One of the funniest things I've encountered since starting to write about this sport in 2001 is how readers and fans truly believe that with your license to write in NASCAR, you've automatically developed a side careerâ€¦as a psychic.
That's right. Whether it's asking me to pick your fantasy team for you, to deduce whether Budweiser will still be the primary sponsor for Dale, Jr. in 2012, or to say when Kentucky Speedway will be added to the Nextel Cup schedule (all real questions I've gotten in my email inbox this year), you readers can be a pretty crazy bunch sometimes.
Don't get me wrong; receiving those emails is definitely an honor, because I truly appreciate and respect that people will look to me to answer those types of questions about the future. I truly hate to burst that bubbleâ€¦butâ€¦ I'm going to let you in on a little secret. While I'd like to think I'm pretty knowledgeable about this sport, in terms of predicting the future, I'm no different than any Joe Schmo out there on the street with a crystal ball in front of Madame Tussaud's. My NASCAR fantasy team continually finishes at the bottom of the barrel in pretty much any league I try to participate in (I still blame it on a classic case of constantly overthinking my team to the point of picking too much on past history). I also have as much luck as predicting the winner of each race as winning the lottery; over at SI.com, I'm currently 4th out of 5 writers in the "pick the winner" standings this year.
But it's my yearlong predictions that truly take the cake. In the last off week of the Nextel Cup section, I thought it high time to sit back and share a few laughs with you all at my list of predictions for what would unfold in this sport back in February. It's truly memorableâ€¦for all the wrong reasons.
Rookie of the Year : February Prediction
I don’t think there’s any doubt Truex, Jr. is the overwhelming favorite here. Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin have the best chance at giving him a run for his money, but in the end, even subpar D.E.I. equipment won’t keep a star of the future from making his mark on the Nextel Cup Series, perhaps even with a race win to go along with the rookie trophy.
Whoops! Just a little off base on that one, to say the least. While Hamlin has two race wins already and is cruising in the Top 10 in points, Truex, Jr. has just two Top 10 finishes and is struggling to crack the Top 20 in the standings.
Biggest Surprise : February Prediction
Throughout all the hubbub of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon missing the 2005 Chase, people forgot how Joe Nemechek would have snuck into the Top 10, if not for a blown engine while leading at California last February. With solid, veteran MB2 teammates in Sterling Marlin and possibly even Bill Elliott in a reasonable part-time schedule, this could be the year “Front Row Joe” finally backs up his qualifying runs with tangible race results.
Well, I guess Nemechek has been a surpriseâ€¦for how badly he's been heading in the opposite direction. Part of the MB2 disaster of 2006, Nemechek has yet to finish in the Top 10 in any race this season, slumping to 30th in driver points and putting his team in danger of having to qualify on speed. Chased him right out of contention, didn't I?
Biggest Disappointment : February Prediction
There are a few rookies I could see ousted before the end of the year, but the veteran driver in the worst shape in my mind is Kevin Harvick. Although the circumstances may not be entirely his fault, his performance the past two seasons has not reflected his standing as RCR’s #1 driver, and with Toyota beckoning in 2007, a slow start may mean a new beginning for Harvick somewhere else, with an early release coming after Richmond in September.
Yeah, Toyota wishes they could have gotten their hands on Harvick. With a win at Phoenix and a spot in the Chase nearing lockdown status, Harvick only has to find me walking around the garage area and set me straight about how I abandoned ship on RCR so quickly and his "to do" list for the regular season will be all but completed.
2006 Champion : February Prediction
I’m going with a gut feeling more than anything, but at the end of last year, no one was running better than Carl Edwards. There are many things that scream out “sophomore slump,” but in a year where the title chase appears wide open, if Edwards has a storybook run to a Nextel Cup title, don’t be surprised.
Thanks a lot, Tony Stewart. Should have known "gut feelings" would make me stomach sickâ€¦
Biggest Problem of 2006 : February Prediction
Without question, the tires are the series’ biggest question mark. The race at Lowe’s last Fall was a debacle that left a black eye on the sport’s integrity and put NASCAR in a position in which they nearly (and should have) cancelled the event. Goodyear claims they have a better tire for the coming season, but with the current spoiler and tire rules, you have to be at least a little skeptical about how much they can actually improve the compound. Ever the optimist, I’m hoping for the best…but reality sings a different tune that problems will continue.
This one is actually the closest I came to a reasonable predictionâ€¦there are still some tracks, such as the abovementioned Lowe's, where tires continue to be a problem. However, harder and better compounds produced by Goodyear have made this a non-issue at other tracks, as we're seeing green flag pit stops again for the first time in ages. Looks like Goodyear is owed a "thank you" card from meâ€¦although I still can't quite get over all the races last year that they ruined. Maybe this Christmas, I'll get around to it.
So, as you can see, even the writers don't always get it right. There's a famous saying somewhere that the best kind of laughter is when you're able to laugh at yourselfâ€¦all I need to do is look at the computer screen for proof of that. For those readers who took my predictions to heart, backing it up with their checkbookâ€¦while I wish I could have served you better, but I hope you learned a lesson.
If I had the power to predict the future, I certainly wouldn't be doing this column, and neither would any of your other NASCAR writers out there. Of course, that doesn't mean we won't stop tryingâ€¦there's always the off chance I could actually get one of these things right someday.
Looks like that chance will have to wait for 2007.
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