Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Predictions: Who's going to be 2011's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wild card drivers?

Welcome readers, as the Daytona 500 is in the record books with rookie Trevor Bayne winning in his second career Cup Series start, today in part-four of my prediction series, I’m discussing what I call the wild card drivers. Now when I say wild card drivers I don’t mean the normal cast of suspects like Busch Brothers, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon or anyone else typically inside the top 10 in points.

No, I’m looking at the drivers outside the top 12 or even outside the top 20. These drivers can be rookies, a driver that can be a breakout star, or somebody that maybe the telecasts don’t really talk about as well as a few drivers that have been out of the spot light. So here are six drivers or teams that I’m looking to have a good year for whatever reason. And of course two driver’s that are in one way or another, a make it or break year.

But as you read this, keep in mind that I have had this article and series in my head for the past few months now and I was going off of pre-2011 results. With that said, here we go:

1. Red Bull Racing’s #4-Kasey Kahne. Kahne comes into 2011 in an interesting position or what the NASCAR SPEED media is calling “One and Done”. You see Kahne will be racing at Red Bull Racing in 2011 and then moving onto Hendrick Motorsports to drive the #5 Impala SS. But I don’t expect Kahne to stand still, no he’s going to be racing hard in the #4 Red Bull Toyota for race wins and trying to make the chase come Richmond. I see Kahne having a good year with two race wins for this credit and then possibly leaving Red Bull Racing at the end of the season. However part of me still believes that Red Bull Racing will move the Chevrolet’s in 2012 and Kahne will stay at Red Bull with Hendrick Support.

2. RPM’s #9-Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose comes into 2011 in a good position. He moves to the new Richard Petty Motorsports with Roush-Fenway Racing support and Yates Engines. With “The King” as his car owner and RFR equipment, plus the financial mess behind them, I look for Ambrose to pickup his first victory in 2011 in the Cup Series. And I’m not just thinking at a road course like Sonoma or Watkins Glen, but on an oval track. Ambrose knows how to drive a racecar and with good equipment, he can win races. But I don’t see him making the chase until at least 2012.

3. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne running for the Wood Brothers: Damn, one driver of the breakout stars that has caught my eye has to be Trevor Bayne and yes well before the Daytona 500. As a matter of fact, Bayne caught my eye last year in the Nationwide Series. The SPEED announcers said it the best, when a 4x time Cup Series Champion, Jeff Gordon wants to work with you in drafting during the Daytona 500, you know you’ve done something especially being a rookie. I don’t know why Michael Waltrip send Bayne packing last year, but it already turned out to be a blessing for him considering he is now in RFR equipment and having the Wood Brothers behind him. Plus I also see Bayne contending for the Nationwide Series drivers championship in 2011. This should be a good for Trevor Bayne, he is a one to watch.

4. #2-Brad Keselowski isn’t new to me, I became of fan of his three years ago when he started driving for JR Motorsports. This kid has talent and one of the best things going for him is the fact that he’s not afraid to hold his group with any driver including a dirty driver Kyle Busch. But even more, for 2011 Keselowski steps up to the big leagues after winning the 2010 Nationwide Series Drivers Championship as he will drive the iconic #2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing, a car that was once driven by one of my favorite drivers Rusty Wallace. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Keselowski in the top 20 in points at the end of 2011 and having a race win.

5. Martin Truex Jr.: I would have thought that with a new crew chief and driving for MWR, Truex would have been higher up in the standings and be contending for wins regularly in 2010, but that simply wasn’t the case. I really don’t know what to think of Truex Jr. heading into 2011, but this is a year for him to shine. The chemistry between driver and chew chief has had time to gel, the equipment is TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and the tools are there, now all he needs is some luck and he’s right there for top 10 finishes every week.

6. Speaking of MWR, every year there is one driver that is a favorite in the garage area and that would be David Reutimann. Last year, Reutimann made headlines by not only winning a race at Chicagoland, but ended up doing something that no other driver had done. He put Kyle Busch into his place by putting Busch into the outside wall in a weird way at Kansas. I still didn’t get that move, but it sure sent a message that you shouldn’t push Reutimann around, otherwise me might just give you something in return. But for 2011, I see nothing less out of Reutimann then another race win and a good guy.

7. If there is one driver that is in a make it or break it year, it has to be David Regan. A few years ago Regan was a breakout star that narrowly missed making the chase by a few points and having a Nationwide Series win. But since then, Regan has had nothing but bad luck and if the #6-David Regan on Roush-Fenway Racing can’t turn it around, I don’t see him in for 2012. But even more, I don’t see anything to say that we will see a comeback for Regan neither and hate to say that, maybe the team just isn’t what he needs, I don’t know. But you never know, anything can happen especially in NASCAR.

8. And finally and sorry to say, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in a make it or break it year and if the crew chief swap, if Dale Jr. doesn’t show improvement, Hendrick should consider letting him go.

Final lap: Simply put, for my readers, do you have any drivers you’re watching in 2011 that could be a breakout star or a wild card driver?