Rebecca Kivak's 2011 Championship Picks

As all eyes turn to Daytona, it's that time of year to make my predictions as to who win the title in each of NASCAR's top three series in 2011, with little more to go on than my own observations and gut feelings.

But before I tell you my picks for this year, here's how my picks for 2010 turned out. I was two for three: Jimmie Johnson in Sprint Cup and Brad Keselowski in Nationwide sealed the deal, while Matt Crafton finished the Camping World Truck Series season fourth in points. All in all, not bad.

With a new year upon us, however, the slate is wiped clean. In addition, NASCAR has made several changes in the sport, including a new points system, provision to the Chase, qualifying procedure, the switch to an ethanol fuel mixture, a new nose for the Sprint Cup racecar and a new model of car for the Nationwide Series, adding quite a few unknowns to the season at hand.

With all this in mind, it's time to break out the crystal ball and tell you who my picks are for the 2011 NASCAR season.


While five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson might be considered the safe bet, I see it a bit differently because the streak has to end at some point. But with that being said, I don't think Johnson's reign will end this year.

When I look back at all the changes that NASCAR has implemented in the last few years, only one team stands out as being able to adapt to whatever is thrown at them: Johnson and the No. 48 team. Throughout his five championships, Johnson has been victorious with the old car and the COT, both with the wing and the spoiler. He has excelled despite various changes in the Chase, including increasing the field from 10 to 12 drivers and the reshuffling of the points based on bonus points for race wins. I've never seen a team readily adjust to so many changes the way the No. 48 has. With that kind of track record, I expect Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus to adapt to the changes in place for this year, including the new points system.

We know Johnson and the No. 48 have the Chase figured out, but last year wasn't Johnson's best, with a rough stretch of summer races, pit crew issues and just one win in the 10-race playoffs. But when the chips were down, Johnson showed why he is a five-champ: never losing focus, he kept his eyes on the prize and time after time raced to make up spots lost on pit road, which made all the difference at Homestead. It's also this unwavering focus that makes me think we'll see Johnson hoisting a sixth trophy at the end of the season.

Johnson and his team have found the right balance of consistency and wins to keep claiming the championship. But as other teams appear to be catching up, keep your eye on Carl Edwards. I was impressed with how Edwards improved throughout 2010 to finish off the year with a pair of wins, and I expect him to be a contender for the title in 2011.


With the one-series title rule now in effect, one thing we know for sure is that it won't be a full-time Cup driver winning the Nationwide Series championship, a streak that had been in place since 2006. This opens up opportunities for many Nationwide regulars who previously didn't have a realistic shot of besting a Cup driver for the title.

While former Cup driver Elliott Sadler seems to be the front-runner for the championship, I predict this will be Justin Allgaier's time to shine. The only Nationwide regular to win a race last year, Allgaier finished the 2010 season fourth in points, the highest-ranking Nationwide-only driver (sandwiched in between six Cup drivers). Allgaier was 2009's Rookie of the Year, finishing sixth in the standings. It appeared the 24-year-old Illinois native was being groomed to be the future face of Penske Racing, but a lack of sponsorship for 2011 forced the team to let the talented driver go.

Penske's loss will be Turner Motorsports' gain as Allgaier joins the organization this year, stepping behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet. The team, which purchased Braun Racing last year, will receive engines from powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports and technical support from Kevin Harvick Inc. This can only benefit the team - and Allgaier - as it transitions to the first full season with the new Nationwide car.

Allgaier has shown he has the ability to run upfront with the Cup guys, including his 2010 championship-winning teammate Brad Keselowski. Also working in his favor is that Allgaier will be paired with veteran crew chief Jimmy Elledge. Allgaier's talent, coupled with good equipment and alliances with top teams, will put him in position to win races - and the championship.

Though he'll have to battle more experienced drivers like Sadler and Aric Almirola for the title, it'll be Allgaier who brings the Nationwide Series trophy back home to a series regular.


Ron Hornaday Jr. had a dismal 2010 season, full of bad luck and quite a few wrecked racecars. Why am I picking him for 2011 Truck Series champion, then? Well, with four titles under his belt, Hornaday knows how to get it done. He returns this year with Kevin Harvick Inc., one of the premier teams in the Truck Series, with whom Hornaday won two of his titles.

When crew chief Rick Ren left KHI after 2009's championship season, I predicted that Hornaday would be vulnerable in 2010, and even I didn't know then how true those words would be. Hornaday was plagued with bad luck, collecting six DNFs that put an end to some good runs during the season. He also went threw a few crew chiefs on his way to a disappointing seventh-place points finish.

I think things will turn around for Hornaday with the hiring of Jeff Hensley, a veteran crew chief with more than 30 years of experience to bring to the table. Hornaday also has a history of winning titles after failing to contend the year before, most recently when he claimed his third championship in 2007 after finishing seventh in points in 2006.

We could see a really good championship battle in the Truck Series this year, as I expect reigning two-time champion Todd Bodine and 2010 Rookie of the Year Austin Dillon to pull out the stops. But as long as Hornaday can ward off the bad luck that followed him last year, we will see history made in the Truck Series as he claims his fifth title.
Rebecca Kivak's 2011 Championship Picks Rebecca Kivak's 2011 Championship Picks Reviewed by Admin on Saturday, February 12, 2011 Rating: 5