During this NASCAR offseason – which many fans find excruciating long and puts them in dire need of a racing “fix” – we’ve all heard, seen or read plenty of pre-season predictions from media pundits.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. When there’s no actual racing it’s just natural to offer thoughts about what lies ahead for the sport and who will, or won’t, be winners and maybe title contenders.
There’s been so much of it I don’t think I’ll take the risk of boring you, not that I won’t anyway.
Instead, I’ll offer some quick opinions. No deep thinking here, just my initial impressions on random NASCAR issues and people.
Danica Patrick: I am pretty sure many fans are already tired over the amount of attention she’s getting, but, unfortunately for them, it’s only going to increase in 2012.
She’s back on the Nationwide circuit but what’s really going to put her name in the headlines is her first attempt at Sprint Cup competition.
She will run 10 races with a championship organization, Stewart Haas Racing, which, through its new association with Tommy Baldwin Racing, has already secured a starting spot for Patrick in the Daytona 500.
To some all of this has been a contrived gimmick to ensure Patrick participates in NASCAR’s most popular and prestigious race.
Well, not really. That aside, here’s what I surmise:
I think Patrick is going to be more competitive this season than most people currently think. She may be a marketing dynamo but no one should forget she has driving talent.
After all, that’s what got her here. And now it’s going to be nurtured by a high quality team.
Tony Stewart: There’s no reason to think he can’t win another championship. But I believe it’s going to be a bit harder for him to do so for two reasons:
If he makes the Chase but again is winless with 10 races to go, it would be a highly unlikely that he could win five of them once more – if that’s what he needs to do to repeat as champ. I think Stewart needs to improve his odds this year.
If he makes the Chase, at the very least he should not do so without a win to his credit.
It’s been proven over time that teams with stability and which have not undergone major changes tend to remain cohesive and repeat their successes.
Now that Patrick’s team has been added to the fold there’s a new challenge for Stewart Haas – in other words, there is more on Stewart’s plate.
This may not sound like a big deal, but how the team and Stewart deal with added responsibility, and potential problems, could play role in the season’s outcome.
Tommy Baldwin Racing: The team has been flying under the radar for a couple of seasons now, pigeon-holed by many, and I include myself, as a second-tier operation.
But the one-car organization was good enough to earn a spot among the top 35 in owner points last year. To me, that means it’s achieved more than we might have expected, for which it deserves credit.
It lured Stewart’s organization and the new association should provide Baldwin’s team with additional resources – which could make it even better.
That’s exactly what I think it will be in 2012.
Carl Edwards: I think it’s obvious that any driver who came as close to winning a championship as Edwards did last year should be listed as a contender in 2012. It’s only logical.
And he will be.
It’s also been said that since he lost the title to Stewart by the tiebreaker – Stewart had five wins to just one for Edwards – if the Roush Fenway driver grabs a few more victories in 2012 that will assure him a title.
Will it? Victories count for a lot but they only add punch to overall season performance.
In other words, Edwards needs to be at least as competitive as he was in 2011, when he had one more top-five finish and seven more among the top 10 than Stewart, for additional wins to assure him a title.
Can he do that? Sure. Will he? We don’t know that.
Which is why Edwards is, as far as the media is concerned, a marked man. Move over, Danica.
Jimmie Johnson: Simply put, to think that he, crew chief Chad Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports don’t have the wherewithal to rally and win a sixth championship is ridiculous.
Johnson’s No. 48 team has proven it’s the best at Hendrick, which, incidentally, is the top team in NASCAR. Why even think it can’t win another title?
Here’s my opinion: I think Johnson is not only after a sixth title, he and his team are also on a mission to win eight and break the record of seven held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt – and the sooner the better.
Kurt Busch: When he was with Penske Racing, a high-quality team, Busch never shied away from blasting the organization, via radio communication or even publicly, for what he perceived to be incompetence. He threw in some personal insults.
He did the same thing on television for all to see.
Now he is with Phoenix Racing and owner James Finch. The organization cannot match Penske resources. Which begs the question, how can Busch expect things to be better and therefore keep his mouth shut?
Finch is one of the most candid owners in the garage area. He’s straightforward and, from all evidence, is not a one to accept insubordination.
He’s already said that if Busch were a member of his team and behaved as he did in 2011, he would have his fanny kicked.
Which is why I think the Finch-Busch union will end badly.
Electronic Fuel Injection: Long overdue in NASCAR but I can understand the sanctioning body’s willingness to avoid it and keep racing as inexpensive, and simple, as possible.
But it was inevitable. Carburetors don’t exist in today’s passenger cars.
I don’t believe there will be any problem for the teams to adapt to EFI, nor do I believe it will adversely affect competition. It is, as they say, simply a matter of change – squirt, not suck.
But in 2012 there will be at least one incident where NASCAR punishes, or at least warns, a team or teams about abuse of EFI regulations to gain a competitive edge. Trust me on this one.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Quickly – He needs to win; he needs to have a breakout season. You’ve heard this before and you have heard it from me for the last time. I’m done. Honest.
I have a few more thoughts that I will divulge the next time around, which is in a couple of days. Hope you will bear with me. And always feel free to offer your opinions.