With the 18th race of the season — Kentucky Speedway’s Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts — scheduled for Saturday night (July 9), I decided it was as good a time as any to check in on where I stood in terms of my preseason 2016 predictions (http://splashngo.lionelracing.com/articles/2016-predictions/).
Now, I don’t fancy myself a psychic or an expert for that matter, but I’m thrilled when I see one of my predictions come to fruition. A correct prediction validates my opinions and though there are very seldom people nearby to give a celebratory I do have to give myself a pat on the back.
Without further ado below are my previous predictions and their current status.
(Green = correctly predicted; Yellow = to be determined; Red = incorrectly predicted)
CHASE ELLIOTT WINS THE POLE FOR THE DAYTONA 500
When I wrote these predictions on February 9, I hoped five days later my first one would come true. Going off the basis that Danica Patrick, Austin Dillon and Jeff Gordon won the pole for the season-opening race in three of the four previous seasons, I had to choose Chase Elliott. There was one thing that Patrick, Dillon and Gordon all had going for them — they each had a unique and memorable story heading into the season. Elliott did too. He ended up winning the 21 Means 21 Pole Award with a fast lap of 196.314 mph.
TONY STEWART WINS ONE LAST RACE
I’ll be honest. I was a little worried about this one, especially once he continued to miss race after race due to injuries sustained after riding sand rails in January. He missed the first eight races of 2016, but in his eighth race back, he found Victory Lane at Sonoma Raceway. As the field was coming to the finish line, he bumped fellow competitor and former teammate Denny Hamlin into the outside wall to pass his for the win and the lead. With the win in hand, Stewart can compete in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in his final season in NASCAR’s premier series.
KEVIN HARVICK POSTS MOST RACE WINS
After 17 race wins, Kevin Harvick has one win (Phoenix), but he doesn’t have the most race wins. That honor is currently shared by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, both of whom have three wins. Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards are the only other drivers with multiple wins so far this season. There is, however, still plenty more of racing left.
FIVE NON-CHASERS FROM 2015 MAKE THE CHASE
If the Chase were to begin today, I would fall short of this prediction by one driver. I still think this is pretty darn good. The four drivers to make this list that weren’t on it last season include a former champion (Stewart), two rookies (Elliott and Ryan Blaney) and a driver at the wheel of perhaps one of the most famous cars in NASCAR history (Austin Dillon). They replace Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer. A word of warning: this will most likely change between now and the time the Chase field is set in stone following the September 10 race at Richmond.
TWO FIRST-TIME RACE WINNERS
Okay, so this hasn’t quite come to fruition yet, but it still could. There are several drivers on the list of those without wins in the premier series who have come close to getting their first. Among those drivers, Kyle Larson and Elliott are probably the first that come to mind. Other drivers still looking for their first win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series who were entered in the most recent race are Blaney, Patrick, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, Cole Whitt, David Gilliland, Michael Annett, Reed Sorenson, Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto, Brian Scott and Chris Buescher.
DANICA PATRICK POSTS BEST POINTS FINISH
After Saturday night’s race at Daytona, Patrick is currently ranked 26th. This time last year, she was ranked 20th and finished the season in 24th place. Currently, Patrick is only 18 points behind 23rd place with 19 races left. She has a little work ahead of her, but it’s definitely doable. There’s plenty of time. Come on, Danica! I know you can do it!
DALE EARNHARDT JR. WINS 14TH MOST POPULAR DRIVER AWARD
After winning the Most Popular Driver Award for 13 consecutive seasons, it’s hard to imagine anyone wrestling this away from Dale Earnhardt Jr. However, it’s not impossible. If Elliott or Patrick win a race or Stewart continues to win and Earnhardt doesn’t, it’s possible that one of them could usurp the North Carolina native from his lofty perch. I said it was possible, not likely.