Thursday, February 10, 2011

Whitney Richards' 2011 Championship Picks


Well, here we are with another season ready to start! After all the drama of last year, I’m ready to see how things play out this time around, especially with all the new rule changes being implemented for the 2011 season.

Last year, I made championship picks here on Skirts & Scuffs before the 2010 season started. In case you’ve forgotten who I picked, let me remind you. I had Kenseth as the Cup champion, Braun as Nationwide champion (Probably wasn’t the best idea to pick a rookie to win it, but hey, I had faith, but Braun just didn’t have the luck!), and Crafton as Truck champion. As you can see, I am terrible at predicting champions, but I'm going to try it again!

Sprint Cup Series: Matt Kenseth

Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
You read that right! I am once again picking Matt Kenseth to win the championship. Why? He proved once that consistency (even with just one win) can lead to a championship. Last season, he proved it can also lead to a decent finish in the points, even if he never really came close to winning the championship.

With six top-5 finishes, fifteen top-10 finishes, and no DNFs last season, Kenseth drove his No. 17 Ford to a 5th place finish in the 2010 standings. Sure, he didn’t win a single race, but just the fact he was fifth overall once the season ended says a lot. With the new points system in place, Kenseth and his team can definitely become championship contenders in 2011.

Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

David Griffin/David Griffin Photography

Here I go again, picking a young driver to win the Nationwide Series title. Last year it didn’t work out so well, but here’s to hoping I get it right this time!

Stenhouse entered last season as a contender for the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year. Despite the fact he did not run three races in 2010, he somehow made an impressive comeback and fought off a late season charge from Brian Scott to become yet another Roush Fenway Racing driver to earn top rookie honors. He earned three top-5 finishes, and eight top-10 finishes. His best race was undoubtedly the fall race at Texas Motor Speedway, during which he led an impressive 40 laps.

Last season, a new car was run in select Nationwide races, and the Daytona race in July was the first of those. Stenhouse had no problems adjusting to the new car, and went on to finish 3rd, earning his career-best finish.  For the other races the new car was run, he finished 13th (Michigan), 14th (Charlotte-fall), and 4th(Richmond-fall). For the 2011 season, the new car will be run every race. I see no reason why Stenhouse won’t be a front-runner this year since it seems he adjusted to the new car so quickly.

With the new rule that drivers can only pick one championship to run for, it seems the Nationwide regulars might finally break the streak of Cup drivers winning the championship. I look for the No. 6 Ford to be up front on many occasions in 2011. Many times last season, I heard spotter Mike Calinoff and crew chief Mike Kelley tell Stenhouse he “drove like a champion”, and this year, I truly believe he’ll not only drive like one, but he’ll become one.

Camping World Truck Series: Johnny Sauter

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
In 2009, Sauter won just one race (Vegas), finished 6th in the standings, and earned top rookie honors in the NCWTS with thirteen top-10 finishes and seven top-5’s. Just one year later, he won yet another race (Kansas) and was 3rd overall at the end of the 2010 season with sixteen top-10’s and fourteen top-5’s. Quite an impressive record for a driver who only has two full NCWTS seasons under his belt.

Last year, I had watched the NCWTS in hopes of finding a new favorite driver in that series since Colin Braun had moved to Nationwide. I watched maybe ¼ of the races last year. However, whenever I did watch, I found myself pulling for the No. 13 Chevrolet driven by Johnny Sauter. He seems like such an underdog, and I’m a big fan of underdogs.

I was watching the Martinsville race where Sauter and Ron Hornaday were bumping and banging fenders, and Sauter refused to back down. He won me over that race. I’ve always considered Hornaday to be a bit of a bully, and I was pleased to see Sauter hold his ground.

This year, if Sauter continues his impressive run in the NCWTS, he can make a run for the championship.

I can’t believe the end of the off season is finally in sight! I’d like to wish Kenseth, Stenhouse Jr., and Sauter the best of luck this season. I hope to see all three celebrating championships once the checkered flag flies at Homestead! Of course, I wish every driver in all three series the best of luck as well. It’s time to fasten those belts tight, and hold on for the ride! The 2011 season is shaping up to be one of the best ones yet!

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