Skirts and Scuffs Predictions: Rebecca Kivak chooses the champs

With the 2012 NASCAR season sneaking up upon us, it’s time to break out the crystal ball and make my predictions as to who will win the championships in the top three series. While last year was full of rule changes, this year is full of driver, crew chief and other crew changes, making this year’s picks even more difficult (but fun) to make.

Last year I was 0 for 3 in my picks (Jimmie Johnson for Sprint Cup, Justin Allgaier for Nationwide and Ron Hornaday Jr. for the Camping World Truck Series). I’m polishing my crystal ball to make sure it’s clearer this time around!

As we get ready to hear the engines roar back to life at Daytona, here are my predictions for who’ll be hoisting the championship trophies in Homestead-Miami, as well as first-time winners in each series.


After finishing third in the Sprint Cup standings the last two years, the third time will be the charm as Kevin Harvick finally captures his elusive first championship.

After a dismal 2009 season, Harvick has been on fire with back-to-back championship-contending efforts. To win the title, you need consistency and wins - Harvick has shown he can do both. Last year he won four races, tying with Kyle Busch for second-most victories, and collected nine top 5s and 19 top 10s.

One area where Harvick needs to improve is winning races during the Chase. We saw Carl Edwards almost win the title without winning a single Chase race, but in the end that helped Tony Stewart claim his third title.

I see Harvick able to make strides here for two reasons: 1) After selling his Nationwide and truck team Kevin Harvick Inc. to his Cup team Richard Childress Racing, Harvick will have a load off his mind and be able to focus on the coveted Cup. 2) Harvick requested a new crew chief and got Shane Wilson, who can bring some fresh eyes to the No. 29 Budweiser team and build off the progress made with former crew chief Gil Martin.

Harvick’s personal life is also in order - he and wife DeLana are expecting their first child. The expansion of their family can serve as personal inspiration to Harvick, as we’ve seen with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finding success on the track as they welcomed fatherhood.

A passionate racer, Harvick has been involved in his share of controversy but can usually channel it into solid performances on the track. I expect he’ll have to battle the likes of Jimmie Johnson, who’ll be hungry after losing his first title after a historic five consecutive championships. But with his eye on the prize, it’ll be Harvick who brings home the trophy.

First-time winner: AJ Allmendinger. Taking over the No. 22 car at Penske, Allmendinger enters 2012 in the best ride of his career. He also brings momentum after his victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

In his first year running for Kevin Harvick Inc. in the Nationwide Series, Elliott Sadler found speed (five poles) and consistency (24 top 10s in 34 races, including 12 top 5s). He spent the majority of the season in the top 3 in points before a crash derailed his championship effort, losing the title to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Sadler came close to winning several times in 2011, but while those wins evaded him then, he will find victory lane in 2012 – and the championship.

With RCR absorbing his KHI team, Sadler and the No. 2 crew will now benefit from additional resources from a Sprint Cup team, especially on the engineering side. “We’re getting a lot of help that we just did not get last year,” Sadler said during media week. “I’ve already seen a difference on a lot of stuff.”

New crew chief Luke Lambert injected life into Jeff Burton’s Sprint Cup team in the second half of last year, helping the veteran driver get his first top-10 finishes of the season. I expect Lambert’s energy and knowledge will boost Sadler and the No. 2 team as well.

It won’t be easy, as Sadler will likely face stiff competition for the title from defending champion Stenhouse as well as teammate and talented rookie Austin Dillon, among others. But I predict the resources available through RCR will lift the experienced Sadler to the Nationwide title.

When it comes to the owner’s championship though, I have to give that to the Busch brothers. 2012 marks Kyle Busch Motorsports’ first season in Nationwide, but don’t forget that the team won the owner’s title after its first year in the Camping World Truck Series. The combination of Kyle and Kurt’s talent will power the No. 54 car to the end-of-the-year banquet.

First-time winner: Danica Patrick. After two part-time seasons in Nationwide, Patrick has shown talent and promise in stockcars, making history with last year’s fourth-place finish at Las Vegas and wowing the crowd with impressive drafting performances at Daytona. Not only will she win her first race with JR Motorsports, but she’ll finish the year in the top 5 in points.

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

This was the hardest series for me to pick. There is a lot of talent in the Camping World Truck Series, and I can see a few drivers battling it out until the very end for the title. Ty Dillon will be a rookie in top-notch RCR equipment after impressing in the handful of starts he made last year. James Buescher held the points lead in spite of missing a race and went on to finish third in the 2011 points standings.

But when it comes to the 2012 truck champion, I'm going with Johnny Sauter. Sauter has won a race every year for the last three seasons, finishing 6th (2009), 3rd (2010) and 2nd (2011) in the point standings. If that pattern holds, Sauter will finally collect his first series championship this year.

Sauter is a fiery competitor who knows how to win and be consistent, claiming 16 top 10s in each of the last two seasons. He won two races in 2011, including the Homestead finale, which saw him lose the title to Austin Dillon by a mere six points. Sauter would have had three wins - and maybe the championship - if not for changing lanes on the final restart at the spring Texas race, after which NASCAR black-flagged him.

After coming so close to the title, Sauter will enter 2012 with the drive to win. Not only does the No. 13 team have momentum on its side after the Homestead victory, but ThorSport Racing, the organization Sauter drives for, is switching manufacturers from Chevrolet to Toyota. Toyota has had outstanding success in the Truck Series, so the move should benefit ThorSport and thus Sauter. When the team returns to Homestead in November, Sauter will be hoisting the series trophy.

First-time winners: I mentioned them before, but I predict Ty Dillon and James Buescher will both find their way into victory lane.

Skirts and Scuffs Predictions: Rebecca Kivak chooses the champs Skirts and Scuffs Predictions: Rebecca Kivak chooses the champs Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Saturday, February 11, 2012 Rating: 5