Friday, December 29, 2023

2024 IndyCar Predictions

We come to the grand finale, our annual final post of the year, the IndyCar predictions for the pending New Year. It has been 110 days since the most recent IndyCar race. There are still 72 days until the next time IndyCar thunders to the green flag. In the interim, drivers have changed teams, as have a few sponsors. A few spots remain open, and we will learn more about the 2024 grid when the New Year comes. 

Even with those holes, we can start looking ahead to the new season. There are drivers coming off historic seasons, some drivers performed below a desirable level in 2023 and hope to do better. Will we see more history? Are we on the verge of a new era of dominance, or will 2024 take us on a turn in a different direction? 

1. Álex Palou will have at least four finishes outside the top ten
Palou is coming off arguably the best season in IndyCar since reunification. Five victories, ten podium finishes, 13 top five finishes and he finished no worse than eighth all season, leaving him with an average finish of 3.7059. He became the first champion to clinch with a race to spare since Sébastien Bourdais in the 2007 Champ Car season. 

There is also the contract situation, where Palou is staying with Ganassi but McLaren is suing him and we will have that hang over another IndyCar season. Off-track drama aside, Palou will continue to strive for more IndyCar history. 

For how good as Palou has been since joining Chip Ganassi Racing, it cannot last forever. Even the best drivers have an off-year. After finishing every race in the top ten, he is going to have a few off days in 2024. Since joining Ganassi, he has never had more than three finishes outside the top ten in a season. That is going to change in 2023. It doesn't mean Palou will have a bad season, but he will not be as bulletproof as last season.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing's top five finish total decreases by at least 25%
Staying with Chip Ganassi Racing, it wasn't just Palou that had a phenomenal 2023 season. It was the entire Ganassi organization. The team won nine of 17 races. It had 19 podium finishes out of a possible 51, and it had 28 top five finishes. 

It wasn't just Álex Palou. Scott Dixon had a fantastic season. Dixon finished seventh or better in 16 of 17 races. If it wasn't for a tiff with Patricio O'Ward at Long Beach, we could have seen two Ganassi drivers finish in the top ten of every race. 

Palou had 13 top five finishes and Dixon had 11. The departed Marcus Ericsson had four top five finishes. That was quite a season, but it will be difficult to duplicate. Ericsson is gone, so that is at least four top five finishes lost. Marcus Armstrong had a good rookie season, and he will be full-time in 2024, but his best finish was seventh. Armstrong should breakthrough, but it is not guaranteed he will match the 2023 output.

It cannot be assumed Palou and Dixon will match their output either. Along with Armstrong, Linus Lundqvist will be full-time after a good cameo in 2023. The team will expand to five cars with Kyffin Simpson moving up from Indy Lights. Ganassi will have the numbers, but that does not mean it will get the results. 

We are looking at 21 top five finishes or fewer from Ganassi. That could be eight top five finishes from each Palou and Dixon and two from each of Lundqvist and Armstrong, and the team would still be two short of disproving this prediction. 

3. Every driver that did not win in 2023 but won in 2022 will win in 2024
That means Will Power, Alexander Rossi, Patricio O'Ward and Colton Herta will all win a race. It might sound like a stretch, but are all of these drivers going to be winless for another season?

For Power and O'Ward, victory feels inevitable in 2024. O'Ward probably should have won once in 2023. Power is driving for Penske. It will line up for him. Rossi is a greater question mark than O'Ward though they are McLaren teammates. Rossi had his own slumps at Andretti Autosport. A second year at McLaren should help him and he should be in better positions to compete for victories. 

Herta is in an odd spot. There wasn't really a race in 2023 where you felt Herta should have won. Andretti Autosport was spotty, seemingly only able to get one car to click or none of the cars to click. Herta has the ability to win races. Things should lineup for him in 2024. 

We will chalk off 2023 as an off-year for all of these drivers. They will be back on the top step of the podium in 2024.

4. Josef Newgarden will finish third-place in at least one street course race
Four victories, including an Indianapolis 500 triumph, would be a great year for most drivers. It didn't quite feel that way for Newgarden. Late troubles saw him fall out of the championship mix and end up fifth in the championship, his worst championship finish since 2018. 

For as good as we saw Newgarden on ovals, his road and street course form took a dip in 2023. His only podium finish on a road or street course was second at Road America. His average finish in street races was ninth. He finished outside the top ten in five road/street course events. 

Oval success is good, but you must be good on road and street courses if you want to win the IndyCar championship. Those make up nearly two-thirds of the calendar.

This is a very specific prediction. Why is it a very specific prediction? 

Newgarden has not finished third since the 2020 season opener at Texas. He has not finished third on a road course since Road America in 2019. 

However, the only time Josef Newgarden has finished third in a street course race was the 2017 Grand Prix of Long Beach, his second start with Team Penske. It feels improbable that he would be pushing over seven years since he finished third in a street course race. That streak will end in 2024.

5. McLaren will lead at least 100 laps over the final eight races
It has already been covered, but McLaren started 2023 with six brilliant performances that makes it more unfathomable the team did not win one of them. The three-car team led over a quarter of the laps run in that six-race period. 

As for the final 11 races, McLaren led only 50 laps, just 3.448% of the laps run. Another winless season is unacceptable, and it shouldn't be the case with O'Ward and Rossi leading the way with David Malukas joining the fold. 

If there is one thing that helps McLaren with this prediction it is Malukas has been good at Gateway. There are also two Milwaukee races that could play into Malukas' and McLaren's favor. This team is going to more than double the laps it leads in the second half of the season compared to 2023. It should yield a few victories as well.

6. Romain Grosjean averages less than 17 points per start
Moving to Juncos Hollinger Racing, Grosjean hopes the third team is the charm in his IndyCar career as the Frenchman continues to search for his first career victory. 

There were a few performances that were good enough for victory, whether it was a pair of races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Dale Coyne Racing as a rookie in 2021, a few good runs at Long Beach, a deflating defeat at St. Petersburg or a losing battle at Barber Motorsports Park, Grosjean has been there, but it just hasn't gone his way so far. 

It will be an uphill battle at JHR, a team that has two top five finishes in 52 IndyCar appearances and has never finished on the podium. This is also a significant change at JHR as Grosjean is replacing Callum Ilott, who is responsible for JHR's best finishes after two growing years. 

Grosjean has had some close calls with victories, but he has shown some warts in his past two IndyCar seasons. He has been 13th in the championship each of the last two years. In 2023, he scored 32 fewer points than he scored finishing 13th in 2022. 

After finishing second in consecutive races at Long Beach and Barber, Grosjean had one top ten finish in the final 13 races of the season, a sixth at Nashville. His average finish was 15.176, only 0.118 positions better than Ilott. 

An average of 17 points per race would earn him 289 points. That would have bene good enough for 13th last year in the championship as Rinus VeeKay was 14th on 277 points. I don't think Grosjean is going to crack the top 13 for a third consecutive year and I expect a step back.

7. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will have at least three races where all three cars finishing in the top ten
No team had a more Dr. Jekyell and Mr. Hyde season than Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2023. 

When the team was on, it looked like the one of the best in IndyCar and was taking it to Penske, Ganassi and was clear of McLaren and Andretti. When this team was lost, it was fighting with Dale Coyne Racing and not really challenging for the top ten. 

Christian Lundgaard lifted the team to an eighth-place championship finish, better than the average driver could likely yield from such a ride, and Graham Rahal recovered after a rough start to finish 15th in the championship. The third car continued to struggle and it led to Jack Harvey being dismissed with three races remaining in the season. 

Lundgaard and Rahal will return while Pietro Fittipaldi moves into the #30 Honda in what will be Fittipaldi's first IndyCar appearance in nearly three years and in what will be his first full season in IndyCar after making his debut six years ago. Fittipaldi is a little unknown, but he looked good in 2018, a year where his final starts were made while still recovering from injuries suffered at Spa-Francorchamps in FIA World Endurance Championship competition. 

Last year, RLLR never had all three cars finish in the top ten in a single race. It had double top ten finishes in five races. I think the team makes a step forward and has all three cars competing at a higher level. There will be at least three races where every RLLR car is in the top ten.

8. Tom Blomqvist's average finish will be greater than 20.0
There were a fair number of unexpected debutants in 2023 that foreshadowed full-time IndyCar roles. Blomqvist was one of them, stepping into the #60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda for three races while Simon Pagenaud was sidelined. 

It was a rude-awakening for the Briton. Blomqvist was taken out on the opening lap on debut in Toronto. He was then a lap down in 24th at Portland after starting 27th out of 27 cars, and his Laguna Seca race ended after contact with only 61 laps completed. 

I don't think 2024 will be much better. IndyCar will be his focus after he made these late appearances while focused on IMSA competition, but Blomqvist is making this move with his only single-seater experience in the last ten years being 23 Formula E races from 2018 through 2021. His best finish in Formula E was eighth.

It will be ten years since his final Formula Three season when Blomqvist finished second to Esteban Ocon and nine points ahead of Max Verstappen. He is also making this move with Meyer Shank Racing, which has been woeful for the last two seasons. It currently isn't the best place for a driver to drop into IndyCar after a decade in sports car racing. 

Maybe it works out and MSR's lack of a sports car program elevates the IndyCar team with more focus on Blomqvist and Felix Rosenqvist. I just don't see it, and considering Hélio Castroneves had an average finish of 17.294 and the #60 car had an average of 20.0588. Simon Pagenaud's average was 19.125 before his accident. 

The pieces aren't adding up to think we are going to see much of an improvement.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing will have multiple top ten finishes
For a team that had one top five finish for the entire 2023 season, it sure had everyone raving. 

All anyone remembers from A.J. Foyt's 2023 season is Santino Ferrucci was third in the Indianapolis 500, led laps and had a realistic shot at victory. That is foolish because it neglects a team that had a combined 22 out of a possible 34 finishes outside the top twenty. The team had four top fifteen finishes all season, three of which were on ovals. 

A.J. Foyt Racing, once again, has a lot of work to do. The good news is the team announced a technical alliance at the end of last season with Team Penske. Penske will supply dampers and engineering support while also assigning crew members to the Foyt team. It isn't quite a full-scale satellite team, but a Penske-lite effort sounds much more competitive than anything A.J. Foyt Racing has put on track the last decade. 

We aren't sure what the Foyt driver lineup will look like in 2024. The team announced Sting Ray Robb will drive its #41 entry. Benjamin Pedersen responded saying he was still under contract with Foyt and would be driving for the team. The team has not confirmed Ferrucci will be returning for any races in 2024. 

Robb is not a massive improvement over Pedersen. Ferrucci already had one top ten finish. With a little more support, he could get a second on his own. A Robb-Pedersen combination does not inspire much hope of two top ten finishes. Ferrucci being in the team at all increases hope significantly. There could be a third option with an unknown driver at this time. 

With Penske support, it feels like a halfway decent driver can pick up two top ten finishes. If Foyt can find that driver, 2024 should be better than 2023, nothing revolutionary, but better and better is a start.  

10. The second-place starting position will produce multiple winners
Basic numbers game. 

In 2022, the second-place starter won seven times, including a stretch where the second-place starter won four consecutive races. 

In 2023, the second-place starter won zero times. The outside of the front row, middle of the front row at Indianapolis, enters 2024 on a 20-race winless streak. 

Prior to 2023, second starting position had not gone winless in a season since 2015. That was a part of a 52-race drought that went from the middle of 2013 through the middle of 2016. 

I don't think we are going to be pushing 52 races again. At least two races will season the second-place starter take victory. 

11. At least one team ends an oval winless streak that is at least four years long
In the last four seasons, five different teams have won an oval race in IndyCar. That is five different teams in the last 20 oval races. That means five IndyCar teams have not won an oval race in the last four years. 

Andretti Autosport hasn't won an oval race since Pocono 2018. Ed Carpenter Racing has not won an oval race since Iowa 2016. Dale Coyne Racing's only oval victory was at Texas in 2012. A.J. Foyt Racing hasn't won on an oval since Kansas 2002. Juncos Hollinger Racing is still looking for its first victory in IndyCar regardless of track discipline. 

One of these streaks end in 2024, and notice how I worded this. If Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing does not win any of the first four oval races in 2024, it will enter the Milwaukee doubleheader over August 31 and September 1 having not won on an oval since August 23, 2020 at the Indianapolis 500. That means even RLLR could fulfill this prediction!  

12. Ed Carpenter Racing will fail to put a driver in the top fifteen of the championship
I hate to end on a downer, but let's be honest, Ed Carpenter Racing is bound to get bounced down the grid. 

ECR had four top ten finishes all season. The 2023 season was the first time the team has ever failed to score a podium finish or a top five finish in a single season. Even at Indianapolis, the one race the team puts more emphasis on the any other, it wasn't that close to challenging for victory. Yes, Rinus VeeKay started second and led 24 laps before careening into Álex Palou on pit lane, resulting in a penalty for the Dutchman that kept him from doing any better than finishing tenth, but Conor Daly qualified 16th and ended up eighth, and Ed Carpenter wasn't really close at all and ended up 20th after being in a late accident. 

Since 2015, ECR has had at least one driver finish in the top fifteen of the championship in every season. With Ganassi up to five cars, of which four drivers have a realistic shot of being in the top ten of the championship, three Penske cars, three Andretti cars, a rejuvenated three-car RLLR lineup, three McLarens and JHR with a driver that constantly finishes 13th in the championship, where will ECR end up?

That is 17 strong cars. VeeKay has finished 14th, 12th, 12th and 14th in his first four IndyCar seasons, but it doesn't feel like ECR is at the same place as it was back in 2021 when he won his first career race and had six top ten finishes in the first eight races of that season. 

We could also be looking at a bolstered A.J. Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing isn't a stranger to the top fifteen in the championship and if Meyer Shank Racing is all-in on IndyCar with no sports car program, it easily could put Felix Rosenqvist in the top fifteen of the championship. 

The order of IndyCar teams is going to move again at the bottom half of the table. It feels like ECR is destined to take a dive. 

That's it for predictions! That's it for 2023! You have NASCAR, Formula One, sports cars and motorcycle predictions to chew on. The New Year will be here in a few days and we will be turn our attention to the new seasons that are closer than they appear. Until then, Happy New Year and enjoy these final days of the holiday period. 

Thursday, December 28, 2023

2024 Motorcycle Predictions

The motorcycle world always has something exciting it brings to the table, whether it be on pavement or on dirt, on famed circuits or in highly modern stadiums. More exciting things are to come in multiple championships across multiple disciplines. Champions are changing teams, some are changing while being title-holders. Thrilling rookies are going to step up to the highest levels and will be poised to make their first steps toward greatness. There is plenty to watch in 2024. 

1. On at least three occasions with a rider win consecutive grand prix
One of the most notable occurrences from the 2023 MotoGP season was the lack of a consecutive race winner. It was the first time no rider won consecutive races in the top class since the inaugural season of the world championship in 1949, which only had six races. 

If it was the first time something has happened in 74 years, it likely will not happen a second consecutive year, but once is not going to be good enough to fulfill this prediction. We aren't going to have just one instance of a rider winning consecutive races. We are going to have at least three occasions when it happens. There are enough talented riders for it to happen. We could have it happen ten times in 2024 and no on would be surprised. 

2. Marc Márquez is no worse than the third best Ducati rider in the championship
I know last year I said Márquez would finish in the top five of the championship, and we all know how that played out. But this year has to be different, right? Right?

Gone from Honda, onto Ducati, even if it is a year-old bike which just so happens to have just won the world championship, Márquez starts a pivotal second act in his career. The machine is no longer the question mark. It is down to Márquez. Does he still have it and can he keep himself from going over the edge? If he is seeing the checkered flag you must believe he will get results, but it will not be easy. 

Francesco Bagnaia is not going anywhere. Jorge Martín put up a championship push and found success in the sprint races. Marco Bezzecchi looked ready for a title fight for the first half of the season. Fabio Di Giannantonio was coming on strong at the end of 2023. Ducati will have Enea Bastiannini looking for a mulligan after injuries last season, and Franco Morbidelli, another rider looking to revive his career. 

Márquez could have a great season and still not be the best Ducati rider. In that case, he could still be in the top three or five of the championship. Moving to Ducati will to see a repeat of 2013 or 2019, but it should make Márquez a factor again.

3. There will be zero races where a points-scoring position in unclassified
It felt like the 2023 season saw many days of high attrition. Some (Fabio Quartararo) believed that was down to the sprint races and the increase in competition. Those beliefs might be true.

Last season, there were six grand prix where riders were unclassified in points-paying positions at the end of grand prix and earned no reward for their Sunday efforts. That was over a quarter of the races in 2023. The fewest classified runners was 13. 

However, we will see a complete reverse in 2024. Twenty-two grand prix, 330 points-paying positions accounted for. Mark it here.

4. Pedro Acosta will be the best finishing rookie in the championship since 2019
Acosta won the Moto3 championship as a rookie at 18 years old and he won the Moto2 championship in his second season in the competition at 20 years old. He turns 21 during the 2024 season, which will be his rookie MotoGP campaign riding for KTM for GasGas Tech3. 

KTM had a good season in 2023. Brad Binder had great consistency while Jack Miller had flashes and accidents that canceled out his better performances. GasGas Tech3 was the worst team in the championship though Augusto Fernández did have a fourth at the French Grand Prix. 

Tech3 hasn't finished better than 11th in the teams' championship the last three years, but it is bound to get off the mat, and Acosta will help. Not only do I think Acosta will help, but I think he will have some rather remarkable results. He isn't going to win the championship, even a grand prix victory feels like a stretch, but scoring points is something he should do.

In the previous four seasons, the best rookie finisher in those seasons have been 11th, ninth, 14th and 17th. For this prediction to be correct, Acosta would have to finish eighth. It is asking a lot, but don't be surprised if it happens. 

5. The Japanese Manufactures will surpass their combined 2023 podium finish total in the first half of the season
This has been a low point for Honda and Yamaha in MotoGP. Honda lost arguably its greatest rider. Yamaha's current best rider is looking for a way out. The two manufacturers' combined for one victory in 2023. Yamaha was fourth and Honda was fifth in the manufacturers' championship. The best of their six full-time riders ended up tenth in the riders' championship. 

It was dismal.

It must get better. 

MotoGP cannot really afford for it to be much worse. 

How does an optimist look at it?

In 2023, Honda and Yamaha combined for five podium finishes. Five podium finishes is nothing! In 2024, these two makes will have at least six podium finishes in the first 11 races. It will be a heartwarming story of the season.

6. A Moto2 race is decided by less than a tenth of a second
While it feels like MotoGP and Moto3 (definitely Moto3), frequently have grandstand finishes and we need the cameras to determine the winners, Moto2 does not have as many of those finishes. Sometimes, Moto2 is a good reset between a Moto3 and a MotoGP event. It lowers the bar for MotoGP so the main event isn't following two hair-raisers. However, it does make Moto2 the literal middle child. 

Last season, only four Moto2 races were decided by less than a second. Moto2 has not had a finish decided by less than a tenth of a second since the 2022 British Grand Prix, 29 races ago. That will change in 2024. At least one race goes to the wire that keeps everyone holding their breath through the checkered flag.

7. Leopard Racing wins at least four Moto3 races
Leopard Racing has been one of the best teams in Moto3. It has won four of the last nine Moto3 championships and it has put a rider in the top five of the championship in eight of the last nine seasons. It is also known for winning races. 

In six of the last nine seasons, Leopard Racing has won at least four races in a season. You might be thinking that this prediction is a slam dunk then. However, Leopard has an entirely new lineup. Jaume Masiá is moving to Moto2 after winning the 2023 Moto3 title. Tatsuki Suzuki suffered an injury and left the team midseason in 2023. 

Entering the team will be Adrián Fernández, who did run six races in replacement for Suzuki, and Ángel Piqueras, who won the FIM JuniorGP World Championship and the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup championship in 2023. 

It is an unproven team, but there should be some encouragement and Leopard Racing finds it way on top.

8. At least one MotoE has an all-Spanish podium
Last year in MotoE, there were three races that had all-Italian podiums. 

The first Mugello race (Andrea Mantovani, Matteo Ferrari and Mattia Casadei).

The second Austria race (Casadei, Ferrari and Kevin Zannoni).

The second Barcelona race (Casadei, Mantovani and Nicholas Spinelli).

Italy was the only country to have a podium sweep in 2023.

What happens in 2024? 

Spain will have a podium sweep of its own. 

At time of writing, 12 of 14 announced riders for the 2024 MotoE season are either Italian or Spanish, eight to four respectively.

Spain has never swept a MotoE podium. That will change in 2024.

World Superbike
9. Of the three podium positions, Jonathan Rea finishes third the least.
Rea is changing outfits for 2024. Off is the Kawasaki green, on is the Yamaha blue as Rea will be riding something other than a Kawasaki for the first time since he competed with Honda in the 2014 season.

Rea and Kawasaki lost their stranglehold on World Superbike in the last few seasons, but they still remained a clear number three in the championship. He only won one race, but he was on the podium in 18 of 36 races this past season. 

Yamaha won seven times in 2023, all with Toprak Razgatlioglu, who will leave Yamaha for BMW in 2024. Razgatlioglu had 20 runner-up finishes last year. Rea had five runner-up finishes. That means of Rea's 18 podium finishes, 12 were third-place finishes. 

Álvaro Bautista will still be on a Ducati. Good luck to everyone. With Razgatlioglu moving away from Yamaha and Rea joining the team, it will not be as simple as Rea simply replicating Razgatlioglu's results, but Rea should have more races challenging Bautista or at least being the clear second-place rider. 

A dozen times finishing in any one position is quite something. Rea will have his share of third-place finishes, but I don't think they will be greater than his number of victories or second-place finishes.

10. At least two riders who didn't win consecutive races in 2023 win consecutive races in 2024
Here is the list of riders to win consecutive races in the 2023 World Superbike season:

Álvaro Bautista
Toprak Razgatlioglu

That's it. That is the list. 

Bautista had four instances of winning consecutive races: The first four races of the season, ten races from the second Indonesia race through the first race at Donington Park, race two from Donington Park and the first Imola race, and Bautista won the final eight races to close out the season. 

Razgatlioglu won the SuperPole race and race two from Imola, and he won race one and the SuperPole race from Many-Cours. 

The obvious difference will be Jonathan Rea winning consecutive races at least once now that he is on a Yamaha. Where does the other rider come from?

Bautista cannot keep hogging all the victories for Ducati, and perhaps the 2023 World Supersport champion Nicolò Bulega can have a sensational weekend. Michael Ruben Rinaldi, the only other winner from 2023, is still on a Ducati. 

Andrea Locatelli will be Rea's teammate at Yamaha. While Razgatlioglu's exit should open up chances for Rea, it will also create opportunities for Locatelli, who continues to search for his first career World Superbike victory.

If BMW hits on something, maybe Michael van der Mark also benefits and gets some victories for himself. It could be a surprise, like Andrea Iannone, who returns to competition after serving a four-year ban for doping on a customer Ducati. 

Let's see how it plays out.

11. Jett Lawrence will have at least one stretch where he doesn't win five consecutive rounds
Lawrence's 2023 season will be remembered for a 250cc West Supercross championship, a perfect 450cc Motocross championship and winning the inaugural 450cc SuperMotocross championship. This has all the makings of the start of a promising career. 

However, even the greatest careers see some rough patches, and for how easy Lawrence made it look in 2023, he is going to face stout competition and have some tussles on his hands this season. 

There should be a healthy Eli Tomac, Chase Sexton has moved to KTM, Cooper Webb is back on a Yamaha, Ken Roczen is still around, Jason Anderson is still around, Justin Barcia is good for a victory a season, Malcolm Stewart is still looking for his first Supercross victory, oh, and Jett's brother Hunter Lawrence will be his teammate at Honda. 

Jett Lawrence has not had a losing streak of five consecutive rounds since a six-race stretch during the 2021 250cc Motocross season. This prediction is counting all rounds across the Supercross, Motocross and SuperMotocross seasons, but if Lawrence is missing any extended period of time due to injuries I will not count those.

There is a good chance Lawrence is still going to have great seasons and win multiple championships, but competition is going to be high.

12. Riders outside the top three in the Supercross championship combine to win at least four rounds
Speaking to the depth of Supercross, there are at least a dozen riders you can envision winning around this season. They aren't all going to win races, but it feels like at least six riders are going to win a race. When looking over recent Supercross seasons, the top three riders in the championship typically have the lion's share of the race victories.

That shouldn't be a surprise. If I went back through every Supercross season that would likely be the case, but something caught my eye. 

The last time riders that finished outside the top three in the championship combined for at least four victories was 2015. Ken Roczen won two of the first three races and then was knocked out after nine races due to an ankle injury. Trey Canard won twice and then was knocked out after suffering a broken arm in the 12th round in Detroit. Chad Reed also won that year at Atlanta and finished fourth in the championship after being disqualified from the second Anaheim event and withdrawing from the Meadowlands round prior to the heat races. 

Unfortunately, injury is one of the ways this prediction becomes true, but let's be optimistic and we see one of the most competitive Supercross seasons to date where seven riders win a race, three of which are surprises after running just outside the top five for much of the season and then fourth wins twice but somebody has to finish fourth and he just isn't good enough to crack the top three. That would be five victories right there. 

It feels practical for 2024.

And then there was one set of predictions remaining. NASCAR, Formula One, sport cars and now motorcycles are complete. We end the year as we always do with IndyCar. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

2024 Sports Car Predictions

We continue our end-of-year predictions and move into the sports car realm. The thrilling period for sports car competition writes a new chapter in 2024. More manufacturers are coming. New races are coming. There will be new regulations in a few championships, new class structures. For all that was new in 2023, there was much that was the same as it ever was. However, with another year, things are bound to be shaken up eventually. There is a good chance it will be 2024.

FIA World Endurance Championships
1. A manufacturer not named Toyota nor Ferrari will have at least three podium finishes
The 2023 season might have seen the inclusion of the LMDh cars and the expansion of the Hypercar class, but it was rather one-sided.

Toyota took 11 of a possible 21 podium finishes. As a two-car team, it went 11 for 14. Ferrari took six podium finishes, Porsche had two, Cadillac and Peugeot each had one. 

Cadillac had a good start to the season before have a tough close. Porsche didn't quite show great speed, however it could have picked up another podium result last year with a few things going its way. 

With another year of development and who knows how the Balance of Performance will go, but we should see some more variety on the podium this season. Also, Porsche will have power in numbers. There will be five Porsches on the grid. BMW is joining the championship with a two-car effort, as is Alpine, and Lamborghini will have a car entered. 

Of course, all of these manufacturers could take podium finishes off each other and we could end up with four with two podium finishes apiece. 

2. At least four drivers get their first overall WEC victory
A bigger Hypercar class means many drivers who have not competed at the top level before and have not won overall before. 

One of the Ferraris didn't win last year, and, if that lineup does not change for 2024, none of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina nor Nicklas Nielsen have won overall before. That could be three drivers right there. There will also be the third Ferrari that Robert Kubica will lead with Ye Yifei as a likely driver in that entry. Neither of those two have won overall before. 

We are missing the changes at Toyota with Nyck de Vries becoming a new driver in the #7 Toyota. De Vries does not have an overall victory. One victory for the #7 Toyota and the #50 Ferrari will fulfill this prediction. 

With all the Porsches in Hypercar, there are a slew of drivers that have never won overall in WEC. One Porsche victory can likely take care of 75% of this prediction. Maybe I should make it higher? You know what? That is what I will do...

At least SIX drivers get their first overall WEC victory

Take that!

3. No entry in LMGT3 will finish on the podium in four races or more
To be clear, this isn't manufacturer nor race team, this is specific cars, and with 18 cars from nine manufacturers, single-car dominance is tougher to imagine. 

In 2023, only one entry in GTE-AM had four podium finishes or more. That was the championship-winning #33 Corvette, which had five podium finishes. That was a class with 14 full-time cars with four manufacturers. 

There are plenty of capable entries in this class. Corvette remains in the class with TF Sport. Proton Competition is running two Ford Mustangs. AF Corse is still around with Ferrari. Team WRT is fielding a a pair of BMWs. Manthey Racing has two Porsches in its stable. Iron Lynx/Dames brings Lamborghini to the series, as does United Autosports with McLarens, Akkodis ASP Team is responsible for the Lexus entries and Aston Martin is split between Heart of Racing and D'station Racing.

They are all going to see some success at some point during the 2024 season. If one stands above the rest, it will clearly deserve the championship.

4. In at least two rounds will the overall winner and LMGT3 winner be manufacturers from the same parent company
With the new rules in WEC and GT3 entries getting priority based on Hypercar participation, six companies have entries in both classes. It is likely we will see one celebrating a double victory in WEC this season. 

We know Toyota can win. Lexus is the question mark, but Akkodis ASP Team has been highly successful in the GT World Challenge Europe series and Lexus smashed the competition in IMSA. Ferrari is Ferrari. No one would be surprised there. The same can be said with Porsche. 

On the flip side of Toyota, we know Corvette can win, but Cadillac is the question mark in Hypercar. 

BMW and Lamborghini are the other two who could do this. 

It will definitely happen once, but I will double down and say it will happen twice. 

5. Antonio García does not finish first nor third in the GTD Pro championship
I am sure I have written about the before, but do you know García's championship positions since he joined Corvette Racing as a full-time driver in 2012?


García has not finished something other than first or third in a championship as a full-time driver since 2011 when he was seventh in the Daytona Prototype class in Grand-Am.

It has been a 12-year streak. Nothing lasts forever. It probably shouldn't have made it to 2024. García and Jordan Taylor entered the 2023 season finale at Petit Le Mans second in the GTD Pro championship only to have the duos worst finish of the season while WeatherTech Racing won to jump up to second. 

Corvette is going to be competitive, but that doesn't mean García will be first or third again. He will have Alexander Sims as his new co-driver after Jordan Taylor left for Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti’s Acura GTP program. 

6. At least three drivers will have class victories in each WEC and IMSA
This is a cross-series prediction because there will be substantial crossover between WEC and IMSA in 2024, as there always is, but for 2024 it feels like there will be even greater crossover. 

Who will be running both?

There will be over two dozen drivers set to run in WEC this year, who will be running at the 24 Hours of Daytona. This includes a number of drivers who will be running multiple times in both series, a few of which will attempt to run the full season in each. 

Between drivers running in both Hypercar and as endurance drivers in IMSA or drivers planning to run in GT categories in both series, there is bound to be a few drivers that see success in each championship. With the sheer number of drivers crossing over, three feels likely. 

How many drivers won in both series last year? 

Ben Keating
Nicolás Varrone

That's it. That's the list, and they just so happened to be co-drivers in WEC. Keating won in LMP2 in IMSA and Varrone was a member of the 2023 LMP3 winning entry at the 24 Hours of Daytona.

7. The Riley Motorsports LMP2 entry's average finish will be greater than 3.5
The LMP3-era of IMSA's top class should be remembered as the Riley era. Riley Motorsports won 12 of 21 races in the LMP3 class and stood on the podium 16 times in the class' three-year run. In 2023, Riley Motorsports had an average finish of 2.57, which was inflated with a ninth in the 24 Hours of Daytona, which technically didn't count toward the LMP3 championship. Count only the championship races and Riley's average was 1.5. 

Not bad, but not as good as its 1.57 average over the entire 2021 season and 1.667 over the six championship races. 

With LMP3 gone, Riley has moved to LMP2 and will field an Oreca for Gar Robinson and Felipe Fraga. It has been a good combination in LMP3 competition, but with a larger and deeper class in LMP2, I don't think Riley will repeat its dominance. It should still be competitive but not averaging better than a second-place finish. Averaging a podium finish will be a mighty task as well.

8. In one race, the pole-sitter from at least three classes will take victory
Last year, in the GTP class, the pole-sitter won three times (Daytona, Sebring and Mosport).

In LMP2, the pole-sitter won zero times.

In LMP3, the pole-sitter won twice (Watkins Glen and Mosport).

In GTD Pro, the pole-sitter won four times (Daytona, Long Beach, Lime Rock Park and Road America).

In GTD, the pole-sitter won twice (Road America and Virginia International Raceway). 

Last season, there were multiple class winners from pole position in three races, but never more than two class winners from pole position in a race. 

In case you are wondering when was the last time three classes had a pole-sitter win in the same race, it has not happened since the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am merged in 2014.

European Le Mans Series
9. The #22 United Autosports entry does no extends its winning streak
United Autosports has been a regular winner in the European Le Mans Series, but more specifically, its #22 entry has been a regular winner. How regular? The #22 United Autosport entry has won a race overall in ELMS for six consecutive seasons. United Autosports has won a race in seven consecutive seasons. 

No other entry has a multi-year winning streak entering the 2024 season over than the #22 United Autosports entry.

However, United Autosports will have three entries in ELMS this year. The LMP2 class in ELMS will have 22 entries this season. Nothing lasts forever, and there is greater strength in this class than previous season. Ben Hanley will lead the #22 United entry alongside Marino Sato, who returns to ELMS for a second consecutive season. Filip Ugran moves over from Prema Racing. It could surely win a race, but it could conceivably not happen.

10. In GT3, there will not be a winning entry with multiple Italian drivers
For the last three consecutive seasons, there has been at least one winner in the GTE class that had multiple Italian drivers.

Last year, the all-Italian trio of Matteo Cressoni, Matteo Cairoli and Claudio Schiavoni won at Spa-Francorchamps with Iron Lynx. Iron Lynx also had an all-Italian winning lineup in 2022 with Cressoni, Schiavoni and Davide Rigon. Gianmaria Bruni and Lorenzo Ferrari also won that year at Barcelona with Proton Competition and Christian Ried. Half of the GTE races in 2021 had multiple Italian drivers in the winning team. 

There will be a few close calls, but it will not happen in 2024.

11. The GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup champion finishes outside the top five in the Spa 24 Hours
GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup will have a five-race season in 2024. The second round will be the Spa 24 Hours. 

Spa-Francorchamps traditionally awards more points than any other GTWCEEC race, as points are awarded to the top nine at the quarter-mark and halfway point of the race. If you do well in the Spa 24 Hours, it will bode well for your championship. 

How well?

The GTWCEEC champion has been a top five finisher in the Spa 24 Hours in four consecutive seasons, the last three of which has seen the eventual champions finish on the Spa podium. 

The last time the champion was not in the top five at Spa-Francorchamps was 2019 when the #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini ended up eighth. Orange1 FFF Racing Team won the Barcelona finale and had podium results in two other races. 

No trend lasts forever and we are due for a break.

12. Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters will not have a stretch with five manufacturers winning five consecutive races
With the proliferation of GT3 cars across many different championship, we are seeing a greater number of manufacturer participation in some series that otherwise had few brands competing. DTM was one of those series and after long being just Audi and Mercedes-Benz, and then just Audi and BMW, with a brief moment of Aston Martin entered, it has flourished with GT3 regulations. 

Six manufacturers competed in DTM this year. All six won a race at some point, but there were three occasions where five manufacturers won in five consecutive races.

The season started with five different winning brands in five races: Lamborghini, Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, Audi, BMW.

From race three to race seven, there were five different winning manufacturers in five races: Mercedes-AMG, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Lamborghini. 

It then happened again from race 11 to race 15: Mercedes-AMG, Lamborghini, Audi, BMW, Porsche. 

With GT3 expanding to WEC and ELMS, it will change the composition of some of the existing GT3 series, DTM included. Honda will be in the series, but I don't think we will see the same makeup of winners, at least not as we saw it in DTM in 2023.

We are beyond the halfway point in predictions. NASCAR and Formula One are done. Two more to go, and next are predictions of the two-wheel variety.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

2024 Formula One Predictions

Christmas is behind us, and it brings us to our Boxing Day tradition of making Formula One predictions for the upcoming season. We are coming off a historic, record-breaking season from Max Verstappen and Red Bull, but it was tight for second through fourth in the constructors' championship, and some drivers were basically bound together in the drivers' championship at the very end. 

It will be a new season in 2024, but after 2022 and 2023, it is difficult to think we will see much different. It might not be identical, but at the moment there is no reason to expect a big flip in running order. That doesn't mean we will not see different things nor things that will please us in the new season. 

1. The second Red Bull entry leads at least 200 laps
Max Verstappen led 1,003 laps in 2023. Sergio Pérez led 146 laps in 2023. 

Pérez did win the second most races in 2023, two. It was a little underwhelming compared to the success of his Red Bull teammate. After what we saw, it is hard to believe Pérez could take anything away from Verstappen's success in 2024. However, it is had to see how if Red Bull remains the best team that the second car does not do a little better if it means Verstappen does a little worse. Take away two victories and 100 laps from Verstappen and it is still a historically, successful season. 

But, who knows? It might not necessarily be Pérez in that second Red Bull car, and we should take that into consideration. Red Bull has a history of changing drivers midseason. It just did it in 2023 with AlphaTauri. 

We are leaving the door open for that. It is hard to see Verstappen being that dominant again. If Red Bull is great, the second car will do better in 2024 than it did in 2023. Leading 200 laps is not asking much in that scenario. 

2. There will be midseason driver changes at multiple teams
All 20 drivers that started the 2023 season finale at Abu Dhabi is slated to be on the grid for the 2024 season opener at Bahrain. 

There were two driver changes all of 2023. Daniel Ricciardo replaced Nyck de Vries at Hungarian Grand Prix. Liam Lawson deputized for Ricciardo for five races after Ricciardo suffered a wrist injury in practice for the Dutch Grand Prix. 

Somebody is going to get tired of somebody in 2024. 

We have covered that there is the possibility Red Bull could shake its driver lineup midseason. It should be mentioned Williams has a driver that wasn't necessarily performing to a desired level in 2023. A unfruitful stretch to start 2024 could lead to Logan Sargeant being shuffled out at Williams. 

There is always the possibility of the unforeseen. A relationship blowing up midseason, money drying up, a driver deciding to leave early, another Ricciardo wrist injury. Things are too calm in Formula One. There will be a spicy situation at some point next season.

3. On at least one occasions will there be three consecutive different winners
This is basically hoping Red Bull will lose multiple races, but this can also be a fulfilled prediction with Red Bull success. 

All we need is Max Verstappen to win a race, Sergio Pérez to win a race and then a non-Red Bull driver to win a race. This could have happened in 2023 if Pérez had just won the Italian Grand Prix or Qatar Grand Prix. 

We did not see three consecutive different winners in 2023. I think we are all hopeful it happens in 2024. We are hoping for an increase in competitiveness. We would like to see Ferrari being able to take it to Red Bull more. We would like to see Mercedes get back to their winning ways, and after going winless in 2023, you have to think Mercedes is keen on bouncing back from its worst season in over a decade. McLaren looked racy. 

We would love to see three different winners in three consecutive races from three different manufacturers. That would be great. We can all dream.

4. Each Williams car will score at least four points
Alexander Albon had another outstanding season carrying Williams. Albon scored 27 points in 2023. He got Williams up to seventh, its best season since 2017. 

The problem is Albon scored 96.428% of Williams' points. Williams was 92 points behind Alpine for sixth in the constructors' championship, not that simply cloning Albon would have made much of a difference, but another driver adding points would at least have created some breathing room between Williams and AlphaTauri in eighth, which was only three points behind Williams. 

This prediction is either hoping Logan Sargeant makes the bare minimum improvement and can score four points in 2024 instead of one, or Sargeant is replaced and another driver is able to extract something from Williams. 

I am not saying Williams is going to score 50 or 60 points in 2024. There is a chance we could see Williams only score 12 points, but Albon and the other driver, whether it be Sargeant or another competition, each score six points. Keep that in mind.

5. Fernando Alonso finishes at least five positions better than Lance Stroll in fewer than nine grand prix
Alonso whooped Stroll in 2023. There was a 132-point gap between Alonso and Stroll in the championship. Alonso was on the podium eight times. Stroll didn't finish on the podium once. Aston Martin ended up finishing 22 points behind McLaren for fourth in the constructors' championship. A stronger second driver for Aston Martin likely would have scored enough points to hold off McLaren. 

In 2023, Alonso finished at least five positions better than Stroll in ten races. In 2024, I think that total will go down. I don't think Alonso will have the same hot start in 2024 and score six podium finishes in the first eight events. 

Aston Martin will dip a little and bring Alonso closer to Stroll. Alonso will still be the top driver in the team and score a majority of Aston Martin's points, but the gap will not be as wide. 

6. McLaren will score more than 29 points in at least six grand prix
Speaking of McLaren, it started the season with 29 points in the first nine races of the 2023 season. McLaren ended up scoring 273 points in the final 11 races, lifting McLaren to fourth in the constructors' championship. 

McLaren ended on a hot streak. It had seven runner-up finishes in the final 11 races. Twice it had multiple podium finishes. The only other team to have multiple podium finishes in 2023 was Red Bull. 

The Woking outfit has gotten off to some slow starts the last few seasons, but I think with the form McLaren ended on in 2023, it will not start slow in 2024. McLaren will be in the mix more from the start, and that means more points being scored. 

McLaren scored 29 points or more in three grand prix last year. I think McLaren will at least double that total in 2024. Note: All these points must be scored on Sunday. Sprint races will not count.

7. The gap between sixth and seventh in the constructors' championship will be less than 40 points
There was a country-mile between sixth and seventh in the constructors' championship in 2023. As stated above, Alpine was 92 points ahead of Williams went the season ended. Alpine was good, but it wasn't that good.

How does 92 points compared to the gaps between sixth and seventh in previous seasons?

2022: 0 Points (Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin tied on 55 points)
2021: 65 Points (AlphaTauri's 142 to Aston Martin's 77)
2020: 24 Points (Ferrari's 131 to AlphaTauri's 107)
2019: 12 Points (Toro Rosso's 85 to Racing Points 73)
2018: 10 Points (McLaren's 62 to Force India's 52, note this was the year Force India had 59 points voided after entering administration)
2017: 4 Points (Renault's 57 to Toro Rosso's 53)
2016: 13 Points (McLaren's 76 to Toro Rosso's 63)
2015: 11 Points (Lotus' 78 to Toro Rosso's 67)
2014: 125 Points (Force India's 155  to Toro Rosso's 30)
2013: 20 Points (Force India's 77 to Sauber's 57)
2012: 17 Points (Sauber's 126 to Force India's 109)
2011: 25 Points (Force India's 69 to Sauber's 44)
2010: 1 Point (Williams' 69 to Force India's 68)

In the 14 seasons since the adoption of the current points system, the average difference between sixth and seventh in the constructors' championship has been 29.928 points. The median has been 15 points. The 2023 season was only the third time the game was greater than 25 points. I am not sure this will necessarily fall to the high-teens or low-to-mid 20s, but that gap will at less than half of what it was in 2023.

8. Charles Leclerc will finish eighth in at least two races
It has been a tough few seasons for Leclerc. There were the numerous races that got away from him in 2022. Last year, he didn't win a race while Carlos Sainz, Jr. did. Leclerc did finish ahead of Sainz, Jr. in the championship by six points as that is all that covered fourth to seventh in the drivers' championship. 

In the last two seasons, Leclerc has won three grand prix, 14 pole positions and finished on the podium 17 times. He has finished second and fifth in the championship the last two years. 

Do you want to know what Leclerc hasn't done in the last two seasons?

He has not finished in eighth position. He was seventh in three races in 2023, and ninth at Silverstone. In 2022, every time Leclerc took the checkered fag on the track, he was sixth or better. 

The last time he has finished eighth was the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix. He has finished eighth in only four races in his 123 starts. 

2020 Tuscan Grand Prix from Mugello
2021 Austrian Grand Prix
2021 Belgian Grand Prix (Yes, that Belgian Grand Prix)
2021 Qatar Grand Prix. 

I think Leclerc increases his eighth-place finish total by at least 50% in 2024.

9. Max Verstappen will be in sole possession of fourth all-time in podium finishes by the conclusion of the British Grand Prix
Versatappen has 98 career podium finishes. He is two away from becoming the seventh driver to hit the century mark in podium finishes. 

Who is fourth all-time?

It is currently a tied between Alain Prost and Fernando Alonso on 106 podium finishes. There is wrinkle to this prediction, as fourth all-time could move during the season. For Verstappen to be ahead of Alonso by the end of the season, he would need to finish on the podium at least nine more times than the Spaniard in 2024. 

For Verstappen to be fourth all-time on his own by the end of the British Grand Prix, he would need at least nine podium finishes in the first 12 races, the first half of the season. However, there are moving goal posts, because if Alonso has one podium finish at the end of the British Grand Prix, that means Verstappen would need at least ten podium finishes from the first 12 races to be in sole possession of fourth all-time. 

If Alonso has three podium finishes in the first 12 races then for this prediction to be correct Verstappen must finish on the podium in each of the first 12 races. If Alonso gets four podium finishes in the first 12 races then that means there is no way for this prediction can be correct because that means at best Verstappen can be tied for fourth after the Silverstone race. 

The prediction goes two ways. It is saying Verstappen will keep up his good form, be on the podium in at least 75% of the races in the first half of the season, and Alonso will be on the podium less early in the season compared to 2023. Nothing like a multiple faceted prediction. 

10. Somebody knocks Alain Prost out of the top ten for oldest pole-sitter in Formula One history
Keeping Alonso in the loop for a moment, he is one of only two scheduled drivers who can fulfill this prediction. 

Alonso will be 42 years, seven months and two days old when the 2024 season opener takes place at Bahrain. A pole position that weekend and Alonso would become the fourth oldest driver to win a pole position in Formula One history. If Alonso wins a pole position at any point in 2024, he would take over as fourth oldest pole-sitter. 

If Alonso were to do that, he would bump Prost out of the top ten as the oldest pole-sitters in Formula One history. Prost's final pole position came when he was 38 years and eight months old at the 1993 Japanese Grand Prix, the penultimate race of Prost's career. That pole position made Prost the eighth oldest pole-sitter at the time. Only Nigel Mansell and Kimi Räikkönen have surpassed him. 

Who is the other driver who could knock Prost out of the top ten? 

That would be Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton will be 39 years, one month and 24 days old at the season opener. A pole position that weekend will put Hamilton as the eighth oldest pole-sitter. He could be as high as the sixth-oldest before this season is over.

Basically, I am predicting either Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton win a pole position in 2024. They just need one lap pace. They don't need to beat Red Bull over an entire grand prix. 

11. Yuki Tsunoda will have fewer 11th-place finishes than in 2023
There was a running gag during the 2023 season about the number of 11th-place finishes Tsunoda had. However, it isn't as funny when you look at the facts. 

Tsunoda was classified in 11th position in only three races. Those just happened to be three of the first five races. He also finished 11th on the road a fourth time during that span but was classified in tenth at the Australian Grand Prix after gaining a position due to Carlos Sainz, Jr. being assessed a penalty for causing a collision.

Get this, Tsunoda didn't even have the sole lead for most 11th-place finishes in 2023. Pierre Gasly also had three 11th-place finishes. But everyone ran with this cheap joke for most of the season. 

Guess what? Tsunoda will have fewer 11th-place finishes in 2024. It will become a forgotten gag, which is for the mercy of all of us.

12. Haas will exceed 12 points before Formula One's second visit to the United States
Haas was dead-last in the constructors' championship in 2023. It had 12 points, which is the most for a last-place finisher in the constructors' championship, but it is a hollow record. Haas ended up four points behind Alfa Romeo for ninth, and Haas fell from 37 points in eighth the year before. It was the fourth time in the last five seasons Haas has finished either ninth or tenth in the constructors' championship.

However, as an optimist, I think it will be better for Haas in 2024, and it will have at least 13 points by the time the 2024 Formula One season reaches Austin. That means Haas will 13 points in the first 18 races. A foolish prediction, I know. 

Is there any reason why we should believe in such an increase for Haas? It is keeping Kevin Magnussen around reluctantly for the third year in his second Formula One stint. The team is keeping Nico Hülkenberg for no other apparent reason but lack of ambition. The Haas doesn’t produce great cars. If it wasn't for a mess of a late restart in Australia, Hülkenberg would have scored only three points in 2023, all from the Austria sprint race. 

Haas did have 12 points entering Austin last year. Its final point came when Magnussen was tenth in the Singapore Grand Prix. In six of its first eight seasons, Haas has had at least 12 points entering Austin. I have no other great reason to make this prediction other than it isn't boring and it keeps the sequential number-related predictions going through the very end. It is still lofty to think Haas will have 13 points by the time Formula One enters the United States Grand Prix weekend. 

Formula One done. NASCAR, already done. Three more predictions remain, and we will have some sports car predictions tomorrow. 

Friday, December 22, 2023

2023 Motorsports Christmas List

What better way to close a week than with a holiday on the other side? Christmas is here, and for the next few days we get to spend the time with our families, doing the minor things that make memories for lifetimes. 

While we sip hot chocolate and eggnog, and watch Christmas movies, we all know what will come in a few days, with presents under the tree. We all want something. It doesn't have to be major. The best gift could be the most practical gift, the thing that makes your life a little easier. 

The same goes for those in the motorsports world, and it our yearly tradition to give those faces and places something that would truly appreciate this Christmas. 

Shall we...?

To Álex Palou: Contractual peace.

To Sergio Pérez: A soft landing. 

To Fernando Alonso: A teammate that can score at least 60% of his points total.

To Charles Leclerc: Winning a race from pole position.

To Valtteri Bottas: People stop making the same jokes. It is old, folks. Move on.

To Shane van Gisbergen: Avoid all accidents at Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta.

To every NASCAR broadcaster: Pronunciation lessons.

To Scott McLaughlin: A NASCAR Cup car for all the non-conflict road course races. If van Gisbergen can win on debut, what could McLaughlin do?

To Callum Ilott: A ride in the 11 IndyCar weekends that do not conflict with the FIA World Endurance Championship. 

To Matthew Brabham: Driving in the five IndyCar weekends Ilott cannot race in as well as an Indianapolis 500 entry. 

To Patricio O'Ward: Someone to listen to his concerns.

To Josef Newgarden: Better pace on street courses. 

To Graham Rahal: A race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course where he has the strategy advantage over Scott Dixon.

To Sébastien Bourdais: A flawless day in his hometown in June.

To the Milwaukee Mile IndyCar Event: 35,000 attendees each race day. 

To Chase Elliott: A new winter hobby. 

To Honda: Better return on investment for its IndyCar program. 

To Meyer Shank Racing: A customer GTP program. Any manufacturer it likes. 

To Wayne Taylor Racing: A Petit Le Mans where nothing goes wrong.

To Romain Grosjean: A better grip on the steering wheel at street races. 

To the World Endurance Championship: A better television deal in the United States, or MotorTrend just showing the races in their entirety on its cable channel. What are we doing here? 

To MotoGP: A race at Barber Motorsports Park... it will be on here every year until it happens

To World Superbike: Races on more continents... speaking of it, why hasn't World Superbike raced in Japan in the last 20 years? 

To Eli Tomac: A clean bill health for the entire year.

To Dale Coyne: A proper partner who can run his race team while he keeps his name on the door and remains as a strategist. You know what? Justin Marks. Dale Coyne's gift is Justin Marks. 

To NASCAR: A weekend in Montreal. 

To Kyle Kirkwood: A handful of top five finishes.

To Nick Tandy: A race in Trackhouse's Project 91 effort.

To Nick Cassidy: A GT3 program to fill his downtime between Formula E races. 

To Nico Hülkenberg: The improbable... a Formula One podium finish.

To Logan Sargeant: Results good enough that everyone stops making jokes.

To Lusail International Circuit: Better curbing.

To New Zealand: A Formula E doubleheader. It more than deserves it.

To António Félix da Costa: A few sports car races once the Formula E season is over.

To Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters: A return to Brands Hatch.

To Raffaele Marciello: Turning some heads in the BMW M Hybrid V8.

To Colton Herta: Respectable results.

To Will Power: An easier year, at and away from the racetrack.

To Simon Pagenaud: Medical clearance to return to a race car. 

To Takuma Sato: A full season in Super Formula.

To J.R. Hildebrand: A decision-making role within IndyCar.

To Jorge Martín: Suitable tires in every race.

To Marc Márquez: Career rejuvenation.

To Álex Márquez: A memorable race between him and his brother.

To Enea Bastianini: Job security.

To all the Japanese manufacturers in MotoGP: A return to their highest levels.

To the Race of Champions: A return to a proper stadium event that generates big interest.

To Corey Heim: A contactless Truck Series season finale.

To Louis Foster: Fewer retirements. 

To Sheldon Creed: Getting even. 

To A.J. Allmendinger: A season for the ages.

To Mazda MX-5 Cup: Rounds at Watkins Glen and Road America. Seriously, how is neither track on the 2024 schedule?

To Ryan Blaney: A better summer. 

To Conor Daly: A Daytona 500 attempt that isn't a complete mess. 

To the Brickyard 400: A healthy crowd.

To Indianapolis Raceway Park: NASCAR's second division moving back there. 

To Tony Stewart: Remaining on the ground in his rookie Top Fuel season.

To Chicago: Clear skies for the first ten days of July. 

To Dane Cameron: Picking up where he left off in IMSA.

To Robert Wickens: Development of hand controls to allow him a proper IndyCar test at Indianapolis.

To Kyle Larson: Two weeks of solitude with his family. No racing. No one calling him. No one mentioning his name. He gets enough attention as it is. 

To Marcus Ericsson: That same top ten finishing percentage carrying over from Chip Ganassi Racing.

To Fabio Quartararo: A decoy that can run 50% of the sprint races for him but no one knows it isn't Quartararo on the bike.

To Austin Cindric: A year without bringing up his father in context to his employment.

To Tony Kanaan: Hassle-free travel.

To Alexander Rossi: Multi-color Christmas tree lights.

To Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso: A Hypercar or LMDh car of their choosing. 

To Marcus Armstrong: A full set of Le Creuset cookware.

To Christian Lundgaard: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing establishing itself as an IndyCar contender and a place he can build his career.

To Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: A year where his drivers never take each other out of a race.

To the World Rally Championship: A host of heroes. It feels like WRC is lacking those respected names that once filled the championship. 

To Denny Hamlin: Podcast comments that do not carry championship consequences.

To Bubba Wallace: A caution in his favor at a 1.5-mile oval. 

To Martin Truex, Jr.: A complete season.

To Ryan Truex: A full-time ride with Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR's second division.

To Ben Rhodes: A full-time chance in NASCAR's second division.

To Layne Riggs: A Cup team signing him to a development contract and committing to it. 

To Rinus VeeKay: Another team believing in his ability.

To Jack Harvey: A second chance in IndyCar.

To Stefan Wilson: A drama-free month of May.

To Álvaro Bautista: A bigger trophy case.

To Toprak Razgatlioglu: BMW getting it right.

To Jonathan Rea: One more taste at glory.

To every other World Superbike ride: A chance at being competitive.

To Andrea Kimi Antonelli: Not winning the Formula Two championship at 18 years old and forcing him into a weird spot where he can no longer race in Formula One's ladder system and forces Mercedes to find somewhere else to race for a year or two before he is actually ready for Formula One.

To Alex Albon: Catching the eye of a bigger team... or Williams having at least an early-2000s renaissance. Either or, the second one sounds better. 

To Lando Norris: A race where he is within five seconds of a Red Bull that has a track limits penalty being applied at the checkered flag.

To Liam Lawson: A team that properly acknowledges his talent. 

To Linus Lundqvist: A rookie season that validates Chip Ganassi's decision to hire him. 

To Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and Théo Pourchaire: A Le Mans entry with an Alpine A424.

To Carlos Sainz, Jr.: Avoiding all drainage covers.

To Ed Carpenter: Acceptance he should only run the Indianapolis 500.

To Hélio Castroneves: Eight more starts along with his Indianapolis 500 appearance to get him to 400 IndyCar starts. 

To Christian Rasmussen: A full IndyCar season like he deserves.

To Tom Blomqvist: Some of that Formula Three magic.

To George Russell: Less reasons to speak over the radio.

To Nyck de Vries: Multiple victores in Formula E and the World Endurance Championship.

To Jake Dennis: A few IndyCar outings with Andretti Global.

To Andretti Global: Everyone remembering the team is now called Andretti Global. 

To Sam Bird: A championship push in Formula E.

To the Las Vegas Grand Prix: A 6:00 p.m. local start. Let's be realistic.

To Circuito de Jerez: The Spanish Grand Prix. It cannot be much worse than Barcelona and is a better option than Madrid.

To Formula One fans based in Europe: Understanding that one race is going to start at 3:00 a.m. Central Europe Time. 

To Lewis Hamilton: Sidepods. 

To Jack Doohan: Something to occupy him at the back of the garage... a yo-yo, perhaps. 

To Frederik Vesti: I guess an IndyCar ride... there is nowhere for these Formula Two drivers to go. 

To every Formula Two driver: Two more Formula One teams because there are not enough spots.

To the existing ten Formula One teams: Money... because it is the only thing that can shut them up. 

To Daniel Ricciardo: A return to the lovely person he was circa 2016.

To Kevin Magnussen: A Cadillac V-Series.R.

To Pirelli: Tires it is confident it can introduce to Formula One that do not require tire blankets.

To Yuki Tsunoda: Another race leading laps. 

To James Calado: Autosport British Competition Driver of the Year because he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans he was the only nominee to win anything. 

To Francesco Bagnaia: Some better sprint race results.

To Marco Bezzecchi: Ice packs.

To Brad Binder: A home race at Kyalami. 

To Franco Morbidelli: The bounce back year he has been waiting for. 

To Joey Logano: Fans appreciating NASCAR drivers more. 

To Alex Quinn: A full-time entry in Indy Lights.

To Myles Rowe: Force Indy support for at least two seasons beyond 2024 if he doesn't immediately break into IndyCar.

To Kyffin Simpson: Towels.

To Kamui Kobayashi: A Super Formula victory.

To Filipe Albuquerque: A commitment that Honda will take him to Le Mans.

To Mick Schumacher: An impressive year in Hypercar. 

To A.J. Foyt Racing: Indianapolis-esque speed everywhere else.

To Santino Ferrucci: Another full season in IndYCar

To Juncos Hollinger Racing: The ability to say the right thing in response to bad behavior.

To Oscar Piastri: Avoiding a sophomore slump.

To Guanyu Zhou: A phenomenal first home race.

To Pedro Acosta: Realistic expectations from everyone else.

To Álex Rins: A Jacuzzi. 

To Aprilia: A little more speed everywhere. Not a lot. Just a little bit. 

To Maverick Viñales: A grand prix where he is in the battle for the lead late. 

To Aleix Espargaró: A hibachi set.

To Lance Stroll: A seat in Aston Martin's Valkyrie program starting in 2025.

To David Malukas: Not being burnt out after a year at McLaren.

To Agustín Canapino: Averaging a top 20 finish in IndyCar.

To Kevin Harvick: Broadcast booth partners that are up to his level.

To William Byron: Keeping up the results.

To Alex Bowman: A year's worth of dog food. 

To Ben Keating: A 24 Hours of Le Mans entry in the Hypercar class.

To Pipo Derani: Some quality sunglasses. 

To Risi Competizione: Enough funding to return to full-time IMSA competition. 

To DragonSpeed: Another shot at IndyCar since it is no longer getting the sports car entries.

To Ryan Newman: A full season in the NASCAR modified series.

To Superstar Racing Experience: Realizing it doesn't need dirt races. 

To the NASCAR Truck Series: Its playoffs not taking two-and-a-half months to complete, and its season finale starting a practical hour. Move the finale to Saturday afternoon with the finale for NASCAR's second division taking place Saturday evening at Phoenix. Makes sense.

To Chase Sexton: Remaining on the bike.

To Jett Lawrence: Another dazzling season.

To Jack Miller: Fewer races getting away from him.

To Takaaki Nakagami: A podium finish. It could be any of the three positions. 

To Phillip Island: Weather that allows a sprint race and a grand prix to take place.

To Felix Rosenqvist: Staying out of the marbles at Indianapolis. 

To Pietro Fittipaldi: Haas wishing it gave him a proper shot at Formula One.

To Jak Crawford: Haas supporting him as a development driver. Come on, Haas! He is right there.

To Christopher Bell: No brake failures.

To Carson Hocevar: Some proper sense.

To Matt Crafton: Anger management.

To Chris Buescher: A pogo stick.

To Jordan Taylor: More aggression for his next NASCAR start.

To Parker Kligerman: Not overdriving the car with a chance to win a race.

To Brad Keselowski: Some good nights of sleep.

To Tyler Reddick: Cozy pair of socks.

To Kalle Rovanperä: A fun year experimenting in other forms of motorsports. 

To Oliver Askew: A full-time ride somewhere. He is a good commentator, but he is too young to be a commentator. 

To the sports car world: Splitting the Asian Le Mans Series into the Middle East Le Mans Series and the Pacific Le Mans Series. Four rounds in the Middle East. Four to five races over the Pacific countries (Japan, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia).

To Super GT: Somewhere easy for people to watch the races live around the world.

To Supercars: Same as Super GT.

To GT World Challenge America: Returning to how the fun the series was as Pirelli World Challenge from 2014-2018. It is ok to run with IndyCar. Those were great weekends.

To Indianapolis Motor Speedway: No construction delays on the Hall of Fame and Museum renovations.

Also to Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Higher catchfences. 

To IndyCar's Nashville weekend: No hiccups and no interruptions to the on-track activities.

To Watkins Glen and Richmond: Flipping NASCAR Cup races. It makes zero sense that Watkins Glen is in September after being in August forever and Richmond is in August when it was in September for the longest time. Quick swap.

To North Wilkesboro: One of Atlanta's Cup weekends. 

To Daytona: The second NASCAR weekend returning to July 4th. 

To Atlanta: It's one Cup weekend being the regular season finale. 

To Sonoma: Moving its Cup weekend to the start of the season with the other western races. It makes no sense for there to be one trip to California between races outside St. Louis and in Iowa. 

To NASCAR fans: Amazon Prime subscriptions. You are going to love it. 

To the state of Texas: The NASCAR weekend at Texas Motor Speedwaynot conflicting with any international series taking place at Circuit of the Americas. How does this keep happening?

To Pocono Raceway: An IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader. 500-mile IndyCar race on Saturday afternoon, 400-mile Cup race on Sunday afternoon. $2 million prize if anyone can win both. $1 million prize if anyone can finish in the top five in both. $500,000 prize if anyone can finish in the top ten in both. 

To Zandvoort: Another rain shower during the Dutch Grand Prix.

To Imola: Clear weather for its grand prix weekend. 

To the Canadian Grand Prix: A sprint weekend. It actually makes sense if you think about it. 

To Sauber: People just calling it Sauber and not overthinking it. 

To Richie Stanaway: A return season for the ages.

To Felipe Massa: Accepting he did not win the world championship in 2008.

To Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat: Toyota giving them a Toyota GR010 Hybrid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Third driver of their choosing. 

To Sebastian Vettel: Returning to racing whenever he is ready.

To Scott Dixon: Quality time with the family.

To Lime Rock Park: An IMSA round. There is literally a month off in from the middle of August to the middle of September. There is your window. 

To Devlin DeFrancesco: Completing a fifth-to-first pass at the start of a race and then not falling off the face of the planet.

To Winward Racing: Avoiding all incidents in the build up to the 24 Hours of Daytona.

To IndyCar: Geez... where to start? How about settling on a definitive date for a new chassis and engine regulations?

To the IndyCar fanbase: Chilling out. Dial it back by about 90%. It's not the end of the world. 

Of course, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and happy holidays. The years start going a little quicker, but that does not mean they are any less enjoyable. Remember to savor this time with loved ones. I hope every stays safe and healthy. 

Peace and love to all!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

2024 NASCAR Predictions

Our annual Christmas season tradition is upon us. The year 2023 is effectively over. Most of us are mailing it in for the next 11 days. We will get back to 100% on January 2, maybe we hold off until January 3. But with the year closing, let's look to next year and consider what we could see in 2024. We start with NASCAR!

1. The Cup Series champion will have at least five top five finishes between the months of June, July, August and September
This is in response to the 2023 champion. Ryan Blaney did not have a top five finish from his victory in the Coca-Cola 600 in May to his victory at Talladega on October 1. Blaney went 124 days between top five finishes. He ended with the fewest top five finishes for a Cup champion since Bill Rexford in 1950, NASCAR's second season. 

In all likelihood, that was a fluke. A driver with only eight top five finishes the entire season and none for the entire summer will not win the championship a second consecutive year nor a second time in a decade nor not for another 73 years. It is not likely to happen...

But with this playoff format it is increasingly more likely than any previous format. You don't have to win a lot to win the championship, you just have to win at the right time. That is essentially how Blaney won the championship in 2023. 

However, the cream rises to the top. We are going to see a driver win five or six races and have about 18 top five finishes in the entire season and that driver will win the championship more times than a driver who goes over four months without a top five finish. 

The 2024 champion will have a more prolific season and be at the front more than the 2023 champion, specifically for the four months that make up summer.

2. Every Cup playoff driver finishes the season with at least four top five finishes
The more you look at the Cup Series and consider the competitiveness of this generation of car, we see more variety at the front. There were fewer winners in 2023 than 2022, but there were still 15 winners, including a driver winning on debut. We are seeing more teams clicking at a few tracks or a few disciplines and able to be in the front while running more in the middle elsewhere. 

In 2023, 14 playoff drivers ended the season with five top five finishes or more. However, outside the playoffs was Chase Elliott, who had seven top five finishes. Ty Gibbs, Alex Bowman and A.J. Allmendinger each had four top five finishes. Even Chase Briscoe had four top five finishes. 

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Michael McDowell each won a race to make the playoffs, though they only finished with two top five finishes. Elliott and Gibbs will make significant playoff pushes in 2024. Bowman should also be in the picture. Briscoe has won before.

The door will remain open for a driver to win once and sneak in with an otherwise lackluster season, but I think the bar will be high to make the playoffs, and we will see that at the end of the season. 

3. William Byron will have fewer victories where he lead 20 laps or fewer
Byron won the most races in 2023. He had six victories. He also ended tied for the most top five finishes (18 with Kyle Larson) and Byron was the only driver to break 20 top ten finishes in 2023 (21 to be specific). 

However, if you take a closer look at Byron's victories, a few of those were fortunate. 

He won at Darlington in May after Martin Truex, Jr., Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson were all caught in late accidents. Byron won having led only seven laps. 

At Atlanta in July, he had only led 19 laps when rain ended the race, and those were the final 19 laps before weather ended the race. 

He won at Texas in September having led only the final six laps after a late restart after Kyle Larson spun out of the race battling Bubba Wallace in the late laps. 

Half of his victories saw him led 20 laps or fewer. Two of those saw him lead fewer than ten laps, and in each of those races he led he led none of the laps in the first 97% of the race. 

Byron might win six races again in 2024, but he isn't going to win three times like he did in 2023. He was set up to pounce when an opportunity opened, but you cannot always put yourself in that position. Even if you do, the breaks don't always go your way. 

4. 23XI Racing will win more Cup races but have fewer drivers in the final top ten championship standings
There is a world where Tyler Reddick wins twice, Bubba Wallace wins once but those drivers finish sixth and 11th in the championship. 

On paper, that season would be one more victory for 23XI than it had in 2023, which would look good, but Wallace losing a spot would look bad. Wallace only finished in the top ten by ten points over Martin Truex, Jr. in 2023.

The way the championship positions are decided in the playoffs is fluid. Once the playoffs start, the points matter less and once a driver is eliminated from the playoffs, we see teams fall off. Truex, Jr. was ranked in the top five of the championship after 17 of the 26 regular season races. At the end of the regular season, Truex was first, 47 points ahead of Denny Hamlin in second and 179 points ahead of Joey Logano in 11th. 

Yet, due to the resets and Truex's dip in results, he ended up 11th in the championship. Was he really the 11th best driver? No, but he wasn't 17th in 2022 either and that is where he was placed in the championship standings. Without the playoffs, Truex wouldn't have been champion this year, but he would have been fourth. 

With that said, 23XI could have another banner year, but the championship positions will not reflect that. Wallace should have won a race in 2023. I think he will in 2024. Reddick has a good chance of winning more in 2024. Each driver could win three times, but Reddick could end up 12th because results took a turn at the wrong time or Wallace could be boom or bust, winning three times but only having four top five finishes all season. 

As much as you think winning means everyone goes up, let's not forget, along with Truex, Joey Logano was not in the top ten of the championship. Kyle Busch was not in the top ten of the championship. Chase Elliott, Ty Gibbs and Alex Bowman didn't make the playoffs. There is a world where all six of those drivers are in the top ten in 2024. If they are in, somebody has to get moved out. 

5. Shane van Gisbergen's average finish across the three national NASCAR series will be greater than 15.5
The full Shane van Gisbergen experiment will begin in 2024. Van Gisbergen will be full-time in NASCAR's second division. It has already been announced van Gisbergen will run seven Cup races. Any Truck participation will be determined and announced at a later time. 

We already saw van Gisbergen win for Trackhouse and he will be competing for Kaulig Racing in the second division. He is in good cars, but ovals will still be new to him. Most of his races will be with Kaulig. In the Grand National Series, a Kaulig car should be a top 20 car at worse. You put the average driver in a Kaulig car and that car should still finish 20th. 

Van Gisbergen will have rough days, but there will be races where it clicks for him and he is closer to the top ten or in the top ten. There will be six road course races, which will help his average finish. A victory or two and four or five top five finishes on road courses will bring the average down, but van Gisbergen's numbers will reflect his inexperience. 

Consider that Chandler Smith and Daniel Hemric were Kaulig's full-time drivers in 2023. Smith's average finish was 15.6 and Hemric's was 13.5. We considered Smith's season respectable. I am not sure van Gisbergen can match that. 

If you factor in every race van Gisbergen runs across the three series in 2024, I think any stellar success on road courses will be balanced out with teething problems on ovals.

6. Ty Gibbs will get his first career Cup victory before the All-Star Race
This is as straight up of a prediction as you can get. Gibbs will win one of the first 13 races. He was getting better over the course of the season. All four of his top five finishes came in the final 15 races of the season. He had a few good races early in the season. With another season under his belt, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, he is bound to win once. 

Why do I think he is going to win early? 

A hunch. Nothing more than that. 

Within those first 13 races you have Daytona, Atlanta and Talladega, three races where you just have to be at the right place at the right time. There is Austin, and Gibbs is good on road courses. He won at Las Vegas, Kansas, Richmond, Martinsville and Phoenix in NASCAR's second division and all five of those tracks host one of the first 13 races. 

If he is going to win, I think he is going to win early and lock up a playoff spot. 

7. Both Legacy Motor Club entries finish in the top 25 of the owners' championship
The first year of the rebranded Legacy Motor Club was rather dismal. 

Erik Jones was 27th in the championship. Jones had one top five finish and seven top ten finishes. His average finish was 20.4. 

Before being fired, Noah Gragson had an average finish of 28.2 in 21 races. Gragson was outside the top 30 in eight of those races and outside the top 25 in 14 races. He had two top 20 finishes!

In the 15 other races for the #42 Chevrolet, things were a little better. The average finish was 24.733 and it had five top 20 finishes. 

Why should we think 2024 will be better?

Legacy is switching to Toyota. Instead of being at best the sixth best Chevrolet team, it will now be one of the top three Toyota teams. Of the six full-time Toyota entries in 2023, four made the playoffs. All six made the top 18 in the championship. 

Switching manufacturers isn't going to just flip fortune, but the lineup is set up for improvement. Jones has experience with Toyota, and in his previous two seasons with this organization he was 24th and 18th in the championship. John Hunter Nemechek will be the new full-time driver in the #42 Toyota, and he has found new confidence in the last few years driving for Toyota in the lower two divisions.

We are not looking for a massive swing upward. The cars ending up 24th and 25th will be good enough. 

8. The Iowa Cup winner will have won there previously in one of NASCAR's other national series
Iowa is finally getting a Cup race. After years of being neglected and ignored, NASCAR is doing the right thing and running a Cup race there. 

It has been a few seasons since any NASCAR national series has gone to the 0.875-mile oval, but plenty of drivers have experience there, whether it be in the second division or Trucks. Many of those drivers have even won at Iowa. 

Of the 14 drivers to win at Iowa in NASCAR's second division, ten will likely be in the Cup race in June. Those drivers are Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher, William Byron, Ryan Preece, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe. 

Throw in Austin Dillon and John Hunter Nemechek and about a third of the tentative Cup grid at Iowa has won there already. 

Give me the those drivers against the field. 


Why not?

Don't get me wrong. The field is pretty good: Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, Jr., Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Alex Bowman, Ty Gibbs. 

I don't think Iowa experience will matter one way or another. Iowa's worn surface will likely favor those who run well at Darlington, a place Larson, Hamlin and Truex have had success at. 

It is a tossup, but I will go with the drivers who have won there before.

9. The driver that wins the most races in NASCAR's second division wins the championship
This is more due to the absurdity that the champion in NASCAR's second division has not been the driver to win the most races since Kyle Busch in 2009. The last time the Grand National Series champion had the most race victories and wasn't a full-time Cup driver was Martin Truex, Jr. in 2005.

There was that long period of Cup driver dominance, that continued even when Cup drivers were made championship ineligible, but for most of the playoff era, the Grand National Series has shifted to being about the full-time drivers in the series. We don't see Cup drivers moonlighting and taking 25 victories from 33 races. In 2023, championship ineligible drivers combined for six victories, 27 of 33 races went to the regulars. 

And still, the driver with the most victories didn't win the championship! 

It is bound to end. It will end in 2024.

10. This will be the season with the most race winners qualifying for the playoff in NASCAR's second division
For the second consecutive year, the Grand National Series has a deep field of drivers. This isn't the case of there being nine really good teams and drivers and then three guys who combine for three top five finishes and ten top ten finishes have to fill the final three spots. There are about 16 drivers with legitimate playoff aspirations and only 12 playoff spots. 

Since the adoption of playoffs in 2016, the most drivers to qualify for the playoffs on race victories is eight. It happened the last two seasons. 

I think we are going to see at least nine drivers win in the regular season and earn a playoff spot that way, and it could be higher. I am not sure it will be 12-for-12, but ten sounds practical as well. 

Consider any of the four JR Motorsports drivers can win a race (Justin Allgaier, Sam Mayer, Sammy Smith and Brandon Jones). Then you have the defending champion (Cole Custer) and his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, who ended 2023 on a strong note (Riley Herbst). Austin Hill has a knack for winning and Richard Childress Racing does well in this series, which should boost the confidence of its newest driver (Jesse Love).

Sheldon Creed has had a tough two seasons at this level, but he is now at Joe Gibbs Racing, and the equipment is proven. Chandler Smith has already won in this series and is moving to Gibbs. 

Then you have A.J. Allmendinger and Shane van Gisbergen at Kaulig Racing. Both will likely win one road course race. Jeb Burton can win at Talladega or Atlanta. Burton's Jordan Anderson Racing teammate Parker Retzlaff showed some promise last year. Parker Kligerman had a few close calls in 2023, and it would not be surprising if he won in 2024. Josh Williams is a question mark, but he will be at Kaulig.

That is 16 drivers and not factoring in Jeremy Clements just won at Daytona in 2022, Ryan Sieg has been hanging around the periphery for a victory for a few seasons, and there could be another five drivers that could steal a win at Daytona or Talladega. 

It is hard to make an argument there will not be nine or ten winners in the regular season.

11. Drivers with a first name beginning with the letter "C" will combine to win fewer than ten Truck races
Goofy prediction!

Last season, drivers with a first name beginning with the letter "C" combined to win 11 races.

Christian Eckes and Carson Hocevar each won four times and Corey Heim won three times. 

Hocevar is moving to the Cup Series. That is three victories gone. Eckes and/or Heim could win more. Chase Purdy will be full-time with Spire Motorsports, which takes over the Kyle Busch Motorsports operation, but I think it will be lower. 

ThorSport has four capable drivers in Ben Rhodes, Ty Majeski, Matt Crafton and Jake Garcia. None of those first names begin with the letter "C." Layne Riggs is finally full-time with Front Row Racing. Nick Sanchez is due for a victory or two. Grant Enfinger will still be out there. 

I don't sense any one driver will dominate the Truck Series in 2024. Heim had a really good season, but I don't see him winning six times and then Eckes winning three and Purdy winning twice. I don't see any of those three drivers winning eight times and the other two combining to win at least twice. 

This is a little more unusual of a prediction. We will have to wait and see.

12. Each Chicago race will complete at least 95% of the scheduled distances but neither will exceed 110% of the scheduled distances.
It will be remembered fondly, but the inaugural Chicago event had the disappointment that the Grand National Series race did not even reach halfway and the Cup race was shortened due to darkness mid-race. It cannot be called a smashing success, but there was definitely some joyous relief that the Cup race was at least respectable when the weekend is over. 

A historic rainstorm picked the wrong weekend to circle over the Windy City. That will likely not happen two consecutive years for NASCAR. The 2024 weekend should be pleasant. The weather should be favorable with each race getting in, no delays and no abbreviations. Each race should get to full distance.

However, I am leaving this one open and also putting a restriction on it. Each race will at least complete 95% of the scheduled laps, but neither will exceed 110%. That means there will not be a crazy overtime situation. 

For the Grand National Series, the race is scheduled for 50 laps. That means at least 48 laps will be completed, but it will not go beyond 55 laps. The Cup race has already been shortened for 2024 to 75 laps. We are going to see at least 72 laps completed, but the Cup race will not go beyond 82 laps. 

We need good weather and everyone to be on their best behavior in the closing laps to get this one correct. 

One set of predictions down, four more to come next week, and keep an eye out for a Christmas list in the coming days.