After the bite the economy took out of NASCAR?s premier developmental series, the K & N Pro Series (last year known as the Camping World Series), in 2009, 2010 will be a year of great change for both the East and West divisions. The story of this year overall will be the new faces we are going to see in 2010 ? some raw young talents you?ve likely never heard of, some descended from racing greatness, and some coming to NASCAR after open-wheel success. These young drivers will be forces to be reckoned with in the Pro Series this year, and look for at least one of the divisions to crown a champion younger than 21. Sadly, the economic turmoil and the resulting sea change in the competition level in the Pro Series will also likely leave several talented and older drivers in the dust. Don?t get me wrong ? at least one or two drivers from a family-owned team will find Victory Lane in 2010. But cracking the top-five in points will be hard to do.
Championship Battle: Returning from his 2009 rookie-turned-championship season, Ryan Truex may well be considered the prohibitive favorite to win it all again in 2010. He still has a lot to prove after a 2009 title that was mainly won on the bad luck of others and before he begins a part-time Nationwide Series schedule in late summer. Crew Chief Mike Greci will also be back, probably the biggest thing in Truex?s favor in 2010. But with the increased competition level in 2010, I am having trouble settling on Truex as my favorite to win the title. He?ll win one or two races, but I have him penciled in third on my pre-season tally. Instead, I?m predicting a championship battle between Brett Moffitt and one of two drivers from Revolution Racing, though I might have to wait a race or two to decide if Ryan Gifford or Sergio Pena will be Moffitt?s best competition. Revolution, headed by East Series driver-of-all-time Andy Santerre, will be going all out this season, entering four full-time teams. Pena seems the most likely to shine based off his performance in the Toyota All-Star Showdown and I?ll have him thus penciled in second on my pre-season sheet, but it was just one race after all and he is a rookie. Teammate Ryan Gifford was also very impressive in just four starts last season and could just as well end up where I have Pena. I expect both drivers to finish in the top-five. But that leaves Brett Moffitt as my championship pick. Do the math on this one: The youngest driver to win in series? history + a rookie season where he finished third + Joe Gibbs Racing = instant success. It won?t be a cakewalk, but I can easily see Moffitt winning three or four of the races this season and taking the title with a little room to spare. He is the real deal.
Rookies: I don?t think this site has enough bandwidth to allow me to fully explore the cream of rookie candidates. Drew Brannon (very talented youngster - http://thirdturn.wikia.com/wiki/Drew_Brannon) and Andrew Smith will race for Spraker Racing, Chili Bowl champ Cole Whitt will be with Team Red Bull, Zach Germain will drive for his family-owned powerhouse team, Joey Polewarczyk (highly underrated - http://thirdturn.wikia.com/wiki/Joe_Polewarczyk) and Columbian Julian Camilo Albarracin will split time for Fadden Racing, Ty Dillon will race for Richard Childress Racing, and Mackena Bell and Darrell Wallace, Jr. will also be joining the Revolution Racing juggernaut of afore-mentioned rookies Gifford and Pena.
Dillon is likely to have the most success due to driving for a well-funded Cup team and Cole Whitt could be a pleasant surprise as I think Red Bull Racing, while not being the best at developing talent, can sure identify it. I have already identified Gifford and Pena to win one race apiece in 2010, but I?m going to hedge my bets behind one of the others getting to win once during the season as well.
Also Worth Mentioning: Matt Kobyluck will be back in Victory Lane in 2010; he?s simply too damn good not to win again. But his reign at the top of this series is slipping due to the influx of Cup development teams and this year I can?t envision him going higher than 5th. Eddie MacDonald will likely be back for a full tour of duty in 2010, but his attempts to move up will likely mean split resources in 2010 and split results. Steve Park may not get to run full-time this year due to budget issues though teammate Derek Ramstrom (impressive the last two years in ACT Late Models) will probably get a shot at the full schedule due to potential. If Ramstrom does run, he will be a rookie. Jody Lavendar may or may not run full-time again in 2010 but this weekend?s race at Greenville-Pickens may be his only realistic chance to win in 2010.
Wild Card: The low number of races on the schedule this year. I wouldn?t panic too much about the future of this division, NASCAR is investing too much into the Pro Series to let it go the way of the Elite Division and I expect the number of races to match the West?s 13 in 2011. But that doesn?t change the fact that there are only 10 races in 2010. Just like the Chase, you can have a mulligan race and quite possibly two, but don?t expect three bad races to be overcome. Any championship contender who fails to finish two of the first three races in 2010 is toast.
Championship Battle: With 2009 titlist Jason Bowles leaving the series to pursue higher ambitions, one might say the 2010 championship battle is wide open. But that would pretty much be flat wrong. The 2010 championship battle will come down to a battle of talent between Bill McAnally Racing?s Eric Holmes and Paulie Harraka. Holmes, the 2006 and 2008 titlist of the series, has been nothing but phenomenal in his little-noticed racing career on the West Coast. He wins and wins often but does not race with the checkers-or-wreckers philosophy. Harraka, on the other hand, is a junior at Duke University coming off a solid rookie season that saw him win twice. Harraka, exceptionally well-liked in the NASCAR community, should continue to grow and, without the handful of rookie mistakes he had in 2009, will be there with Holmes down to the last race. I will give Holmes a tentative advantage, but if he wins by more than 50 points in 2010, I will be shocked. If you are looking for two non-McAnally drivers who could reasonably compete this year for the title I will gladly offer two choices though I don?t see either driver being able to make the run. David Mayhew is back in his #17 MMI Services Chevrolet after running second or third in the championship battle most of last year. If he throws his full efforts into the season title, he might just edge in on Holmes and Harraka, but his attention has been divided in the past between the series and making a run at a national ride. The dark horse candidate is the criminally-underrated Auggie Vidovich, who is teaming up with Team Cass Motorsports for ?10. Whether Cass and Vidovich will run full-time in 2010 has yet to be announced, but Vidovich is supremely talented and will be right in the thick of things if the funding holds out.
Rookies: While the rookie class for 2010 looks much more sparse on the West Series side than the East, there is no doubt that three rookie drivers will be factors in 2010. With Bowles gone, the beloved Bruncati family will be campaigning Luis Martinez, Jr. full-time and Josh Combs for a good majority of the races. Both have showed talent in the past, Combs looking especially good in the All-Star Showdown until a late-race wreck. While I can?t be sold on either one from what I?ve seen in the past, Bruncati is both a smart and dedicated car owner. One of these two drivers could well win a race in 2010. Young Mike Self is also joining the series in 2010. Driving for a team that has struggled to be consistent in the past few years (the #88 team owned by Jimmy Dick) will likely hurt Self?s odds of cracking the top-five in points but Self has the best record thus far of the three I?m favoring and could easily maneuver himself into at least two or three top-five race finishes in 2010.
Justin Funkhouser may also be making a run towards the Rookie title in 2010. Driving for Jack Sellers Racing will not make him a viable candidate for the crown, but I?ll still be watching him because who doesn?t like having the last name ?Funkhouser??
Also Worth Mentioning: Two drivers seem to be on the verge of their first win in 2010. Moses Smith is McAnally?s forgotten driver, talented but just never seemingly able to crack the realm teammates Harraka and Holmes sit in. But Smith could very well continue his steady improvement this year and win at least one race. Blake Koch is also on the edge after a solid rookie season. I think he?s less likely to pull it off than Smith simply because his Golden Gate Racing team has never been quite able to put together a complete race but Koch continues to impress and his recent run at the ARCA Road Course race in Florida might make him a first-time winner on one of the road courses.
Greg Pursley will also be back in 2010, though I don?t have him really winning a race. His team was the third-best team last year in almost every category. In order to win one race in 2010, he?s going to need some luck to take out dominant cars or else he?d better get used to a bunch of third-place finishes again in 2010. 65-year-old Jack Sellers will continue to be the series? oldest full-time competitor but another ?Really?!? return from 82-year-old Hershel McGriff, who ran well enough in the road course races in 2009, does not seem out of the question.
Wild Card: Three road course races are on the schedule for 2010. To this series in the past three years, the road courses have served the same purpose as the restrictor plate races in NASCAR Cup. Mechanical gremlins seem to grab at least three championship-contending teams each R.C. race, someone almost always ends up in the kitty litter after a late race battle for the lead, and a number of road course experts sneak their way into the top-five. A team that is going to win the West Series title in 2010 must finish in the top-ten at each R.C. race this season if not better.
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