Thursday, February 17, 2011

Predictions: Who's going to win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series Championships?

Welcome readers to the part two of my predictions series. Today I will be focusing on the run for the Cup Series, Nationwide and Trucks Series championships in 2011. Earlier this year before going to Daytona, NASCAR made two changes that in my opinion will have a major impact on all three national series championships.

First NASCAR introduced the new points system which is simply put a 1 point per position points system with bonus points for winning the race, leading a lap and leading the most laps.

But it’s the second change that is going to make a bigger impact on the championship. NASCAR has made a rule that a Drivers can only run for one championship. At the beginning of 2011 on each driver’s licenses, each driver must declare which championship they will be completing for. So that means that none of the Cup Series drivers can win the lower series championship unless they aren’t running for the Cup Series championship like Travis Kvapil is. Yes Kvapil is running for the Truck Series championship, not the Cup Series championship.

Predictions for the Cup Series Championship: Right now, I see 15-17 drivers who have a good shot at making the chase and contending for the Cup Series championship. However I am predicting that the wild card spots will play a big role for at least one spot in the chase. I’m predicting these 10 drivers will make the chase (without use of the wildcard spots) in no particular order: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, and Mark Martin.

Yes I added Mark Martin in the top 10. Martin enters 2011 with a new crew chief and one last chance in the #5 ride to win the championship.

The wild card spot will have 5 drivers going for 2 spots either by wins or points: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle. I’m thinking that Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make the chase, while the rest including Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman will not make the chase due to no wins in the regular season.

I believe that wins will play a big role and for Dale Earnhardt Jr. with his new crew chief, that will be the combination he needs to win a race or two (particular at either Talladega or Daytona) in the regular season and propel him into the chase. 

I like the fact that the wild card spots could play that big role that NASCAR is really looking for, it makes wins in the regular season (first 26 races) worth more, especially worth more than 48 points.

Predictions for the Nationwide Series championships: With the changes NASCAR made, the Nationwide Series will see two different championship winners namely one drivers champion and one different owners championship considering a few cup series are racing almost full time or full time in the series in 2011.

In the Driver’s championship, the top 5 front runners are Aric Alminola, Elliott Sadler, Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, and Steven Wallace. All five drivers have a good shot at winning, but to narrow it down even more, I would say come the end of the season; it will be Alminola for JR Motorsports, Sadler for KHI and Allgaier for Turner Motorsports heading down to the wire for the championship.

I like the fact that Aric Alminola finally has a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series and he can prove himelf. But it’s Elliott Sadler that I’m most interested in seeing win races and complete for the NNS championship. Sadler is a good driver and with KHI equipment, this is his chance to be a contender on a weekly basis. As for Trevor Bayne, this kid has a bright future in both the Nationwide and Cup Series, but 2011 will a question mark, at least for a little while.

As for the Owner’s championship, unless something big happens, it will be Penske Racing vs. Roush-Fenway Racing vs. JGR for the title as it was in 2010 with mainly Cup Series regulars in the drivers seat, yeah sad isn’t it. Of course I like the idea of having a few Cup Series drivers in each race, but right now it has gotten out of hand, and it’s not entertaining.

Predictions for the Truck Series Championship: As in the Nationwide Series, the Truck Series looks to have two different champions as well, one driver’s and one owner’s. On the Owner’s side, Kyle Busch Motorsports is running for the Owner’s Championship and they will be a hard team to beat. However it will be harder for KBM to win then in the Nationwide Series.

In the driver’s championship, the top 5 drivers have to include the normal suspects including Todd Bodine providing he has sponsorship for the entire season, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Matt Crafton. All three drivers have found success in 2010 and will contend in 2011. In addition for 2011, I would add Austin Dillon especially with a few wins in 2010, and Johnny Sauter. A wild card entry would be Travis Kvapil. Kvapil is a classic example of running two season, but running for only one championship and that’s in the Truck Series in the #5.

I didn’t include Mike Skinner because he only has a ride for Daytona, not the full-season as of writing this article.

Closing thoughts: I believe that the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series championship chase will be a good one to watch especially when you have a good 16 drivers in the hunt not even counting a few others wild cards. However even with the new rule changes in the two lower series (namely the Nationwide Series and the Truck Series) where drivers can only run for one championship, I’m still concerned that it simply wouldn’t be enough to keep the racing on a completive level that they need to be and not just a bunch of Cup Series regulars going at it two or three times a weekend in two-three different races.

I believe that 2011 should be a learning experience for NASCAR, drivers, teams and more to find out what both series needs to survivor especially in this economy. But 30 teams are committed in the Truck Series as well as the Mustang and the Challenger are now completing the Nationwide Series is a good start.

But maybe NASCAR should consider one lower series and one elite series in the future, of course that would merge the Nationwide Series and the Truck Series, of course that’s my opinion and not NASCAR’s. I know one thing, changes still need to be made in all three series, but the state of NASCAR is strong.