The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series kicks off with the 59th running of the Great American Race on February 26th. Fans and the media always think they know what is going to happen each year, but the NASCAR season never plays out as planned.
Here are 10 bold predictions that I think “may” occur during the 2017 NASCAR season…
1. Kyle Busch Wins Daytona 500
Kyle Busch has done everything in NASCAR except win the Daytona 500. That could change this year. Busch has always been one of the best drivers on the Superspeedways but sometimes he gets too aggressive. Last year we saw a new Rowdy Busch on the plate tracks.
Joe Gibbs Racing (and Martin Truex Jr.) used the strategy of lining up at the front of the pack and played follow the leader for most of the 2016 Daytona 500. Their strategy worked as Denny Hamlin won the race, Truex was second and Busch finished third.
The new Stage format in NASCAR gives Joe Gibbs Racing even more incentive to form a line at the front of the Daytona 500 and not move the entire race. This is boring for fans but it will score them a lot of points in each Stage. Last year Busch raced in the middle of the pack of Toyotas. This year I expect him to lead the team to Victory Lane.
2. Joey Logano Wins MENCS Championship
Joey Logano made it to the Final Four of the Chase the past two seasons. In 2015 he was running up front at Homestead when his jackman dropped the jack and the team lost a lot of time in the pits. Last year he looked like the favorite to win when Carl Edwards decided to “make a racing move” that put both drivers behind the wall.
I think the third time’s a charm for Logano. He is good at every type of track and Logano is starting to mature as a driver. The new Stage format of racing should play into the hands of Team Penske this season. No team uses strategy as well as the No. 2 and No. 22 cars each race.
We do not know what the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy will look like yet, but I do think Logano will be the driver holding it up at Homestead.
3. Carl Edwards Races in 2017
Raise your hand if you were not shocked to see Carl Edwards announce his retirement. I am sure there were no hands in the air.
Edwards has always done things his own way in the sport. He shocked everyone when he decided to retire. He may continue to do things his own way and announce that he is coming back.
If Edwards were to return in 2017 it would probably be to fill in for an injured driver or to compete in an Xfinity Series race. The new rule which restricts the number of times a Cup driver can compete in the Xfinity Series may open some seat time at Joe Gibbs Racing in the lower series. Maybe if Coach were to make the call, Edwards would answer the phone.
4. Kyle Larson Makes Final Four at Homestead
The one driver that the field does not want to see make it to the Final Four at Homestead is Kyle Larson. The best way to turn fast laps at the track is to ride around the wall. No driver does it better than Larson. Last year he led 132 of the 268 laps before finishing second to Jimmie Johnson.
Larson was paired with crew chief Chad Johnston last year and it took nearly half the season for the combination to figure each other out. Larson started to finish up front each week once he was able to communicate what he wanted in the car and Johnston was able to give it to him.
This could be a breakout season for Larson and if it is, he will be tough to beat in the Final Four at Homestead.
5. Ford Wins the Manufacturer Championship
The Manufacturer Championship is the make of car (Toyota, Ford or Chevy) that scores the most points during the season. NASCAR awards points for the highest finishing position of each manufacturer (1st-place earns 40 points, 2nd-place 39 and so on), three bonus points for winning the race and one bonus point for leading a lap. The scores are added up at the end of the season and the Manufacturer trophy is awarded.
Last year Toyota took home the trophy for the first time. Chevy won the trophy the previous 13 seasons.
The addition of Stewart-Haas Racing gives Ford a chance to win the title for the first time since 2002. Ford has the best simulator program in the sport. This should help Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick in 2017. Last year Ford won eight races. I would not be surprised to see that number climb to 12 -15 this season.
6. Kasey Kahne Ends Winless Drought
It has been 84 races since Kasey Kahne made a trip to Victory Lane (Atlanta in 2014). He has 17 career wins so it is not like he has never won a race before. This is a Bold Prediction because of the length of time since the No. 5 car took the checkered flag.
Kahne ended the 2016 racing as well as he had in a long time. Kahne finish seven of the last 12 races in the top 10, including a third-place finish at Charlotte. If Hendrick Motorsports has as much speed in 2017 as they did at the end of the 2016 season, Kahne should be in a position to win. I think it could happen at Charlotte. He has four wins at that track.
7. Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez Make the Playoffs
Last year two rookie drivers made the Playoffs. Could it happen two years in a row? I think the chances of Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez making the Playoffs are higher than they are of them both missing the Playoffs.
Both of these drivers have a lot of talent, but this prediction has a lot more to do with their car than it does their talent. Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing are two of the top teams in the sport. Each week these young drivers will be provided a car with a lot more speed than most of their competition.
Last year Chris Buescher won a race to make the Playoffs. If Jones and Suarez are to make the Playoffs in 2017 it will likely be on points and not from winning a race.
8. More Drivers Miss Races Because of Injury
Athletes missing a game because of an injury are common in every sport except NASCAR. Driver always did whatever it takes to stay in the car even if they were injured. Some drivers were afraid to let another driver behind the wheel because the new driver may perform better behind the wheel.
NASCAR changed last year when Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided to get out of the No. 88 car because of an injury. Earnhardt put his health over his career and many of the drivers in the garage took notice.
This could be the first season where we see multiple drivers miss track time because of an injury. NASCAR wants to be like stick and ball sports so bad, maybe we will see drivers listed as Probable, Questionable or Out in the near future.
9. Matt Kenseth Announces His Retirement
It was surprising to see Carl Edwards announce his retirement. Most people would not be surprised if Kenseth announced he was hanging up his helmet.
Kenseth turns 45 years old this season and his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing expires in November. Will JGR be willing to resign a driver past his prime with so many young drivers (Erik Jones and Matt Tifft) waiting for their chance with the team?
I doubt Kenseth wants to race for a team that does not give him a chance to win each week. If he does not resign with JGR his retirement announcement should be coming soon.
10. Hendrick Motorsports Announces Kyle Larson Will Drive the No. 5 Car in 2018
A lot of behind the scenes work would need to be done in order for Larson to fill the seat of the No. 5 car at Hendrick Motorsports, but stranger things have happened before. I will admit, this is more of a “wish” than a prediction. Could you imagine Hendrick Motorsports with two veteran drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson) and two of the best young drivers in the sport (Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson)? This would definitely put Hendrick Motorsports near the top of the sport again.
Kasey Kahne (driver of the No. 5 car) has a contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2018 season. Larson’s contract with Chip Ganassi Racing ends after this season. HMS would have to buy out the contract of Kahne and throw a lot of money at Larson to bring him to their organization. It is not like Mr. Hendricks is hurting for money though.
If this switch were to take place, it would be a major boost to Larson’s stock in NASCAR.
Do you have a Bold Prediction for the 2017 Season? Let me know on Twitter: @MrFantasyNASCAR