I am starting to think that the majority of writers, bloggers, and armchair crew chiefs have started smoking something this off-season. Everywhere I turn, people are saying that Edwards is the odds-on favorite to win the championship this year. And most cite his “stellar” run to end the season last year.
Huh? Someone correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t there someone that had a more stellar run to end the season than Edwards? I seem to remember that Edwards was not seated on the stage during the awards banquet in New York last year, but rather there was someone else up there. Then again, maybe it is me that has inhaled something inappropriate because I could have sworn that Jimmie Johnson had the more stellar run to end the season.
Yet, most people say that it is Edwards’ title to lose this year. I don’t get it. OK, maybe I do get it. I am starting to believe that a lot of what we see when these writers prognosticate is simply what their desires are. I get it. People don’t normally like a dynasty. And that is exactly what the 48 team has emerged as – a true dynasty.
The funniest part of the whole thing is that Johnson has won three consecutive titles and is bringing back his championship team mostly intact. Where is the chink in the armor? Do people just think that since he won three in a row that the odds MUST be against him? One thing that I have learned is that you cannot count those guys out – ever; especially with a Chase format and Chase tracks that they have dominated over the last few years.
I am not taking anything away from Carl Edwards. Although he’s a bit two-faced with his, “Aw, shucks” attitude on-camera and fits of temper and fighting off-camera, he is an amazing talent and has a determination that is obvious to all NASCAR fans. He has the looks. He has the charisma. And although Johnson does not exude that type of characterization (my mother would argue about the looks comment – she loves her some Jimmie Johnson), he consistently shows up and gets it done on the track. The results cannot be disputed. Now that I mention it, “consistency” is the best word to describe the 48 team. And until they lose that consistency or stumble in some way, they are the ones that are the odds-on favorite to win it again. With the team returning intact, everyone else is running for second place unless Johnson and Company make a huge mistake during the Chase and give it away.
Predictions for 2009
Here is where I see the final standings ending the year:
10. Kasey Kahne – Kasey will return to better form this year and show more consistency with the newly-merged team. Look for a couple of wins from him as well during the season.
9. Tony Stewart – I really have mixed emotions about this because of how owner/drivers have fared in times past. However, Tony is an amazing talent and with the capable Darian Grubb on the pit box and Hendrick power under the hood, I think they will win this year.
8. David Ragan – Ragan showed us during the second half of the season that he is ready for primetime. Look for these guys to running up front a lot more this year.
7. Mark Martin – Martin’s last hurrah will be a good one, but he will not get that evasive championship this year. The eternal pessimist does have a reason to be positive this year, though. He seems to have fit right in with his Hendrick teammates, and although he has a lot to offer, he will also learn a lot from some proven winners in that stable and the results will show on the track.
6. Jeff Gordon – The Drive for Five will fall short again this year, but Gordon will break his winless streak. If he starts off slow, look for Steve Letart to get replaced; even though we have been told that won’t happen. We have also been told that Ray Evernham could back and help the team in some capacity other than crew chief. If Gordon can’t find the magic, look for that “non-crew chief” promise to possibly be broken, as well. I’m not saying anything, I’m just saying…
5. Carl Edwards – Edwards will have a good season, but not a great season like last year. He could fill all the other writers’ expectations (or wishes) and win it all, but they showed too much inconsistency in the Chase last year, in my humble opinion.
4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior had a good first half of the season last year. He may be the most underrated driver in NASCAR today. Yes, he is extremely popular, but although he got into the sport on his dad’s coattails, he has proven time and again that he is one of the best out there and that he deserves to be where he is because of his ability and regardless of his heritage.
3. Greg Biffle – The Biff gets overlooked a lot in the Roush stable, but I believe he is the best driver they have. They have a better-than-average chance of winning the Championship this year and returning Jack Roush to Champion’s Table at the banquet in December.
2. Kevin Harvick – Harvick has become one of the top drivers in the sport. He has everything he needs to win it all this year – equipment, a great crew chief, and the resources of RCR; not to mention an owner in Richard Childress that is hungry to put another championship notch in his belt. If the 48 team falters, this will be your champion this year.
1. Jimmie Johnson – If you read my article above, you know why I picked him. The fourth in a row is his to lose and someone is going to have to pull a “Jimmie Johnson” in the last ten races to rip it from their hands. As that great philosopher and pro wrestler – Rick Flair – used to say, “If you want to BE the man, you gotta BEAT the man.”
Sleepers – AJ Allmendinger is poised to have a great season. A lot will hinge on how well he does in the first few races to secure a spot in the top 35. But I think this guy is extremely talented and learned a lot about these cars last year. When he stepped into the 10 car last year, he took that program up another notch.
Disappointments – Casey Mears will remain mired in the 20’s in the standings. He is such a likeable guy, but just has not been able to perform in NASCAR’s top levels. He had some of the best equipment on the track last year and was mediocre at best. Unless the problem was indeed the driver/crew chief relationship as many surmised, look for more of the same.
Bobby Labonte – I don’t know of any NASCAR fan that dislikes him. I wish that he could have found a ride with a good team so that he could have a chance of winning some races as his career is winding down. I believe he still has some fire left in him, but the team he has joined has never left the ground. Labonte could help change that, but this sport is not a one-man show.
Once again, please remember to pray for our troops in harm’s way. And pray for our leaders in Washington – they need it badly. Thanks for reading and God bless!