With the new season beginning in just a matter of days, the time is now to take a stab at projecting the final point standings for the year with nothing to lose. This season seems to have more questions than answers in comparison to past years that I can remember. Whether it be the financial woes of almost half the Sprint Cup teams or around what time the stock cars will return to having a spoiler back on the car, it all appears to be a wait and see approach.
Here are my fearless predictions (mainly random guesses) for the 2010 Cup season. I think I may be better off drawing car numbers at random, but here it goes.
1. Carl Edwards: After what was an off-year by Edwards? standards, all major pieces are back in place for the Championship run. Despite having not won a race since 2008, I still can see Edwards being one of the few drivers able to compete week-in and week-out to try to stop Johnson?s run at 5 in a row.
2. Kyle Busch: The kid has so much talent that it is too hard to not put him up competing for the Cup even though he did not make the Chase last season. Paired with his Nationwide crew chief from last season, Dave Rogers, who led him to 9 wins and 30 Top 10 finishes in just 35 races.
3. Jimmie Johnson: No one said he could win 3 in a row, let alone 4, so I?ll say he won?t make it 5. I am very nervous that he will make me eat my own words though. In an era of the sport where competition at the top is at an all-time high, Johnson is defying the critics and doing what no driver has done before. The reign of Johnson has to end at some point and I will predict that he will be in it to the end, but coming up short by the time the checkered falls in Miami.
4. Jeff Gordon: Despite the back problems and everything else, Jeff Gordon has seemed to be a time tested mark of consistency. Since 2001, the 24 team has only found themselves outside of the Top 7 in points once. With all major pieces back from 2009, Gordon, like Johnson, has Championship #5 in his sights.
5. Tony Stewart: Going into his second full season as a driver/owner, expectations for the #14 team can only be met by improvement. The problem with that is that Stewart led the points at the start of the Chase and ended up finishing 6th in points overall. That does not leave much room for improvement. I imagine that Stewart will run similar to last year, maybe not as good of a start, with aspirations set for a more consistent run over the last 10 races.
6. Greg Biffle: Like Edwards, Biffle is winless since the 2008 season. Biffle, unlike the 5 projected above him, has shown a greater inconsistency in the final standings having made the Chase in only 3 of the past 6 seasons. When he has made the Chase he has shown to be a threat recording a 2nd(2005) and a 3rd(2008) place finish in the final standings.
7. Denny Hamlin: With 4 full-seasons in Cup and 4 Chase appearances it would be foolish to think anything would change for the 2010 season and the #11 team. Hamlin has proven to be a very talented driver over the few years in Cup, but has yet to show he has the mental stamina to survive a full season. After finishing 3rd his rookie season, Hamlin has followed that up with 12th, 8th, and 5th place results. The question will remain until he shows us different about whether or not he can maintain consistency throughout the entire Chase.
8. Jeff Burton: Going from 3 cars to 4 cars for RCR proved disastrous. The question is now, how will going from 4 cars back to 3 affect the organization? After 3 solid years and 3 Chase appearances, the 31 team found themselves on the outside looking in last season and ended up finishing 17th when all was said and done. I expect the 31 team to be back to old form, or get ready for some major changes at RCR yet again.
9. Matt Kenseth: As far as I believe this team is still working on trying to find full sponsorship for the team, having a few more than a half filled since DeWalt decided to leave the sport following the season. After a quick start to begin the year with two wins, the #17 team struggled home to a 14th place finish in the standings, a spot that he had not seen since his rookie year where he finished in the same spot.
10. Martin Truex Jr.: A new team could all that Truex needs to find success. Paired with Pat Tryson, Martin becomes teammates with the 00 and the 47(just an alliance), both of those teams exceeded expectations and allowing Waltrip to just have to worry about running the team could be a blessing in disguise. This is my one shot in the dark, we will have to wait and find out what happens, but hey I?m only guessing, why not take a gamble.
11. Kurt Busch: The question looming over the heads of the 2 team is what impact will Pat Tryson leaving have? Steve Addington stepping over from the 18 garage is not a bad thing though. Busch has been inconsistent from year to year in the past, but after their performance last season, they are aiming for the Cup.
12. Mark Martin: Last year?s Cinderella story, Mark may have missed his last chance at hoisting the big trophy in Miami. Signed for two more season, the Brett Favre of NASCAR, hope to build off of coming up just short in 2009, but will ultimately come up short yet again.
13. Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya was one of biggest surprises from 2009, contending into the Chase before coming up short with 3 races of 35th or worse in the last 6 races of the year. I hope Montoya makes the Chase, but I cannot bring myself to think EGR will give him good enough of a car on a weekly basis to do so.
14. Joey Logano: After flying up through the ranks, Logano hit a road bump in his first Cup campaign. Backed his way into a win at Loudon, but all that matters at the end of the day is the trophy and the check. The kid has talent, struggled to find a handle at first look for him to make a midseason run at the Chase but falling short.
15. Brian Vickers: Vickers found the momentum in the summer months collecting 7 Top 10?s in the 9 races leading up to the Chase. The problem was once he was in the Chase he failed to finish in the Top 10 altogether. The team can be very strong at times, but at other races it feels like they were not even at the track. Look for a solid year from the 83 bunch, just not as good as last year.
16. Sam Hornish Jr.: The only reason for the projection is the Montoya philosophy. Hornish is entering his third full season in Cup, the same season that Montoya started to find success. Penske equipment is good enough, the question is whether or not Hornish will continue to develop or end up on the same path as other open-wheel crossovers like Dario and Carpentier.
17. Kasey Kahne: A switch to Ford and Roush engines are the only changes for the team. I see Kahne having a year like Vickers, a few really good races and a bunch of mediocre ones. He will see victory lane this season, but will fail to perform on a consistent basis to land a good spot in the points.
18. Clint Bowyer: The change at RCR from 2008 to 2009 hurt Bowyer the most it seemed. Going back to three may help, the team remains the same. Unlike Burton, to me it seemed as though Bowyer was never a factor at all when he showed up to the racetrack. I am hoping for a complete turnaround at RCR but do not see the performance picking up outside of Burton.
19. Marcos Ambrose: After his first full season in Cup, Ambrose found himself in 18th in points. I project much of the same for him in 2010. I am not sure if Ambrose will find victory lane in 2010, but expect to see him with a couple Top 5?s and several Top 10?s, much like last season.
20. David Reutimann: A new teammate and an owner with fewer distractions would seem to be better for David in 2010, but I see a different outcome. He will still have a solid year but I imagine that he will become the second car in the organization now.
21. Kevin Harvick: After not being able to get out of his contract for 2010, Harvick returns to the 29 team with hopes of a better year. With most people looking at him to head to Stewart-Haas at the end of the year, will the silly season affect him negatively? I don?t think it will but I imagine more frustration for the whole 29 team since they have performed at a subpar level over the last couple years.
22. Ryan Newman: Started off great in 2009 but slowly tailed off as the season progressed. The team was a non-factor in the Chase and did not seem to have the ability to get hot when it mattered. The organization and driver are good enough to be successful, but I do not see the 39 bunch repeating their performance from last season.
23. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Can this be the year Jr. looks like a Champion or will he be more of the same. I see more of the same to be honest. Only one Top 10 finish in points in the last 5 years, Jr. will need to prove he can go out and win on a regular basis in order to get the critics off his back.
24. Regan Smith: When they showed up last year they qualified and ran well. Now planning on running the whole season and being locked into the first 5 races is a good start for Furniture Row Racing. Now they need to prepare the cars on a regular basis and show what this one car operation really can do.
25. Jamie McMurray: New team for Jamie after his ride closed down following last season. I expect much of the same for Jamie. After taking Sterling Marlin?s place for the last few races of the year, Jamie has failed to meet expectations. He has found victory lane on a couple occasions at Talladega and Daytona, but those races have more to do with being in the right place at the right time.
26. Bobby Labonte: After moving over from Hall of Fame Racing (which I believed has closed its doors) Labonte hopes to run competitively. The 71 has a sponsor for the start of the year but I think it may be harder and harder for this team as the season progresses. I am basing my prediction on this team not having to start and park; if they have to resort to those means then the 71 will finish much lower in the standings.
27. David Ragan: Ragan enters the season on the hot seat. Unfortunately for Ragan, I do not see much promise in the 6 team this season over last. Ragan struggled to find the Top 10, something he did so easily in 2008. Look for more of the same in 2010.
28. Brad Keselowski: The kid has talent. He also has a temper and is already starting to get an ego. That is not always a bad thing, but in Brad?s case I do not think it will help much. He has already angered several drivers in the Cup garage and expects to be treated like a veteran, something he has yet to prove.
29. AJ Allmendinger: Moving from the 44 to the 43 car in the offseason, AJ has shown he has some talent. The problem is when the hauler pulls into the garage Thursday afternoons, it is unsure whether he will have the car to compete with the rest. Some weeks he is a Top 15 car, other races he is fighting to stay on the lead lap by lap 30. I just do not have much faith in RPM as a whole going into this season.
30. Elliott Sadler: Continuing on RPM failing to meet expectations, that brings me to Elliott Sadler. Somehow he still has the ride in Cup, after having some success earlier in his career, Sadler has not cracked the Top 20 in points each of the last 4 seasons.
31. 38 Front Row Team: David Gilliland is scheduled to run around 30 races in the car, with Robert Richardson Jr. running the plate races and Andretti stepping in a couple times to complete the season. I see this team being the most competitive, at least with Gilliland behind the wheel.
32. Scott Speed: Not locked in the Top 35 for the first 5 races may hurt Scott at the start of the year. Unless Speed turns it around from last year, I find it hard to imagine him in the car come 2011.
33. 34 Front Row Team: Travis Kvapil will run almost the whole schedule with Andretti running the 500. I see this team doing much of the same from last year, fighting for the 35th spot in points.
34. Paul Menard: Same number, same sponsor, only change is that it an RPM Ford this year. If he did not have the sponsor he would not be in Cup, but he does have it so you cannot fault of team for giving him a car.
35. RGM/BAM Racing: There is an alliance between the two teams and they plan on having one car at the track every weekend. That is why I combined them. I expect it to run much like the 7 car did last year.
36. 37 Front Row Team: Kevin Conway has a sponsor and will run almost the whole schedule (not cleared for plate races yet). Surprisingly he is the front runner for Rookie of the Year; I will leave it at that.
37. Terry Cook: New team with the number 46. Do not know much other than they intend on a full season and to challenge Conway for ROTY.
38. Aric Almirola: It is unclear of the sponsorship for this team and would likely turn to start and park if not properly funded.
39. 26 Team: In the first 5 races with Boris Said, after that it is unclear. The ?success? of this team depends on sponsorship after Bristol.
40. Mike Bliss: Running TBR #36, have a sponsor for half the season, Bliss will be trying to qualify on time for much of the year.
41. Dave Blaney: The 66 is back. When they make the race on time, they will be back in the garage by lap 30.
42. Michael McDowell: Teammate to the 66, I expect the same as the 66.
43. Joe Nemechek: I imagine the same as last year; start and park most weeks.
44. Casey Mears: Intends a full schedule in the #90 car, we?ll see how that plays out.
I will be shocked if any of the drivers actually finish where I say they will, but you cannot be right if you do not guess, right.
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