Barnes: My bold predictions for the 2016 NASCAR season

By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief

The 2016 NASCAR season is upon us and that means a fresh start for the drivers and teams, hope for their fans, and a set of bold predictions on how it will all play out. With our new NASCAR guy, Toby Christie, putting out his bold picks for the new season, it only seemed right that I try to restore balance on what has been predicted.

Daytona 500 champion: Jimmie Johnson

Johnson has two wins (2006, ’13) in “The Great American Race” and has formed a strong drafting relationship with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the restrictor plate tracks. As a tandem that has no issue getting to the front of the field, look for Johnson to get the better of NASCAR’s fan favorite and solidify himself as the alpha driver at Hendrick Motorsports for 2016.

Rookie of the Year: Ryan Blaney

Blaney has started 18 career races at NASCAR’s top level, but is eligible for ROTY due based on the fact he didn’t contend for points in the Sprint Cup Series last season. Combine Blaney’s experience with a rejuvenated Wood Brothers Racing that can lean on Team Penske and you have the beginnings of a stout career.

Chase Drivers (in alphabetical order):

Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, and Martin Truex Jr.

Final Four:

Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson

Sprint Cup Series champion: Kevin Harvick

After two-consecutive seasons that has seen Harvick on both the winning and losing end of  dramatic championship outcomes, ‘Happy’ will have another reason to smile after he clinches his second title in three years.

XFINITY Series champion: Erik Jones

Jones had a stellar 2015 campaign. The 19-year-old not only grabbed the Camping World Truck Series title last season, he added two XFINITY Series wins and three Sprint Cup Series starts to his resume. Jones scored 17 top ten finishes in 23 XFINTIY Series starts last season, with an average finish of 9.2.

There’s no reason to think he won’t repeat those numbers in a full season with Joe Gibbs Racing equipment and go on to win his second NASCAR championship in as many years.

Camping World Truck Series champion: Daniel Hemric

Hemric spent his rookie season in the Truck Series with NTS Motorsports, collecting 13 top ten finishes in 23 starts. For 2016, the 25-year-old gets to drive one with one of the best teams in the series, Brad Keselowski Racing. Many fans don’t know who Hemric is, but when he holds up the championship in November they will.

Other Bold Predictions:

  • There will be 19 winners this season in the Sprint Cup Series.
  • Kyle Larson and Danica Patrick will finally visit Victory Lane in 2016.
  • Daniel Suarez will grab his first career XFINITY Series win.

Image: Grease Man Photography

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Joey Barnes is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Motorsports Tribune. He has covered auto racing since 2013 that has spanned from Formula 1 to NASCAR, with coverage on IndyCar. Additionally, his work has appeared on Racer, IndyCar.com and Autoweek magazine. In 2017, he was recognized with an award in Spot News Writing by the National Motorsports Press Association.

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