Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lisa Janine Cloud chooses the champs for 2013


Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Last season I picked Kevin Harvick to win the Sprint Cup Championship, Austin Dillon to win the Nationwide Championship, and James Buescher to win the Camping World Truck Championship. While I only got one of the three right, it wasn't too difficult to make predictions. This season I'm finding prognosticating much more difficult in all three series. 

With the new car and the rules changes beginning this season, I'm finding Sprint Cup almost impossible to handicap. I could make a case for just about anyone who made the Chase last season and a few more who didn't. With the depth of talent in the Nationwide and Truck series, they're almost as hard to predict.

In Cup, Brad Keselowski has the talent and focus to win back-to-back championships despite Penske Racing's switch to Fords. Denny Hamlin's been so close to that trophy he could almost feel it in his hands, and he's got a full season with crew chief Darian Grubb under his belt. Dale Earnhardt Jr. performed well enough last year to be considered a contender and his crew chief, Steve Letarte, has enough positive energy to almost will the No. 88 to the title. Jimmie Johnson came within half a race of his "six pack" last season; he's always a threat. Four-time champ Jeff Gordon might even break loose and give Hendrick Motorsports another "Five-Time." Tony Stewart could add a fourth trophy to his shelf. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch will be seeking redemption for their less-than-stellar performances in 2012. The list of potential contenders goes on.

But since the point of this exercise is to choose a driver who will have the challenge of topping Keselowski's beer-soaked Sports Center interview after the checkered flag flies at Homestead, I'll go out on a limb here and make my prediction: Clint Bowyer.


Credit Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
In 2012, the Kansas native won three races, earned 10 top five and 23 top-ten finishes to find himself second in points. The much-discussed curse of finishing second won't affect Bowyer because going into Homestead he was already considered to be out of contention. That final race pitted Johnson against Keselowski for the Cup; no one expected Bowyer to leapfrog Johnson in the final standings.

My dark horse pick? Kasey Kahne. Last year he pulled out of Phoenix 31st in points after the second race of the season, didn't score a top ten until Texas in April, but ended the year fourth in points, the best finish of his career. With Rick Hendrick behind him and Kenny Francis beside him, Kahne's got his best opportunity yet to score a Sprint Cup Championship.

With seasoned veterans like Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers racing against young talent like Austin Dillon and Trevor Bayne, the Nationwide Series promises to provide as much quality racing and  intense competition as the Cup series will.

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Will the third time be the charm for Sadler? Will Bayne set a championship trophy on the mantle next to his Daytona 500 hardware? Anything is possible and it's difficult to choose.

After following Richard Childress Racing all last season, I'm going to repeat my prediction from last year. I believe Austin Dillon will finish what he started last season and will bring RCR their first Nationwide championship since Bowyer won in 2008.

Regan Smith is my Nationwide dark horse pick. I believe he's found a home at JR Motorsports where he'll get the equipment and support he needs. He should win at least a couple of races, but I would not be shocked to see him at the top of the leaderboard at season's end.

Dario Franchitti visits Ty Dillon on the grid at
Texas Motor Speedway, June 2012
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series may not have as many drivers who realistically could win the championship as the other two series, but those who could do so make it nearly impossible for me to make a call. I almost picked Ty Dillon last season but looked at Buescher's numbers and went with him. Beating Buescher will be difficult but Dillon could do it.

Then again, so could former teammate Joey Coulter, now driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Veteran Brendan Gaughan ran eight NCWTS races last season with top five finishes in half of them. Giving him the full season to build continuity could allow him to be a contender for the title.

I think the race between Buescher and Dillon will come down to the wire again, and this time I'm calling it in favor of Ty Dillon over my fellow Texan, Buescher.

My Truck dark horse pick? Young Ryan Blaney, who scored a win in just his third series start, and who had hot runs in both Trucks and Nationwide last season.

Janine, aka Lisa or LJ, Cloud, a fifth-generation Texan, lives in Houston and considers Texas Motor Speedway her home track. She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May, 2011, going from contributor to media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar. Janine considers it a privilege to represent the site at the track and to share with readers the excitement of the world of motorsports.

Follow her on Twitter @ljc777.

3 comments :

With the difficulty of making an early prediction and the number of talented drivers/teams set on winning the championship, this should be a great year for the racing fans.

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