There were no new winners in 2012 and then four in 2013 before one in 2014, two in 2015 and one in 2016. 

There were then two seasons without a first time before Herta won in 2019, Felix Rosenqvist won in 2020 and then the four-driver splash in 2021. The last time a series had multiple first-time winners in consecutive seasons was Champ Car from 2005 to 2007. Each of those three seasons had two first-time winners. 

We could see another surprise addition to the IndyCar grid at some point. Everyone expects Grosjean to win. Harvey is in position to get a victory. Lundgaard could be the breakout star of 2022. McLaughlin has ovals figured out. Three might be a stretch, but it is highly possible, especially in the current landscape. 

4. Team Penske will not lose a race in the final five laps due to a mechanical issue
It happened twice to Team Penske in 2021. 

First was at Belle Isle, when Will Power overheated under the red flag period late in the Saturday race and was unable to restart his car when the red flag was lifted late in the race. Power went from almost assured victory to 20th. 

Two races later, Josef Newgarden dominated at Road America, but had Álex Palou staying within touching distance. A late caution for a Ed Jones spin set up a restart with two laps to go. Newgarden had been having gearbox concerns all race. On that final restart, Newgarden's gearbox jammed, and he lost the lead. Palou won the race, it was a pivotal point in the championship, as it went from a +13 point race for Newgarden to a -38 point race, a 51-point swing. 

This is also not taking into considering the second Belle Isle race, where Newgarden led the first 67 of 70 laps before Patricio O'Ward passed Newgarden on fresher tires after multiple late cautions bunched up the field. 

Multiple mechanical issues will not rip victories from Team Penske's hands again in 2022. Power does have a knack for falling into mechanical issues, so we cannot rule it out, but for it to happen in the closing laps in multiple races in one season, that doesn't happen often. Twice in a season is unfortunate. Penske has covered its bad breaks for the next few seasons.

5. Patricio O'Ward will lead the most laps in at least two races
For as great as O'Ward's 2021 season was, he never led the most laps in a race. 

O'Ward won twice, but he only led 25 laps at Texas and three laps in the second Belle Isle race. He never led more than 28 laps in a single race in the 2021 season. His 118 laps led were fifth most of the season, but it was also the most laps led for a driver who did not lead the most laps in a race. 

In 2020, O'Ward led the most laps in the second Road America race and the first Gateway race, but he could not get a victory. 

We will see a more balanced O'Ward in 2022. He should be in the championship fight again, but his race victories will be more dominant performances, races where he starts on the front row and he leads 75% of the laps. He was great on ovals again with finishes of third, first, fourth and second. He could be the next driver to lead 200 laps at Iowa. 

6. Simon Pagenaud and Hélio Castroneves average greater than 12.0 in final championship position
Meyer Shank Racing stepped up to full-time competition in 2020, and in 2022 it is going to have two full-time cars. It will also bring in a new driver.

Pagenaud is moving over after a few good, but not spectacular seasons with Team Penske. Castroneves is returning after four years as a part-time IndyCar driver, which saw him win his fourth Indianapolis 500 in 2021 and give MSR its first IndyCar victory. 

MSR has had good results ever since it has entered IndyCar. Jack Harvey might not have won a race or been on the podium as much as his speed would have suggested, but it is a good organization and can mix with the IndyCar big boys. 

But I am not set on the Pagenaud/Castroneves pairing. Pagenaud will be good, but Castroneves showed weak points in 2021 that an Indianapolis 500 victory papers over. I am not sure how both these drivers finish in the top 12 of the championship. I could see Pagenaud finishing eighth to tenth, but I don't think Castroneves can match that. Castroneves could end up outside the top fifteen in the championship. It is not crazy when you consider there are three Penske teams, four Ganassi teams, four Andretti teams, three Rahal Letterman Lanigan teams, two Arrow McLaren SP teams and Rinus VeeKay is a race winner with Ed Carpenter Racing. 

That is 17 teams. Drop Johnson and DeFrancesco and that leaves 15 teams besides the MSR cars. How many of those cars can Castroneves beat? He could get McLaughlin and VeeKay. That would put him 14th in the championship. Fourteenth would be generous for Castroneves in his first season back as a full-time driver. If Castroneves is 14th, then Pagenaud has to be 11th or worse for this prediction to be correct, a conceivable result.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing will not have a top ten finish drought longer than six races
Ed Carpenter Racing started 2022 on fire, and it felt like the team had turned a corner it had long been trying to get around since Josef Newgarden left. 

Then the rest of the season happened. 

Coincidentally, the team's decline coincided with Rinus VeeKay's broken collarbone from a cycling accident the Monday prior to Road America. The team ended 2021 without a top ten finish in the final nine races. It opened the season with at least one top ten finish in six of the first seven races. 

ECR might not be either the team we saw in the first half of 2021 nor the team we saw in the second half. There should be some middle ground. VeeKay's injury knocked him off his game. A fully healed VeeKay should be better than what we saw in the summer. 

Conor Daly could be back in the #20 Chevrolet for road and street courses, but the team could be set to move on and whatever driver is brought in will have a low bar to clear to better Daly's results. Daly had zero top ten finishes in two seasons as the road/street course driver. 

A driver change should help this team, and with Iowa returning as a doubleheader, there will be one more oval race for Ed Carpenter to contest, not to mention the ovals are more spread out. It is less likely ECR will suffer a long dry spell.

8. The rookie drivers will combine for fewer than four podium finishes
IndyCar just had an impressive rookie class with Scott McLaughlin, Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson running for rookie of the year. There will be more rookie of the year contenders in 2022, but I don't think they will have the same kind of success we saw from the class of 2021. 

Christian Lundgaard qualified fourth on debut last year for the August Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race. Lundgaard lost some spots in the race, but for his first weekend in a car he had never driven prior to the first practice, he looked to have it under control. 

Driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Lundgaard is the rookie best setup to succeed. There are other good drivers in the class of 2022, but I don't know if any can be regularly competitors at the front of the grid. 

Kyle Kirkwood has made it to IndyCar after years of Road to Indy success, including winning the 2021 Indy Lights championship. However, Kirkwood will be driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, a team with one podium finish and eight top five finishes over the last six seasons. 

David Malukas was runner-up to Kirkwood in Indy Lights last year and he joins Dale Coyne Racing. Coyne has a history of successful rookies, some have even finished on the podium, but DCR is going through another shakeup. Malukas' teammate will be Takuma Sato, who moves over from RLLR. Coyne is a small team, and engineer Olivier Boisson left with Grosjean. Coyne finds a way to work its magic, but eventually it will have an off year. 

Callum Ilott nearly won the Formula Two championship, losing out to Mick Schumacher in 2020. Ilott is regarded as a respectable gain for IndyCar. He was a test and reserve driver for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo in 2021. The talent is there, but Ilott will drive for Juncos Hollinger Racing. The combination ran the final three races in 2021. It was a dress rehearsal, but the team has some work to do. For a team that has never finished better than 15th in its limited IndyCar experience, I cannot think Ilott and JHR will be on the podium in 2022. It could have a few good days, but I need to see more before thinking it will be on the podium. 

We still don't know who will be in the #20 ECR entry on road courses, but looking at the current rookie crop, the only one who could regularly fight for the podium is Lundgaard. Is Lundgaard going to have four podium finishes? Probably not. He could get on one or two, and that would be a good rookie season. Four will be out of reach for him.

9. There will be consecutive winners on at least two occasions
It wasn't until the final two races of the season, the last possible opportunity, that IndyCar had a driver win consecutive races in 2021. Colton Herta closed out the season with victories at Laguna Seca and Long Beach.

If Herta had not won at Long Beach, 2021 would have been the first season without a single consecutive race winner since 2015. 

While IndyCar is hyper-competitive and it feels like the series could produce 17 different winners from 17 races, the best drivers find a way to win multiple times. Sometimes those victories come in consecutive races. 

We saw it with Herta. In 2020, Scott Dixon opened the season with three consecutive victories. In 2019, Simon Pagenaud swept the Indianapolis races. Will Power swept the Indianapolis races in 2018, and Alexander Rossi won consecutive races at Mid-Ohio and Pocono that season. Graham Rahal swept the Belle Isle doubleheader in 2017 and Josef Newgarden won at Toronto and Mid-Ohio. Pagenaud had three consecutive victories in 2016 while Power won consecutive races at Belle Isle and Road America. 

It happens all the time. Next IndyCar season will see at least two drivers have a great pair of races. While IndyCar could have 17 different winners from 17 races, the series also has ten drivers you look at and think they could easily win two or three races on the spin. 

10. No race will have more than 35% of its laps under caution
There were a few caution heavy races in IndyCar in 2021. Most notably, Nashville, which had 33 of his 80 laps behind the safety car. That was 41.25% of the race! 

Overall, 247 of 1,925 laps run in 2021 were under caution, 12.831% of the season. Before you say that is a lot or IndyCar has a caution problem, let's look at some reason seasons, and how many laps were run under caution. 

2014: 323 of 2,385 laps (13.48%)
2015: 426 of 2,232 laps (19.08%)
2016: 302 of 2,070 laps (14.58%)
2017: 311 of 2,331 laps (13.34%)
2018: 249 of 2,368 laps (10.51%)
2019: 270 of 2,092 laps (12.91%)
2020: 203 of 1,900 laps (10.68%)
2021: 247 of 1,925 laps (12.83%)

Over the last eight seasons, 2,331 of 17,303 laps have been under caution, or 13.471%. Last season was below the recent average despite Nashville's choppiness. If Nashville was more in line with the rest of the races and ten laps were under caution, the overall caution lap percentage would have been down to 11.636%. 

I don't think we will see another Nashville. I don't think we will have an oval race go off the rails. Iowa will feel normal. Next year will be calm.

11. Jimmie Johnson will be involved in 0.25 cautions or fewer per start
Johnson's IndyCar debut season was not fantastic.

It took him ten laps for Johnson to cause his first caution at Barber. Johnson brought out two cautions at St. Petersburg. His spin in the second Belle Isle race changed the outcome significantly, allowing Patricio O'Ward into the battle for the lead. He spun at Road America and was then caught in the infamous turn 11 restart accident at Nashville. 

Through eight races, Johnson's best finish was 19th, he was in six caution periods, and had severeal other spins and accidents in practice sessions, and he did not finish on the lead lap once.

However, Johnson was heading in the right toward the end of the season. He was 19th in the August IMS road course race and finished on the lead lap. He was 20th at Portland and again on the lead lap. In the final two races, he finished 17th in both, and he was on the lead lap at Long Beach. 

Most importantly, Johnson caused no cautions in those final four starts.

Johnson might not be a top ten driver on a regular basis, but I don't think he will cause as many cautions as he did in his rookie year. Johnson is smart, and most of his cautions were about car control. He didn't have a grip on it. These weren't reckless moments where he overstepped the limit significantly. They were mostly because Johnson wasn't used to the limit of an open-wheel car. 

Based on 12 starts in 2021, he had 0.5 cautions per start. Johnson has announced he will run a full season, but I still hold out Johnson might pull back if he doesn't feel comfortable on ovals. There is also the chance Johnson doesn't qualify for the Indianapolis 500. We cannot rule it out considering Will Power was in the Last Row Shootout in 2021. 

Averaging 0.25 cautions per start would be 4.25 cautions over 17 races. Four or fewer and this prediction is correct. Five or more and this prediction is wrong.
12. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's qualifying average will be 12.5 or under
For the last few seasons, RLLR has been a strong team, a regular race winner and it regularly puts its drivers in the top ten in the championship. 

In 2021, Graham Rahal had seven top five finishes and 11 top ten finishes. He was seventh in the championship, his seventh consecutive top ten championship finish. Takuma Sato finished in the top ten in eight of 16 races and Sato just missed out on the top ten in the championship, ending up 11th. 

Those results came despite poor qualifying results for RLLR. Rahal qualified in the top ten five times. Sato didn't start in the top ten once! The team's best qualifying result was Lundgaard starting fourth at the August IMS road course race. Rahal had one top five start and Oliver Askew had one top five start. 

Overall, between Rahal, Sato, Lundgaard, Askew and Santino Ferrucci, RLLR's average qualifying result in 2021 was 15.729. 

Rahal remains, but Jack Harvey joins the team, and Harvey has been one of IndyCar's better qualifiers over the last four seasons, though he took a dip last season. We already saw what Lundgaard did with limited time in the car. 

The team is set on making a move forward. It has invested in the future with Harvey and Lundgaard. RLLR will find its footing and bounce back after a winless 2021 season. We will see improvement in the team's qualifying results.

And that is a wrap on 2021. Five sets of predictions are in the books. Check out NASCAR, Formula One, sports car and motorcycle predictions before the year is out. We have plenty of fun ahead of us. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

2022 Motorcycle Predictions

Our penultimate set of 2022 predictions bring us to motorcycle racing. We saw first time champions in each MotoGP and World Superbike in 2021. World Supersport had a runaway champion. MotoE went to the final set of corners and had a controversial finish. Moto2 had a good battle and Moto3 crowned a deserving champion.

What will happen in 2022? Here are 12 guesses!

1. Two of the top three from 2021 do not finish in the top five of the 2022 championship
That means Fabio Quartararo, Francesco Bagnaia and Joan Mir are on notice. 

It is a stretch to think any of those three will fall to sixth or worse in the championship, but to think two riders will fall that far is harder to imagine. However, Marc Márquez could be back fully healthy, and based on his points per start pace in 2021, he would have been fourth in the championship if he had started all 18 races. 

Franco Morbidelli was banged up for much of 2021 and moved to the factory Yamaha midseason. He was considerably equal to Quartararo when they were Petronas SRT Yamaha teammates, and Morbidelli was second in the championship in 2020. Andrea Dovizioso will be back as a full-time competitor. Brad Binder scored in 17 of 18 races last year, but his Austria victory was his only podium finish. 

There are plenty of options that could shake up the top. Nothing looks the same forever. There will be movement.

2. Álex Rins will retire from three races or fewer
Rins was his own worst enemy in 2021. At times, he was quicker than his Suzuki teammate Mir, but Rins was prone to falling off the bike, retired from five races and was 20th in another. While Mir was third in the championship, Rins was 13th, and his only podium finish was second at Silverstone. 

If Rins remains on the bike, I think he could be ahead of Mir in the championship. It is just that Mir doesn't make mistakes. The pressure will be on Rins in 2022. If he stays on the bike, he could be one of the riders displacing Quartararo, Bagnaia and/or Mir from the top five of the world championship. 

I think Rins cleans up his act in 2022 and has a great shot of being the top Suzuki rider in the championship.

3. Aprilia scores at least 168 points in the manufactures' championship
Aprilia is taking a chance with Maverick Viñales. The Spaniard was brought into the team midseason in 2021 after Viñales was booted from Yamaha for sabotaging his own bikes. 

With Viñales in the team, Aprilia did well, but Aleix Espargaró was holding his own even before Viñales. Esparagó scored points in 13 races. He was third at Aragón, and ended the season with 120 points, good enough for eighth in the championship. 

If Espargaró can do that, Viñales should at least be in the same ballpark as his teammate. They might take points off each other, but they will lift Aprilia up the championship. 

In the 2021 manufactures' championship, Aprilia scored 121 points, 6.722 per race. To score 168 in 2022, Aprilia would have to average eight points per race. It is a small boost, but it is something the smallest manufacture on the grid can accomplish.

4. There will be at least one story about a Valentino Rossi comeback
We love a comeback story, even if it is not happening. 

When one big star retires in motorsports, they are always met with speculation of a return. Michael Schumacher retired from Ferrari, but Formula One never left him alone, and Schumacher did end up returning with Mercedes. Jimmie Johnson was gone from NASCAR for all of five minutes before people were asking when he would return for a Cup one-off. The same was true for Jeff Gordon, and Gordon did return when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was out due to a concussion. I think sports car driver Johnny Mowlem retired for the tenth time this past autumn. 

In motorsports, nobody is really done until they have expelled everything. Rossi ended 2021 with his worst season on a grand prix bike, but you know there is a subset that believes he should still be out there. Rossi is set to move on, and he wants to run more sports car races. But someone will not let it go, and if Yamaha has a rider out, someone will throw out Rossi's name as a substitute.

5. American riders combine for at least two podium finishes
The American Moto2 riders did not have the greatest season in 2021. 

Joe Roberts was banged up and dropped to 13th in the championship from seventh with only two top five finishes. Cameron Beaubier was returning to the grand prix scene for the first time since running 125cc in 2009, and he did well, but the bar was low, and Beaubier was 15th in the championship with two top five finishes. 

The hope is Roberts is healthy and can bounce back to at least his 2020 form. Beaubier could make a big stride in 2022, and his results were getting better late in the 2021 season. There will also be a third American on the grid next year. Sean Dylan Kelly will be Beaubier's teammate at American Racing. Kelly won the 2021 MotoAmerica Supersport championship with 12 victories. Kelly did run the 2019 Moto2 finale at Valencia, where he retired. 

Kelly's focus should be completing lap and gaining experience. We know Roberts can finish on the podium, and he could get two podium finishes on his own. Beaubier could step up to a podium-caliber rider and put together a few impressive races. 

6. Jordi Torres wins multiple MotoE races
Torres has won the last two MotoE championship. In those two seasons, he has won a combined two races. He has never had multiple MotoE victories in a single season. 

He is a consistent rider, and he has won his championships because he hasn't made mistakes or stepped over the line. There have also only been seven races in each of the last two seasons, not many chances for victory. 

With the 2022 MotoE championship ballooning to 14 races, seven doubleheaders at Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Assen, Finland, Austria and Misano, Torres should have three or four victories. He will have difficult competition. Dominique Aegerter is returning, as is 2019 MotoE champion Matteo Ferrari. Bradley Smith will be back in MotoE. Torres might not win a third consecutive championship, but he should set a high for victories in a season.

World Superbike
7. Toprak Razgatlioglu will be responsible for 75% or fewer of Yamaha's victories
Razgatlioglu ended Kawasaki's World Superbike dominance, but he was on his own carrying Yamaha's water in 2021. 

The Turkish rider won 13 races. The other Yamaha riders combined for zero victories. Razgatlioglu is not going anywhere. He will be successful again in 2022, but he will not be the only Yamaha rider experiencing victory. 

Andrea Locatelli did a good job last year as a rookie. Locatelli didn't win a race, but he was fourth in the championship with four podium finishes. Locatelli should be ready to win a few races of his own in 2022. Even if Razgatlioglu won ten races next year, if Locatelli won four races or more, this prediction would be correct. If Razgatlioglu won nine races next year, Locatelli won two and then Garrett Gerloff won once, then this prediction would be correct. 

Yamaha has a few good riders and Raztaglioglu will not have all the glory for himself.

8. There will be at least three weekends without a repeat winner
In 13 race weekends last year, only twice was there not a repeat winner. 

At Barcelona, Scott Redding, Jonathan Rea and Michael Ruben Rinaldi split the races. At Portimão, Razgatlioglu, Michael van der Mark and Rea split the races. 

There are still 13 race weekends on the 2022 schedule, though one is a TBA and another is Phillip Island, which date has not been announced. Even if there are only 11 race weekends with the quality of the field, I think three weekends with each race having a different winner is realistic. 

9. No Honda rider finishes in the top ten of the championship
Honda has not had the greatest seasons in World Superbike of late. 

Since 2017, Honda has three total podium finishes. Honda has not won since Nicky Hayden won in the wet at Sepang in 2016. I don't think that is going to change in 2022. 

Four Hondas are committed to the 2022 season. The factory team will have Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge. MIE Racing will field two Hondas for Leonardo Mercado and Hafizh Syahrin. That is not the most fearsome foursome a manufacture could put together. 

Between Yamaha's lineup with Razgatlioglu, Locatelli, Getloff and Kohta Nozane; Rea and Alex Lowes on the Kawasakis, Lucas Mahias on a customer Kawasaki, Ducati entering Ruben Rinaldi and Álvaro Bautista, Philip Öttl on a customer Ducati, van der Mark and Scott Redding on the factory BMWs and Loris Baz and Michael Laverty on customer BMWs, I don't see how Honda can breakthrough ahead of four of those riders. 

Honda might get a guy in 12th, but the top ten is a stretch.

10. One of the riders on the Suzuka 8 Hours overall winner will finish the WSBK season with at least four victories
This is a hope the Suzuka 8 Hours even happens. 

We haven't had a Suzuka 8 Hours the last two years due to the pandemic. Prior to 2020, Suzuka attracted some top riders. Kawasaki won in 2019 with Rea, Razgatlioglu and Leon Haslam. The Yamaha factory team had won the four previous years, with Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark on the 2017 and 2018 winning entries. Lowes was also on the 2016 winner while Bradley Smith won in 2015. Van der Mark won with Honda in 2013 and 2014.

Superbike riders frequently head to Suzuka for this midseason extracurricular. If the Suzuka 8 Hours returns in 2022, the top Superbike riders will be there, and one of the best in World Superbike will be on the winning bike.

World Supersport
11. There will be a notable complaint about the new regulations
To increase competition, World Supersport has changed its regulations, allowing "middleweight" bikes, such as the 955cc Ducati Panigale V2, the Triumph Street Triple 765 RS and the 800cc MV Agusta F3 RR, to compete against the 600cc Yamaha YZF-R6 and Kawasaki ZX-6R. 

When these regulations were first trickling out, some pushed back against having to balance bikes of such different displacements. While we are seeing more Ducatis already committing to the 2022 season, I don't think this will go away quietly once the season is started. Someone will be upset about not being as competitive since the regulations changed. 

12. The championship will be undecided entering the final race weekend
In 25 World Supersport Championship seasons, only eight times has the championship been undecided entering the season finale. It did just happen in 2019 when Randy Krummenacher, Federico Caricasulo and Jules Cluzel were all battling for the title. It also happened in 2017 when Lucas Mahias had a 20-point lead over Kenan Sofuoglu, despite Sofuoglu missing four of the first 11 races. 

However, those are the only two championships to go down to the wire in the last decade. Only three times has the championship changed in the finale, the last time being in 2006. 

With new regulations coming in, the hope is for more competition. I don't think one rider is going to dominate, and we will see a title race until the final lap of the season. 

One set of predictions remain. That is IndyCar. Feel free to peruse the NASCAR, Formula One and sports car predictions. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2022 Sports Car Predictions

The third set of 2022 predictions will be sports car racing. This upcoming season has plenty to be excited about. New teams, new classes, new cars and this is just the beginning of the wave, as 2023 will see the introduction of the LMDh class, unifying the top classes for IMSA and the FIA World Endurance Championship. 

We have 12 predictions, four for each IMSA, WEC and the European Le Mans Series.

1. Chip Ganassi Racing will lead the Cadillac teams in victories
Ganassi returned to IMSA's top class in 2021 and it won at Belle Isle, but that was the team's only victory. Renger van der Zande finished fourth in the championship on his own after Kevin Magnussen missed the Petit Le Mans finale due to COVID-19. 

Ganassi did have three runner-up finishes, the Watkins Glen sprint, Laguna Seca and Long Beach, and the team was a contender at Daytona before two late tire punctures. 

In 2022, Ganassi will have two cars. van der Zande is back, but Sébastien Bourdais, Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn will join as full-time drivers. Double the cars, and with three world-class drivers, Ganassi should be the Ganassi of old. 

As for the other Cadillac teams, Action Express Racing has lost Felipe Nasr and Tristan Nunez will join Pipo Derani in the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac. JDC-Miller Motorsports only won once in 2021, Sebring, and Tristan Vautier will have Richard Westbrook as his co-driver. 

Regardless of how Ganassi pieces together its lineups, I think it has the two strong Cadillac teams. Derani is a good driver, but Nunez is not Nasr. Ganassi should win multiple races, but any fewer than four victories will be a little disappointing.

2. European-based teams get at least four victories
IMSA is receiving more European participants and not just for Daytona, but the full season. 

Danish High Class racing and Dutch Racing Team Nederland will be full-time in LMP2. United Autosports will field an LMP2 entry for the endurance races. In GT Daytona, Cetilar Racing will run a Ferrari for the endurance races.

G-Drive Racing, T3 Motorsport and Aston Martin Racing are other European teams that will be at Daytona, G-Drive in LMP2 and the other two in GTD.

This prediction lives on the LMP2 class. Racing Team Nederland is a good program, and Giedo van der Garde and Frits van Eerd have been successful in WEC competition. High Class Racing looked good at Daytona last year. United Autosports could sweep the four endurance races and no one would be surprised. United Autosports should win at least once. 

There are seven LMP2 races in 2022. PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, DragonSpeed and Era Motorsports will still represent the United States in LMP2. Those teams are going to be competitive and likely win a few races. This prediction might require some help in the GT divisions. 

3. At least five different cars win in GTD-Pro
With GT Le Mans and the GTE-spec cars gone, and the GT3-spec GTD-Pro class taking over, we will see some different cars competing against one another. 

Corvette will still be around, but be down to one full-time car, as it will contest a GTE-Pro entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship (more on that in a moment). Pfaff Motorsports will field a GTD-Pro Porsche. Lexus will have a GTD-Pro entry. Heart of Racing will have an Aston Martin in GTD-Pro. BMW Team RLL has two full-time BMWs set for GTD-Pro. TR3 Motorsports has a Lamborghini entered for Daytona in GTD-Pro. 

Between Corvette, Porsche, Lexus, Aston Martin and BMW, we at least have five manufactures committed to full-time in GTD-Pro. We could see some different teams pop in during the season and bring different manufactures into the class. It would not be a surprise if each of the five full-time manufactures win at least once. Aston Martin is the biggest question mark, but I think Heart of Racing will get on the board once.

4. At least nine drivers will have an IMSA start and a NASCAR Cup Series start
With all the talk of NASCAR's new car having more similarities than ever with a sports car, many have speculated more Cup drivers will run sports car races to get used to the feel and possibly help them with the new car. 

However, as the 24 Hours of Daytona approaches, and with a lack of Cup driver one-offs announced, this predictions looks less likely of being true. 

In 2021, six drivers made at least one NASCAR Cup start and one start in IMSA: A.J. Allmendinger, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Andy Lally, Kyle Tilley and Cody Ware. 

Four of those drivers are NASCAR regulars who only ran the 24 Hours of Daytona and the other two are IMSA drivers who were NASCAR road ringers. 

I am skeptical NASCAR drivers are going to run Laguna Seca or Mid-Ohio or Road America, a month after Cup has already raced at Road America, for more "practice." It is Daytona or bust for the Cup guys, and so far none are signed up. 

As for the IMSA drivers, the new car could make them more desirable for road courses. The only problem is the only team employing road course ringers is Rick Ware Racing, which will likely put Cody Ware in one of its cars. If four or five Cup guys end up in Daytona then I think we could get four or five IMSA drivers in a Cup race at some point in 2022.

FIA World Endurance Championship
5. Toyota's winning streak does not reach 12 races
If Toyota's winning streak reaches 12 races, that means it will win the first three races of 2022 and that would include its fifth consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victories. It would be the fourth time a manufacture won Le Mans five consecutive times. 

Toyota could still win Le Mans and not have its streak reach 12 races. That would mean another team winning at Sebring and/or Spa-Francorchamps. 

Entering the Hypercar fight is Peugeot, returning to top prototype competition since 2011. Alpine will have its grandfathered LMP1 car for another season, and it had a few close calls at victory in 2021 but fell short. Glickenhaus could be around after running only three races in 2021 and calling it a season after Le Mans. 

It is hard to see Toyota losing, and Peugeot has already lowered expectations, but crazy things can happen in motorsports. The Hypercar class has yet to see a track like Sebring. The Toyotas overcame mechanical issues at Monza and Le Mans to win. Sebring could be the backbreaker and allow someone else to take victory. Peugeot might have better speed than it expects and could pull out a victory at Spa-Francorchamps or possibly win Le Mans on its return. 

WEC needs competition in the Hypercar class. An early Toyota defeat would be great for the series. 

6. There will be no consecutive race winners in LMP2
In 2021, Team WRT closed out the season with three consecutive victories. In the 2019-20 season, United Autosports won four consecutive races at one point. 

After all these consecutive winners, I think there will be six races in 2022 and there will not be one team winning consecutive races. A team or two will likely win multiple races, but those will not be successive. It is hard to expect, but I think the competition in LMP2 makes it more likely. 

Team WRT won three on the spin to end 2021. United Autosports won twice, and Jota won once. United Autosports will have two cars in 2022. Team Penske is reportedly joining the class. AF Corse is fielding a car. G-Drive Racing is returning. 

There are too many good teams to think one team can go on a run of dominance. 

7. Corvette wins multiple races
We are finally getting a Corvette running the world championship, and it should spice up what was a tag-team match between the AF Corse Ferraris and factory Porsches. 

There are only six races, three manufactures and Corvette is the lone entry flying solo. Not to mention the Corvette will now be included in the Balance of Performance adjustments for the entire season. It will be a challenge for Corvette, and it will be running the car for the United States, but with the team's entire focus on this one car for WEC, I think Corvette will get results. I don't think it will be down in fifth for all six races. It is Corvette after all. The team will be competitive. 

Corvette wouldn't be doing this if it didn't think it could win races and possibly the championship. AF Corse and Porsche were coming to blows at the end of 2021. Those two might not be distracted enough by one another to allow Corvette is jump in and take over.

8. GTE-Am will have at least two teams break 100 points scored
Last year, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari won the GTE-Am championship with 150 off the back of four victories, including at Le Mans and the 8 Hours of Bahrain. The #83 Ferrari won the championship by 60.5 points over the #33 TF Sport Aston Martin. 

In 2019-20, six teams scored at least 100 points, but that was an eight-race championship. Last year and 2022 are only six-race championships.

But 100 points isn't that hard to break, and at least two teams should clear that mark. Dempsey-Proton Racing started slow in 2021. If the #77 Porsche doesn't retire from the first two races, it likely would have scored an additional 21 points and reach 100 points.

The GTE-Am field is still being sorted out for the 2022 season. The 2021 champions, Nicklas Nielsen, Alessio Rovera and François Perrodo, are moving to LMP2 with AF Corse. I doubt a team will dominate like the #83 Ferrari did in 2021. The points should be more spread out, increasing the likelihood two, three or maybe four teams hit triple figures.

European Le Mans Series
9. The pole-sitter will win at least two races
The 2021 European Le Mans Series season had an oddity. The pole-sitter didn't do well. 

In 2021, the pole-sitter won once, the #26 G-Drive Aurus-Gibson at Circuit Paul Ricard. It was the only time the pole-sitter finished on the podium. The year before that, the pole-sitter won three times, was on the podium four times and its worst finish was fourth. 

But 2020 was also an anomaly for the pole-sitter.  The pole-sitter won once in 2019, didn't even finish on the podium in 2018, didn't win in 2017 and only had one podium finish that season and won twice in 2016. 

It is weird. It is an endurance series with each race lasting four hours, but for the qualifying results to be such disconnected from the race results is surprising. 

10. At least three races will not have a French winner in LMP3
In 2021, every LMP3 winner in ELMS had at least one French driver. 

Nicolas Maulini won the first two races, Jean-Philippe Dayrault won the third race, Mathieu de Barbuat won the next two races and Adam Eteki won the finale. 

There will be a step back. One nationality represented in each class winner over an entire season is incredible in a regional championship. The European Le Mans Series will see it shaken up in 2022.

11. At least four races will not have a German winner in LMP3
The French were great in LMP3, but the Germans did not do too bad either, with at least one German driver in every LMP3 winner. 

Niklas Krütten won the first two races, Laurents Hörr won the next three races on his way to taking the LMP3 class championship, and Martin Hippe won the finale. 

The Franco-German dominance will not continue for a second consecutive season, and I think there will be less German success there French. 

12. There is at least one winner from the North American continent
Five continents had a driver win in ELMS last year. 

There were 25 European winners across the three classes. Chinese Ye Yifei won three times with Team WRT. Argentine Franco Colapinto won once with G-Drive Racing. Australian James Allen won with Panis Racing. South Africa had two winners. David Perel won in GTE and Jonathan Aberdein won in LMP2.

The one continent left out was North America. Sorry, Antarctica, we are only talking about the inhabited continents, and I don't see many penguins becoming race car drivers. There were plenty of North American drivers that ran in the series, 14 to be specific, but none won. 

There have been North American winners before. Mexican Memo Rojas has twice been ELMS champion and he drove for Duqueine Team in 2021, with his best finish being second at Spa-Francorchamps. American Will Owen won for United Autosports in 2020. Canadians John Farano and Garett Grist won in LMP3 before. Americans John Falb and Sean Rayhall were LMP3 champions in 2017.

North American success is not rare, but to be completely absent in 2021 was uncommon based on other recent years. 

Somebody from the North American continent will win in 2022. I don't know who it will be or in what class, but it will happen.

NASCAR and Formula One predictions are already known. Next up will be motorcycle racing. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

2022 Formula One Predictions

Christmas is behind us, it is a Monday, this is the final week of 2021, and we should dive into another set of 2022 predictions. Our traditional post-Christmas predictions focus on Formula One, and though the 2021 season just wrapped up a little over two weeks ago, we are moving forward.

There will be plenty of changes in the 2022 season, and we are bound to see some new things next year. 

 1. George Russell scores at least five victories
The biggest mover this offseason is Russell heading to Mercedes from Williams. It has been a long-expected move and after his initial outing at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix in place of a COVID-absent Lewis Hamilton, Russell has high expectations at Mercedes. 

Russell has already been doing incredible things in the weakest car on the grid. He might not have been scoring loads of points, but he was completing laps and pulling the Williams entry up the grid. In a quality car, the possibilities are endless. 

Five victories are a lot, but Russell arguably should have won on his Mercedes debut. If it wasn't for a botched pit stop and a tire puncture, Russell would already have a race victory and might have already been placed in the Mercedes. 

Mercedes is a great team. Valtteri Bottas did not come close to matching Hamilton's results in 2021. Hamilton did put together some breathtaking drives, some of which only he could have done. Russell might not be at that level yet, but I think he gives Mercedes essentially two number one drivers. Russell is going to score results. I don't think he will challenge Hamilton for that number one spot immediately, but he will be good and could help Mercedes' secure a ninth consecutive World Constructors' Championship.

2. Red Bull will be on the podium in fewer races
Max Verstappen not only had a championship season in 2021, Verstappen had a record-breaking season in 2021, as he finished with 18 podium finishes, the most podium finishes in a single season. 

While Verstappen stood on the podium 18 times, Sergio Pérez was on the podium five times, but only one of those was without Verstappen. That was the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which Pérez won after Verstappen had a tire failure while leading. 

That means Red Bull was on the podium in 19 races. There are 23 races scheduled for 2022, meaning there will be one more chance at a podium result in 2022. However, I don't think Red Bull will match its numbers. 

I don't think Verstappen will get 18 podium finishes again. Pérez was good but wasn't as strong as we all expected. He was a capable number two driver to Verstappen, but five podium finishes are an underwhelming total. 

I also think Red Bull has a little hangover in 2022. There will be a new car. The team went all-in on the 2021 championship. I think the team will take a minor step back. It will still be a great team and Red Bull will win races, but I don't think it can match its 2021 output.

3. McLaren and Ferrari will each have a victory
McLaren won a race in 2021 but should have won two. Ferrari came close at Silverstone. There will be new regulations in 2022, and I think we will see a mix of results. 

McLaren looked good, though it did drop off late in 2021. Meanwhile, Ferrari ended on a high note in 2021. Lando Norris was in the top five of the championship for most of the season. Daniel Ricciardo won at Monza, and he had good results, though he was second in the team. Carlos Sainz, Jr. was on the podium multiple times, including at Abu Dhabi. Charles Leclerc was regularly in the points. 

I am not saying McLaren and Ferrari will be contending for the championship, but I think each team could have one race where everything lines up. They could each get two victories. McLaren had it happen at Monza this year and it nearly happened at Sochi before the rain. I think both will have that day in 2022.

4. Yuki Tsunoda will be dropped before the summer break
Tsunoda came into Formula One with a lot of excitement after a thrilling end to his 2020 Formula Two season. He scored two points in the season opener at Bahrain, but points were harder to come by than expected. 

Tsunoda made many mistakes and had a few accidents. He somehow ended 2021 with a fourth in Abu Dhabi, but that result was an anomaly. With Honda exiting Formula One, Tsunoda has lost his safety blanket. 

Red Bull has no tie to Tsunoda. If Tsunoda has another slow startll be quick to drop him at AlphaTauri. Pierre Gasly significantly outscored Tsunoda in 2021, and AlphaTauri finished 13 points behind Alpine.  AlphaTauri can find another driver who can score an additional 14 points and be the difference between sixth or fifth in the constructors' championship. 

In Tsunoda's favor could be the lack of a standout Red Bull junior driver waiting to enter Formula One. Liam Lawson is close, but not ready. Jehan Daruvala has won in Formula Two, but the overall results are not outstanding. I doubt Red Bull would go outside the box to fill the second AlphaTauri seat, but I think there will be a breaking point before the finish of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

5. Valtteri Bottas will score more points than Alfa Romeo has scored in the last two seasons combined
After a five-year stint with Mercedes, Bottas has left and will move to Alfa Romeo for the third chapter in his Formula One career. 

Bottas was not adequate in Hamilton's championship fight in 2021. When Bottas was needed most, he was not there to support his teammate. However, I think Bottas is a better driver than the average guy on the grid. Alfa Romeo isn't a great team, but it had a few moments in 2021. 

Between the last two seasons, Alfa Romeo has scored a combined 21 points. Bottas basically needs a point per race. That is asking a lot, but you need to have hope something changes. Bottas could head to Alfa Romeo a broken driver, and immediately fall behind Guanyu Zhou, or he could rise up and be a bright spot. I am hopeful of the latter.

6. At least three races are won from outside a top five grid position
In 2021, we had three races won from outside a top five position on the grid. 

Pérez won at Azerbaijan from sixth. Esteban Ocon won at Hungary from eighth. Hamilton won at Interlagos from tenth. Before 2021, the last time three races were won from outside the top five was 2005. 

With sprint qualifying potentially expanding and with the unknown of the new regulations, race results could become even more shaken up. Hamilton won from tenth after finishing fifth in the sprint race but needed to serve a penalty and lost five spots. That could happen again in 2022. We could see someone win the sprint and be dropped to sixth before coming through in the actual race. 

Pieces are still moving around and after some unfathomable results in 2021, it could continue in 2022.

7. Aston Martin averages at least eight points per race
After being the overachiever of the season in 2020 as Racing Point, Aston Martin took a step back in 2021. The team dropped from fourth to seventh in the championship and it went from averaging 11.47 points per race to averaging 3.5 points per race. 

That is a significant drop and there is middle ground. The team has brought in Martin Whitmarsh. Dan Fallows has left Red Bull, where he was head of aerodynamics, to become Aston Martin's technical director. It might not return to 2020 Racing Point levels, but the team should be better. 

Eight points per race would be 184 points over 23 races. That pace would have been good enough for fifth in the constructors' championship in 2021. That is a big jump upward, but I don't think Sebastian Vettel has completely lost it as a driver. Lance Stroll can be a surprise at times. Aston Martin will not be anonymous for long and should at least be mixing with Alpine and AlphaTauri. I think that will happen next season. 

8. There will be at least one nationality sweep of a podium
The last time a nationality swept a podium was the 1983 San Marino Grand Prix when France's Patrick Tambay won for Ferrari ahead of France's Alain Prost driving for France's Renault with France's René Arnoux in third for Ferrari. If it doesn't happen in one of the first four races of 2022, it will have been 39 years between a nationality sweep. 

I think it will happen, but what country could do it? 

There are only two Canadians and two Frenchmen and two Spaniards and two Germans. 

And then there are three Brits. Hamilton, Russell and Norris. Two are with Mercedes, the other is with McLaren, and I think we will see a British sweep of the podium. Hamilton and Russell will be up there. Norris looked good in 2022. We are bound to get another nationality sweep in Formula One. I think it happens in 2022. Imagine if it happened at Silverstone! The Sky broadcast team would be insufferable, but the crowd would be tremendous. It would be special for all three drivers.

For those wondering, Britain has swept a Formula One podium 11 times, most recently the 1968 United States Grand Prix with Jackie Stewart winning ahead of Graham Hill and John Surtees. The United Kingdom is tied with the United States for most podium sweeps in Formula One history, but all 11 American sweeps were the 11 Indianapolis 500s between 1950 and 1960 when Indianapolis counted toward the world championship.

Besides the United States, United Kingdom and France, the only other country with a podium sweep is Italy. The last of the six Italian sweeps was the 1953 Dutch Grand Prix. Alberto Ascari won ahead of Nino Farina and Felice Bonetto. 

9. Fewer than five times will a driver win races on consecutive weekends
This isn't consecutive races but consecutive race weekends when races occur on successive Sundays. Consecutive race weekends are becoming the norm in Formula One, and with the goal of a 25-race schedule, they aren't going anywhere. The season isn't going to start the first Sunday of February and end the first Sunday of December with only two months between seasons. With the fixed March start date, races will be crammed into spring, summer, and autumn. 

In 2022, there are nine instances of consecutive race weekends covering 20 of 23 races! The only examples of races sandwiches between off weekends are Australia (April 10), Imola (April 24) and Miami (May 8). Those races are races three, four and five of the season! After Miami, there is no standalone races with off weekends flanking it. Every race has a partner. 

There were five examples of consecutive race weekends in 2021. In four of those did a driver win on consecutive weekends. Hamilton swept Portugal and Spain. Verstappen swept France, Austria and Styria. Verstappen won Belgium and Netherlands on consecutive weekends, but he did not sweep that three-race stretch as Ricciardo won in Italy. Verstappen won in Mexico, but Hamilton won the next two races of that three-race stretch with victories in Brazil and Qatar. Hamilton and Verstappen then split Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

We will see drivers win consecutive races in 2022, but I don't think it will happen during all nine examples of consecutive races or even six or seven of them. 

10. At least eight drivers score points in sprint qualifying
There were three sprint qualifying race weekends in 2021. Five drivers scored points out of a possible nine. 

Valtteri Bottas: 7 points (scored in all three, won twice)
Max Verstappen: 7 points (scored in all three, won once)
Lewis Hamilton: 2 points (second at Silverstone)
Daniel Ricciardo: 1 point (third at Monza)
Carlos Sainz, Jr.: 1 point (third at Interlagos)

Pérez scored zero sprint points. Lando Norris scored zero sprint points. Charles Leclerc scored zero sprint points. Between the top four teams, all of them could have at least one driver score sprint points. 

It will come down to the number of sprint qualifying weekends. It sounds like it will increase in 2022, but will that mean five race weekends? Ten race weekends? Twenty race weekends?

We haven't a clue. 

More races mean more chances to score and more drivers will score. I think even if there are only five sprint qualifying weekends, eight is a highly probable number. It will also come down to what tracks host sprint qualifying weekends. If they are all on similar tracks, it could benefit only two teams, but if there is a mix, more teams could have a shot at those additional points.

11. Haas will score at least six points
The 2021 season was terrible for Haas, but somehow it was better than we all expected when it announced it would not develop the car over the course of the season. 

Mick Schumacher fits in Formula One. Nikita Mazepin is a fish out of water. 

It would be foolish to expect Haas to make any mighty strides in 2022, but the team did say it was focusing on 2022, hence its lack of development in 2021. They could put all the focus in the world in this car, but if resources are lacking it will not make any difference. The car could be better but still be slow. 

Again, I will let optimism win out. If it was focusing on 2022 for all of 2021, the car should have some competitiveness in it. It might not be fighting for the podium, but it could be in the fight for tenth every third or fourth race. Williams developed a car over the last few seasons and it got into Q3 and scored points. 

Six points is low. That is basically one point every four races. I think Haas can do that. I think Schumacher alone can do that. 

12. There will be fewer home race winners than in 2021
There were two home winners in 2021. 

Lewis Hamilton won at Silverstone. Max Verstappen won at Zandvoort.

For this prediction to be correct, one or both drivers cannot win their home race and no other driver can win at home. Hamilton can win at Silverstone, but then Verstappen cannot win at Zandvoort and vice versa.

Of course, if either Sainz, Jr. or Fernando Alonso wins the sixth round of the season in Spain, neither Hamilton nor Verstappen can win at home for this prediction to be correct.

Fourteen drivers from nine countries could win a home race in 2022. This one will be tough to get correct. We could easily see more home race winners.

Two predictions down, three to go. NASCAR is already in the bag. Tomorrow we will have

Thursday, December 23, 2021

2021 Motorsports Christmas List

Christmas is coming up this weekend and we must hand out some presents! Many had better years in 2021 than 2020, but everyone needs something to make their lives a little better. Though life might still be unsettled, this is a chance to find some joy and celebrate what we have. 

There are many people who need something, whether they know it or not, whether they will say they need it or not say a thing. This is our chance to give out items even if they were not asked for. Why wait any longer? 

Let's see what is around the Christmas tree!

To Kyle Larson: People not asking him if he is going to run the Indianapolis 500. Come on, people! The answer is no.

To Jimmie Johnson: Two co-drivers for an IMSA Endurance Cup effort. How about Joey Hand and Juan Pablo Montoya?

To Álex Palou: Just a sliver of notoriety in the United States. He may be from Spain, but Palou is one of the most affectionate drivers in the world and IndyCar should not let his nationality be a deterrent. He has the personality the series needs from a top driver.

To Scott Dixon: A moratorium on people writing the "Is Scott Dixon Done?" articles and columns for at least all of 2022.

To Tony Kanaan: A Ganassi fifth car for all the ovals. Let's give him one final trip to Texas, Iowa and Gateway.

To Marcus Ericsson: A few more rabbit's feet, because he can't count on being any luckier in 2022 than he was in 2021.

To Alexander Rossi: A few IndyCar victories, just to shut people up. 

To Colton Herta: Timely cautions in his favor and sturdy driveshafts.

To Hélio Castroneves: A three-place bump to his road/street course qualifying results. He is going to need it. 

To Simon Pagenaud: No mistakes doing laundry now that he will be with Meyer Shank Racing and have more pink apparel. 

To Sébastien Bourdais: A four-year commitment that Chip Ganassi Racing will take him to Le Mans starting in 2023 with LMDh.

To Romain Grosjean: DHL sponsorship for the next five years.

To Kyle Kirkwood: A guarantee that he will spend at least the next five years in IndyCar and most of those years will to be with A.J. Foyt Racing. 

To Oliver Askew: Respectable Formula E results and a part-time IndyCar seat. 

To Patricio O'Ward: Justifiable promotion in Mexico and to the Hispanic-American population. IndyCar seriously does not understand what a gem O'Ward is and is going to blow growing its fanbase.

To Felix Rosenqivst: His 2019 IndyCar season in a bottle.

To Josef Newgarden: No opening lap spins.

To Will Power: Somehow, he needs fewer mechanical issues again this year! 

To Will Power and Scott McLaughlin: A Bathurst 1000 wild card entry.

To Scott McLaughlin: Better friends taking him to NFL games.

To Rinus VeeKay: More consistent results.

To J.R. Hildebrand: A chance in the IndyCar broadcast booth.

To James Hinchcliffe: A GTD-Pro ride with Pfaff Motorsports. If there is any driver that should drive a plaid Porsche, isn't it Hinchcliffe?

To Jack Harvey: A box of chocolates. He is just a good guy. He deserves some sweets. 

To Graham Rahal: A few days off at home.

To Christian Lundgaard: A stomach strong enough to handle American cuisine, especially if he lives in Indiana.

To Callum Ilott: Formula One teams not forgetting he exists.

To David Malukas: A rookie season that matches some of Dale Coyne's other recent rookies.

To Takuma Sato: A trip to Le Mans with the Acura LMDh program. 

To Charlie Kimball: A car specifically built and trimmed for the Indianapolis 500.

To Mazda: Enough funding to continue in IMSA in 2022 and pursue an LMDh program.

To Corvette: Favorable Balance of Performance in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

To Marc Márquez: Full fitness.

To the other three Honda MotoGP riders: A bike they can handle.

To Valentino Rossi: A GT3 program that includes starts at the 24 Hours of Daytona, Bathurst 12 Hour, 24 Hours of Spa and a European Le Mans Series GTE program to boot.

To KTM: Civility among its four MotoGP riders. Remy Gardner and Raúl Fernández could be a dangerous teammate pairing and not for the right reasons.

To Fabio Quartararo: Better chest protectors. 

To Franco Morbidelli: All his bones remaining in one piece.

To Andrea Dovizioso: A comeback season for the history book.

To the motorcycle community: An Isle of Man TT. We have been waiting.

To Suzuki: Riders staying upright more often. 

To Darryn Binder: Better corner entry judgment. 

To Johann Zarco: His first career MotoGP victory. He deserves it. 

To Aprilia: The best of Maverick Viñales. 

To Jack Miller: No long-lap penalties.

To Francesco Bagnaia: Keeping the tires on the track when it matters most.

To MotoGP: A race at Barber Motorsports Park. This is going to be on this list every year until it happens. 

To Toprak Razgatlioglu: A MotoGP opportunity before too much time passes.

To Jonathan Rea: A MotoGP opportunity now. Who cares how old he is? Let's give him a shot!

To Liam Lawson: Better sportsmanship from his competitors.

To Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters: A return to Brands Hatch and a visit to Anderstrop, two of the races from the original 2020 schedule that didn't happen.

To Oscar Piastri: Alpine dropping some dough to get him a handful of IndyCar races. If Alpine is funding part of Christian Lundgaard's IndyCar program, the least it can do is get Piastri a few real races in 2022.

To Shane van Gisbergen: Safe bike rides.

To Brad Keselowski: Aspirin.

To Kevin Harvick: A victory with some help from teammate, maybe holding up a driver from a certain Chevrolet team. 

To Kyle Busch: Sponsorship that will keep him happy from 2023 onward.

To Denny Hamlin: A psychologist. 

To Bubba Wallace: Social media platforms going extinct. 

To Harrison Burton: No comparisons to his successor. 

To Joey Logano: Less than six months between victories.

To Kurt Busch: More sports car opportunities.

To Erik Jones: A larger bookshelf. 

To Daniel Hemric: A second NASCAR Grand National Series victory.

To Kaz Grala: A full-time NASCAR Grand National Series entry. If Landon Cassill is getting one, why not Grala? 

To Andy Lally: Ideal conditions in his handful of NASCAR starts.

To Gateway Motorsports Park: Its NASCAR Cup race being a night race.  

To Texas Motor Speedway: Starting over. I am serious. Let's bulldoze most of it, if not all of it, and try again. Let's take a year or two off and then come back in 2025 with a better racetrack. 

To Doug Coby: Full-time NASCAR Truck Series season with a few short track races in NASCAR's second division. 

To SRX: An even better second season but remaining true to work in season one. Keep it short, keep it on short tracks and attract a few more contemporary drivers and not as many retired out of race shape drivers.

To IMSA officials: A few new whistles because they swallow their previous ones during the final lap at Petit Le Mans.

To IMSA: A sensical points system.

To Ricky Taylor: Not being blocked at the least opportune time or at least getting the officials to call a block when he has been blocked.

To Jordan Taylor: A proper NASCAR Cup ride on road courses. It is bullshit it hasn't happened already.

To A.J. Allmendinger: Better results in October and November. February through September he has down pat. Just those two months.

To Virginia International Raceway: A return of IMSA's top prototype class.

To Mazda MX-5 Cup: A few races on network television. People would love it! 

To James Davison: A quality ride somewhere. Something that at least matches his talent.

To Formula One: Competent race control and fewer red flags.

Also To Formula One: Realizing sprint qualifying isn't as good as it is being made out to be.

To American Formula One fans: A television partner that brings its own Formula One analysis and does more than simulcast Sky Sports' coverage. It is good to have more voices in the room.

To NASCAR: Realizing it owns a short track, it is called Iowa Speedway, and giving that a Cup race.

To Indianapolis Raceway Park: A NASCAR Grand National Series race. By the way, how the fuck did we allow 11 years to go by between NASCAR national series races at IRP? How stupid are the people in charge that they let such a thing happen? Morons. 

To Dane Cameron: More respect for his talent level.

To Felipe Nasr: A one-off IndyCar race with Team Penske at Road America.

To JDC-Miller Motorsports: More than one good race. 

To Jack Hawksworth: Assigned as the lead driver for Toyota's IndyCar return.

To Bill Aubelen and Robby Foley: Contact that goes in their favor. 

To Tommy Milner: No one ever calling him Tommy Milner, Jr. 

To Chip Ganassi Racing's sports car program: No tire punctures in the 24 Hours of Daytona.

To Kamui Kobayashi: A Super Formula race victory.

To Gabby Chaves: Reminders to the top teams in Daytona Prototype international and IndyCar that he still exists. 

To Spencer Pigot: The same thing Gabby Chaves is getting. 

To FIA World Endurance Championship: Compelling racing in its professional classes.

To Peugeot: Counterpunches that land on Toyota.

To Ferrari: No delays or hiccups in its Hypercar development.

To Gustavo Menezes: Becoming the first American to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall since 1996. 

To Glickenhaus: A full-time WEC effort.

To Pipo Derani: A full FIA World Endurance Championship season along with his full IMSA season.

To the Indianapolis 8 Hours: Roger Penske embracing it. Also, America's top GT3 teams embracing it as well. 

To Team WRT: Success in the United States.

To SportsCar 365: A revival of The Double Stint podcast. It was quite a good show, an informative and concise chat about sports car racing each week. 

To Ryan Hunter-Reay: One final full season in IndyCar.

To Ed Carpenter: Committing to two full-time drivers for his IndyCar team while accepting an oval-only or Indianapolis 500-only program for himself.

To Marco Andretti: More races, but if he is happy doing what he is doing, he could re-gift those to someone else.

To Ernie Francis, Jr.: Five-year commitment to open-wheel racing.

To Kaulig Racing; A guarantee that all sponsorship payment checks clear.

To Martin Truex, Jr. and Christopher Bell: Soft landing spots for whenever either is kick out of Joe Gibbs Racing for Ty Gibbs. 

To Ty Gibbs: A year off to see the world, talk to some different people, see some different cultures, learn a few things. 

To John Hunter Nemechek: Someone at Toyota looking out for him. 

To Austin Cindric: A deep playoff run.

To Chase Briscoe: A firm understanding of NASCAR's cutting the course rules on road courses, because he is the only one who seemed not to understand it. 

To Alex Bowman: More top ten finishes.

To Ryan Blaney: A better sense of humor. 

To Tyler Reddick: A move to a bigger and better team.

To Road Atlanta: A NASCAR weekend. We don't need a second weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

To Dover International Speedway: A promise that Speedway Motorsports, Inc. doesn't screw it up. 

To World Rally Championship: A close championship possibly involving multiple drivers named Sébastien.

To Spa-Francorchamps: Ten years without rain on Belgian Grand Prix race day. 

To Max Verstappen: Humility. 

To Lewis Hamilton: A few timely virtual safety cars.

To Fernando Alonso: Esteban Ocon coming to his aid. 

To Daniel Ricciardo: That better second year he has regularly had.

To Yuki Tsunoda: Acceptance that his Formula One career could be over before he is 23 years old.

To Lando Norris: Intuition to stop for wet weather tires a lap before everyone else. 

To Nicholas Latifi: Anonymity. 

To Kimi Räikkönen: Peace and quiet. 

To Pietro Fittipaldi: A full-time ride somewhere! Stop wasting your time as a Formula One reserve driver for a team that will never give you the full race seat! 

To Race of Champions: Kyle Larson blowing off the Clash to race on ice in Sweden and Lewis Hamilton deciding he needs a Swedish holiday as well and competes. 

To Formula E: A compelling championship that does not require a convoluted qualifying format.

To Oliver Turvey: Any ride he wants in the world of motorsports. He cannot be thrilled running at the back for NIO in every race.

Also To Oliver Turvey: Patience with his new teammate.

To Mitch Evans: Perfect launches from every start next season.

To New Zealand: An FIA Grade 1 circuit, but one with legitimate grass runoff, that can host Formula One, WEC, IndyCar and any other major motorsports series. It deserves it. 

To Carlos Sainz, Jr.: Long-term commitment from Ferrari. How is this guy already on the fence? And he beat Charles Leclerc in the championship! 

To George Russell: Some thick skin. 

To Sergio Pérez: His best race coming in Mexico City. 

To Valtteri Bottas: More rallying opportunities.

To Sebastien Vettel: Sufficient fuel levels the next time he finishes on the podium. 

To Mick Schumacher: A few good days that go with his talent. 

To Every Formula One Circuit: Adequate grass runoff on the edge of the circuit. 

To the Bathurst 12 Hour: A healthy grid with drivers from all around the globe. 

To Supercars: Fewer border restrictions.

To Canada: A Canadian Grand Prix. We are missing Montreal. 

To Super Formula: A few more international drivers. 

To Phillip Island: MotoGP and World Superbike weekends. Another track that has been gone for too long due to the pandemic.   

To the inaugural Miami Grand Prix: Suitable support races. North American grand prix weekends have underwhelming support races. We can do so much better.

To the Bahrain Grand Prix: Moving to the perimeter circuit. Mind as well do something different. 

To the Asian Le Mans Series: A return to the Pacific region. 

To Nyck de Vries: A Formula One ride so the world can have a Dutchman to root for.

To Fontana: Remaining a two-mile oval. It sounds like everyone is getting cold feet over the re-configuration. Just leave it how it is then. Plus, I don't think NASCAR know what it wants to do. 

To Alex Zanardi: A full recovery.

Finally, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. What an odd year this has been? The quintessential example of two steps forward and one step back. We have come a long way from last Christmas, and yet this Christmas feels like it has circled back to where we were a year ago. This year had many positives. It felt more normal, arguably was close to normal, but we didn't quite get fully back there. It was better than 2020, but that wasn't going to be that hard to accomplish. And yet here we are, uncertain and clueless about what will happen next. 

But there is plenty to be encouraged about and 2022 should be better. Positivity will take us a long way. Most importantly, stay safe, stay healthy and enjoy this time with friends and family.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

2022 NASCAR Predictions

We are at the end of another year, and it is time to look forward. The New Year is within sight, and it will not be long before motorsports series have restarted. With that being the case, we continue our annual tradition of ending the year with predictions. Like every other year, we start the five-part prediction series with NASCAR, which strangely is no longer the last championship to finish up.

1. At least four teams are represented in the semifinals of the Cup playoffs
In 2021, only three Cup teams were represented in the semifinal round of the Cup playoffs. Joe Gibbs Racing had three drivers, Team Penske had all three of its drivers make it and Hendrick Motorsports had two drivers. 

In 2020, five teams were represented in the semifinal round, as was the case in 2019. There were six teams in the semifinal round in 2018. Five different teams made it in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Prior to the 2021 season, at least five different teams had a representative in the semifinal round of the playoffs. We would have had four in 2021 had Kevin Harvick not gotten into the barrier at the Charlotte roval race. Instead, all three Penske entries made it. 

We have seen dominance in recent seasons, whether it be Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing or Hendrick Motorsports. There is nearly an annual conversation about one team sweeping the championship four drivers, and yet we have seen a diverse mix of teams make it deep into the playoffs. In 2021, Hendrick Motorsports was that team, but two of its drivers didn't even make the semifinal round. Despite that, it feels like the most recent season was the closest we have come to it happening. 

With the new car debuting in 2022, I don't think we will see the same kind of team dominance that we have seen the last few seasons. Hendrick, Gibbs, and Penske will still be great. SHR nearly had Harvick advance, and I think SHR will still be there, but this is a big chance for a team to rise above. 

Brad Keselowski had bought into the Roush Fenway organization. Trackhouse has taken over the Chip Ganassi Racing operation and will field two cars. Kurt Busch has joined 23XI Racing. Richard Childress Racing had one of its better seasons in recent years in 2021 and Tyler Reddick is knocking on the door for victory. 

I don't think there will be a stunner as a champion, but somebody will be much higher than anyone is expecting. 

2. Kevin Harvick will have the largest positive gain in victories compared to the 2021 season
Harvick went winless in 2021 after a nine-win season in 2020. Harvick's best opportunity was the Bristol night race in September. 

It was not a terrible season for Harvick. He had 24 top ten finishes behind only Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin. He was fifth in the championship. It was a difficult season, but it wasn't a disaster. 

I don't think Harvick is going to be down in the gutter for a second consecutive season. I am not saying he will get back to nine victories, but he will have more than one. 

To get this prediction correct, Harvick must likely win a few races and hope no one else wins more than he did in 2020. For example, if Harvick wins three races, that is a plus-three for Harvick, but if Kyle Larson wins 15 races, that is plus-five and Larson would have a larger positive gain. 

It all comes down on what everyone else does. If Harvick only wins twice, he just needs no other driver to win two more races than he won in 2021. Harvick would need Chase Elliott to win fewer than four races, Martin Truex, Jr. and Alex Bowman to win fewer than six races, and so on. 

3. At least four drivers win at least four pole positions in Cup
Qualifying will be back in 2022 and it has been a while. 

After basically two full seasons without qualifying, we don't have quite a memory of what it was like. Some teams would hit it on qualifying and go on a tear. It will be different in 2022. The qualifying at most races will be two groups with the team top teams from those groups advancing to a final round to decide pole position. 

I don't have much reasoning for this other than I think because of the format we will see a few teams get it right and roll off the truck quick on a consistent basis. A few drivers will stand out. Pole position is rarely something that one or two drivers dominate. 

In 2019, three drivers had at least four pole positions and another three had three pole positions. In 2018, five drivers had at least four pole positions and another two had three pole positions. The top teams will still be on top, but Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and/or Kyle Larson combining for at least 20-26 pole positions isn't farfetched. 

4. Alex Bowman will spend at least nine races inside the top ten of most points scored
Bowman had one of the strangest seasons in NASCAR history. He won four races, tied for the second most this season and the second most at Hendrick Motorsports behind only champion Kyle Larson, and yet Bowman did not spend one day in the top ten in the championship on points. 

After the first two resets he was sixth and seventh in the championship, but he was never in the top ten in the true-blue points standings. Also, even with the playoff format and the resets, he immediately fell out of the top ten in each of the first two rounds. 

It was a career year for Bowman and yet it was disappointing. He set personal bests in victories, top five finishes and top ten finishes and still underperformed. That is hard to do. 

In 2019, Bowman spent 21 races in the top ten on points scored. There was a large lull after a 15-race stretch from his Fontana victory in race three through the Kentucky race in mid-July. He wouldn't get back into the top ten on points until the October Talladega race, but he remained in the top ten for the final six races. 

Bowman should be able to find a balance between the two seasons. From nearly 60% to 0% from 2020 to 2021, there is middle room. Nine races equal a quarter of the season. That should be the bare minimum for a Hendrick Motorsports driver that can win four races in a season. I will not necessarily say Bowman will win four races again, but he should be consistent enough that the top ten in points is not foreign territory to him. 

5. Toyota will have at least five drivers win a Cup race for the second consecutive season
In 2021, Toyota had five different winners for the first time in the Cup Series since 2016. Christopher Bell, Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Bubba Wallace all won a race. It was only the third time Toyota has had at least five race winners in one Cup season. The other was in 2009. It has never had more than five race winners in one Cup season. 

Six winners would mean every full-time Toyota driver would win a race. It is not impossible, only unlikely. All four Gibbs drivers won in 2021, and Wallace won in 23XI Racing's debut season, but it was a rain-shortened Talladega race. 

All five drivers return, and Kurt Busch will drive a second full-time 23XI entry. 

We feel good about three drivers: Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Truex. The other three have serious question marks. 

Bell has looked good but hasn't had the same consistency as his Gibbs teammates. His Daytona road course victory could have been good strategy of taking tires under late cautions while others tried to stretch it and use track position to get a victory. Bell could do it again on a road course, and he has had good days on short tracks, but he has yet to have a standout race where he is one of the contenders from the drop of the green flag and leads a healthy portion of laps. 

Kurt Busch brings experience, but he is good for one victory a season. He figures it out, but he is not a regular challenger. He has won a race in eight consecutive seasons and eight of those are single victory seasons. He has had exactly six or seven top five finishes in six of those eight seasons, and in five consecutive seasons. It will be a new team and it could be the year Busch doesn't figure it out because everything will be new. 

Wallace had good days and could find himself finishing just inside the top half of the field, but he was not a in contention for many top ten finishes. He finished the season with three top five finishes, and those were his only top ten results. There were probably only two or three other races he should have finished in the top ten. 

Despite all these concerns, I think two of the three drivers of concern get a victory. I am not sure they will all win in the regular season, and I can commit to all six making the playoffs. Wallace's victory came during the playoffs after he missed anyway. But I think Toyota will have five different drivers visit victory lane.

6. At least one driver who misses the Cup playoffs has at least ten top ten finishes or more
Prior to 2021, there was only one season where a non-playoff driver had fewer than top ten finishes.

In 2014, four drivers missed the playoffs and had ten top ten finishes or more. Kyle Larson ended the season with 17 and was 17 in the championship. Clint Bowyer had 15 while Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard each. The following year, Larson and Kasey Kahne each missed the playoffs and had ten top ten finishes. 

Kahne missed again in 2016 with ten top ten finishes, as did Ryan Newman. Joey Logano missed the next year with 17 top ten finishes while Erik Jones had 14, Clint Bowyer had 13 and Daniel Suárez had 12. 

In 2018, Ryan Newman and Suárez missed the playoffs, but each had only nine top ten finishes. Suárez would have 11 top ten finishes in 2019 and miss the playoffs, while Jimmie Johnson had 12 top ten finishes and was on the outside. Johnson missed out again in 2020 with ten top ten finishes and Tyler Reddick also missed with 13 top ten finishes.

Matt DiBenedetto led the non-playoff drivers with nine top ten finishes in 2021 while Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher and Ross Chastain each had eight. The only other non-playoff driver with more than five top ten results was Erik Jones with six. 

Why do I think this will change? One, the new car. I think we will see more even results in the middle of the field. There will be greater rotation for those final two or three spots inside the top ten. Two, I think the field has gotten better. I don't think Harrison Burton is going to be a force in 2022, but could he finish with ten top ten results? That doesn't seem crazy. Trackhouse is bringing in Ross Chastain. Chastain was only two top ten results short of ten last year. The newly renamed RFK Racing might be good but not great, and that could see Brad Keselowski miss the playoffs with 12 top ten finishes on the season or Chris Buescher having a career year and still falling short.

The final reason is because history says it will happen. In eight seasons with this format, it has happened six times. That is 75% of the time. We might see fewer drivers missing the playoffs and having at least ten top ten results on the season, but I like my odds on this one.

7. A Ford driver will not finish fifth in the Cup championship
For the last four seasons, the fifth-place driver in the Cup championship has been a Ford driver. From 2018 through 2021, those drivers have been Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Harvick. In the four seasons before that, it was a Ford (Brad Keselowski), a Toyota (Carl Edwards) a Toyota (Matt Kenseth) and a Chevrolet (Chase Elliott). 

Four consecutive years is fluky. What are the odds it will be five straight? There are plenty of great drivers in the Cup Series that can finish fifth. Ford has a good group of drivers, but not necessarily great to ensure it will lock down fifth. 

We know about Harvick, but the other three SHR drivers are suspect and Almirola's fifth in 2018 is misleading. Penske could do it. Austin Cindric is the question mark for 2022, and its chances decrease when down to two options between Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. 

Ford could get a boost with Brad Keselowski moving to the Roush Fenway organization and changing the team's name to RFK Racing. Harrison Burton is joining the Wood Brothers. 

Looking over the Ford lineup, on true speed, I think it has five possible playoff drivers. What are the odds one of those five finish fifth? Ford could take three of the top four in the championship. Would it really take four of the top five? 

I like my chances with the field. 

8. There will be at least ten four-tire pit stops under ten seconds
With NASCAR adopting single wheel nuts, pit stops are going to be quicker. No more five on, five off. It will be a one-two step, and the fewer motions should make pit stops quicker.

Time will still come down to re-fueling, but there will be times late in races where teams will just need to worry about tires, and I think we will see four-tire pit stops enter the single-digits on the stopwatch. 

The tire changers still must get around the car and the jackman will still have to get it off the ground twice, but with how quick the single wheel nut goes on and off, I think we will regularly see sub-11 second pit stops and even get below ten-seconds when fuel isn't a concern. 

The best way to look at it is it takes 20 motions for one tire changer to complete a pit stop in its current form. Five lug nuts off, five lug nuts on for the right-side tires, ten total moves, and then five off and five on for the left side tires, another ten moves, 20 total. With a single wheel nut, that number decreases to four motions. Off and on for the right, off and on for the left. 

That is an 80% decrease. If it takes you 80% fewer steps to complete the same process, you are going to do it quicker, and I don't think it will be a minuscule improvement. It will be noticeable. 

9. The ARCA pole-sitter will have a faster time than the Cup pole-sitter in at least one of the shared race weekends
This one is on the fence because we do not know how many horsepower the new car will have at the intermediate tracks. Currently, the plan is for 550hp for the intermediate racetracks and the racetracks that were 750hp last year will decrease to 670hp. 

Early testing results at Charlotte were not encouraging on speed, and drivers have been calling for increased horsepower, preferring 670hp at all tracks, and it sounds like NASCAR is leaning toward 670hp at every track except for Daytona, Talladega, and Atlanta, which is seeing track renovations and an increase in banking. 

At the first Charlotte oval test, the fastest lap was at 175.718 mph. The ARCA pole speed in 2021 was 180.288 mph. That is a difference of 0.779 seconds. However, over the two test days held on December 15 and 17, the fastest time was 29.979 seconds, an average of 180.126 mph, which William Byron set. However, Byron was the only driver to run a lap in the 179-mph bracket, let alone the 180 mph bracket.

NASCAR is still figuring out this car. Teams were not working on qualifying set ups and were not maximizing the cars. The increase to 670hp at least gets Cup in the ballpark with ARCA, a crazy sentence I could not imagine writing five years ago. 

There will be ten shared weekends with Cup and ARCA: Daytona, Phoenix, Talladega, Kansas, Charlotte, Pocono, Michigan, Watkins Glen, Kansas, and Bristol. 

Cup will be faster at Daytona, Talladega, and Watkins Glen. Cup should also be quicker at Phoenix and Bristol. The tracks in question are the two Kansas races, Charlotte, Pocono, and Michigan. 

If NASCAR keeps it at 550hp, then I think ARCA will be quicker multiple times, but if NASCAR does run 670hp at majority of the tracks, it makes it more likely the Cup Series will be at least quicker than ARCA. I will hold the door open that ARCA will be quicker in qualifying for one weekend. 

10. Daniel Hemric will win more races but not make the championship four in the Grand National Series
Hemric finally got his first NASCAR national touring series victory in the Phoenix finale, and it earned him the NASCAR Grand National Series championship. Good. That is over. 

Now, Hemric must do it again, and with how good he has been, he should get at least two victories, even with Kaulig Racing. But just because there is improvement in one area doesn't mean things will stay the same. Hemric has made the championship four in all three seasons he has been full-time in NASCAR's second division, but nothing lasts forever, and this will eventually end. 

Hemric will make the playoffs, but he could run into a wall in the semifinal round and fall short, or there could be four drivers that are just plain better. Justin Allgaier had made the championship four in four of the first five seasons before falling short in 2021. In 2018, Allgaier won five races, his most in a single-season and did not make the final four. 

There is also a string of new drivers entering the Grand National Series that will make things tougher for Hemric.

11. There will be a minimum of five new playoff drivers in NASCAR's second division
NASCAR's second division is top heavy, and it will get a little more top heavy in 2022. 

There will likely be at least two playoff driver changes from 2021 to 2022. Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton are both moving to the Cup Series. We will see at least three changes, but we will likely see more than that. 

Josh Berry will be full-time and should be going for the championship. Berry won twice in 2021, both regular season races. Berry is playoff material already. His JR Motorsports teammate Sam Mayer will also be full-time after making 18 starts in 2021. Mayer did pick up his first top five finish with a fourth in the penultimate round at Martinsville.

Ty Gibbs could be full-time. If Gibbs is full-time, he will make the playoffs, as he won four races in 2021. Gibbs should be full-time. There is no point in waiting. 

Those three would fill the vacated spots, but Richard Childress Racing is returning to full-time competition with two cars for Sheldon Creed and Austin Hill. RCR has a great history of competitiveness in this series and one if not both Creed and Hill should win a race in 2021. Landon Cassill is moving to Kaulig Racing taking over the unoccupied #10 Chevrolet. Our Motorsports is rolling out three cars for Brett Moffitt, Anthony Alfredo, and Jeb Burton. Burton made the playoffs, but the other two didn't.

We are also forgetting the possibility of Brandon Brown winning one of the three regular season restrictor plate races, or Ryan Sieg or Jeremy Clements or any of the other midfield runners. 

Next year will look different in NASCAR's second division. We just don't know how seismic it will be.

12. John Hunter Nemechek will win at least three races on tracks shorter than 1.5 miles
Nemechek was the best driver in the Truck series in 2021, but just fell short of the championship. He also won in the Grand National Series driving in a part-time effort for Joe Gibbs Racing. Between the two series, Nemechek won six races, three of those races were on 1.5-mile ovals and one was at Pocono. 

We are not sure what Nemechek will be doing beyond his Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck responsibilities, but I am leaving the door open for this being in any of NASCAR's three national touring series, but I think Nemechek will win more on shorter tracks. His only short track victory in 2021 was the Richmond Truck race in April. 

Looking at the Truck schedule, there are plenty of opportunities to win somewhere other than a 1.5-mile oval. There are in fact ten possible races out of 23 races. He should win at least five races again in the Truck series. It would not be a surprise if he won either Bristol race, pavement or dirt, Martinsville, Richmond again, Gateway, Darlington, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Phoenix, etc. Maybe he wins another race in the Grand National Series and it is at Dover or Loudon.

Nemechek will not slip in form, he will just be winning in different locations in 2022. 

One set of predictions down, four to go, but the rest will wait until next week. The Christmas weekend will be off, but we will be back to predictions on Monday. Keep an eye out for the Motorsports Christmas list tomorrow.