By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
We are less than 20 days away from the official start of the 2016 NASCAR season. For the next ten months battles will be waged on short tracks, big tracks and tracks that have right handed turns mixed in. Around every turn a storyline will develop, and a new headline will be etched into everyone’s mind. But we’re still days away from the spawning of the 2016 season. Right now my job is to predict exactly what will happen in the 2016 season.
Chances are I will be completely wrong, and this article will be lost in the archives of this website forever. But nevertheless here are my bold predictions for the 2016 NASCAR season:
Daytona 500 champion: Tony Stewart
Stewart has suffered through a miserable stretch of racing. He’s winless over his last 77 races and Stewart is now facing retirement at the conclusion of the 2016 season. Naturally I have ‘Smoke’ winning in the one race he’s failed to capture in 17 previous attempts.
It sounds far-fetched on the surface, but Stewart has been close to winning this race several times in the past. Stewart led 98 laps before finishing second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2004. In 2005, Stewart led 151 of the 200 laps before settling for seventh. Now with a career coming to a close, Stewart will have nothing to lose. He’ll be at a track where anyone who’s in the lead draft can win. Expect Stewart to pull out all of the stops to cross this accomplishment off his bucket list, and secure a spot in this year’s Chase before he rides off into the sunset.
Rookie of the Year: Chase Elliott
Elliott has been a quick learner through every rung of the NASCAR ladder so far. He will have great equipment (Hendrick Motorsports), a good crew chief (Alan Gustafson) and he’ll have every resource at his fingertips to have a successful rookie campaign.
Elliott will win (at least one race) and will become the first rookie since Joey Logano (in 2009) to do so. In the process, Elliott will make it into the Chase.
Chase Drivers (in alphabetical order):
Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr.
Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano.
Sprint Cup Series Champion: Joey Logano
Logano will lead the series in victories for the second-consecutive season. However this time around Logano will ruffle less feathers and he will finally realize his destiny as a Sprint Cup Series champion, and he will forge his name as the man to beat for some time.
XFINITY Series Champion: Justin Allgaier
The move to JR Motorsports — one of the stout teams in the XFINITY Series — will pay huge dividends for Allgaier in 2016. Allgaier will capture at least a couple of wins, and will survive the gauntlet that will be the inaugural Chase format in the series.
Camping World Truck Series Champion: Cole Custer
It’ll be a clean sweep of the lower tiers of the NASCAR National Series ranks for JR Motorsports. Custer has performed excellently in a part-time ride with JR Motorsports over the past two seasons, and he will thrive in a full-time role.
Other Bold Predictions:
- Ryan Blaney will perform superbly in his rookie campaign and will finish 17th in the championship standings.
- No Joe Gibbs Racing drivers will be injured in 2016.
- Darian Grubb will be named Kasey Kahne’s crew chief before the conclusion of the season.
Image: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images