The 2009 Sprint Cup season could be considered the commencement of a new era in NASCAR. Smaller fields, less sponsorship dollars to play with, a testing ban on all NASCAR sanctioned facilities, and of course, no Petty Enterprises all contribute to the new-look NASCAR. A plethora of changes define the upcoming season, but still the show must go on.
Who will win the 2009 Sprint Cup championship? It is difficult to project at this point. Well, not really. Jimmie Johnson is the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas, while Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are solid picks as well. When most of the preview guides are released to the retailers in late-January, one of those three drivers will be the projected champion. A couple of dark horse picks may include Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Burton, all who performed well towards the tail end of the 2008 season.
How will Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman perform with the newly-formed Stewart Haas Racing? Now that is difficult to project at this point in time, and even after the season begins. It is likely that both drivers will win a race or two, especially on one of the shorter tracks and possibly a restrictor plate track, but overall, they are in for a taxing transition. Both drivers could easily miss the Chase for the Championship. It could really go either way.
Who will win the 2009 rookie of the year award? It will come down to Joe Gibbs Racing's teenage driver Joey Logano, and former Formula One driver Scott Speed, who is driving the Red Bull Racing entry. While Logano was the center of hype in 2008, it is time to see if he is the real deal. He inherits the third most winning ride of this decade. Only the 48 and 24 teams have more wins since 2000. Logano looked like a complete amateur in his handful of Sprint Cup starts last fall. Speed may come out on top. He was scrupulously developed at Red Bull Racing, and appears to be more seasoned. He also performed respectably in his handful of Sprint Cup starts.
Will Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth win a race? Both champions are sure to revisit a long lost love- that being victory lane. Gordon and Kenseth are two of the top five drivers in our sport, so expect them to rejoin the fraternity of winners in 2009. Kevin Harvick will also find victory lane in 2009.
Is there a former champion that may not win a race in 2009? Bobby Labonte is now a darkhorse after spending the latter stages of the 1990's and early years in the 2000's as a perennial championship contender. The 2000 champion has yet to sign on with another team after leaving Petty Enterprises. Unless Penske Racing resolves their dire performance issues, Kurt Busch may undergo his first winless season since 2001, his rookie season. As mentioned earlier, Tony Stewart could perhaps fail to win a race for the first time in his career, as he is not a car owner as opposed to just a driver.
Who is going to win their first career race in 2009? After no victory lane newbies in 2008, we should see a couple of first-time winners in 2009. David Ragan, A.J. Allmendinger, Joey Logano, and Scott Speed are solid candidates.
Who will emerge as the comeback driver of the year? Last year, it was Greg Biffle. This year, Martin Truex, Jr and Jamie McMurray are possibilities.
Fans, the next month and a half will fly by, so prepare yourself for a different NASCAR in 2009.