The time has come, and not soon enough, for another NASCAR season to begin. NASCAR is unique in that its biggest event of the year is also the first event of the year. And just because you win that biggest event, doesn't guarantee any type of success for the rest of the season (see Ward Burton as exhibit A).
It's been said that the only thing predictions can do is show your ignorance. Well, I figure I'm already plenty good at that, so I've got nothing to lose here.
So, first, let's take a look at Sunday's Daytona 500 and its 1:30 green flag time on Fox. It's, of course, restrictor plate racing and we all know about anything can and has happened in these races (see Trevor Bayne as exhibit 1A).
But nonetheless, here's a look at my top five to win it, plus a shoulda coulda woulda but didnt pick and which driver in the last five starting spots has the best shot at making the top 10.
So, here's my first five.
1) Tony Stewart - The ghost of Dale Earnhardt is watching. So, maybe he'll get a big push from drafting buddy Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win his first Daytona 500 in his 14th try.
2) Dale Earnhardt Jr. - He hasn't won since June of 2008 in Michigan, a stretch of 129 races. The fans need him to win. NASCAR needs him to win. Mostly, he needs a win for himself and there's no more likely place for it to happen than Daytona.
3) Kyle Busch - OK, I know he's not great at plate tracks, but what he did on the Bud Shootout last week cannot be quickly forgotten. Maybe he's finally got the patience to balance out that determination.
4) Jimmie Johnson - He needs this win more than most realize. That's because there's likely to be a big penalty on the team for crew chief Chad Knaus getting caught cheating. So, they'll need the early points boost.
5) Carl Edwards - He's got a fast car when he's alone, going by his pole position qualifying time. The key will be how he does in traffic. Edwards and his team would like to get the year off to a good start after taking second to Stewart for the title last year.
Shoulda, coulda woulda, but didn't pick - It's difficult not to pick Jeff Gordon here. One of the reasons is that he's excellent at avoid crashes and there's bound to be some Sunday at Daytona. So, no, I couldn't quite type his name in my top five, but may regret that I didn't.
Final 5 best shot - Well, this one is a little bit easy because you've got Trevor Bayne starting 40th. He won last year. He's young, but it's clear he knows what he's doing on the plate tracks. He just needs to stay out of any early accidents to contend again.
Now for the season. The finish was one of the best in NASCAR history, if not the best, last year when Stewart edged Edwards in the final race for title. Here's a look at who I think will be in the top 10 points this year.
1) Carl Edwards - He got too close and the team's too good. They didn't panic and make a bunch of changes. It will be his turn.
2) Kevin Harvick - He seems to have grown up a bit, so we'll see. He and wife Delana are expecting their first child in July, and he sold his Nationwide team to focus on Sprint Cup racing.
3) Tony Stewart - A big deal was made of his crew chief change and rightfully so. It's rare to win a title in anything then go about changing the leadership. But Stewart did that, even though he brought highly respected crew chief Steve Addington. They'll still be good, but it will tough to win back-to-back titles.
4) Jimmie Johnson - OK, he should be ready to make another title run after having his five-year winning streak snapped last season. The looming penalty after Daytona won't help, but remember he just needs to be in the top 10.
5) Dale Earnhardt Jr. - He made it into the Chase last year, so you pretty much have to pick him to make it again. But, he was never really a factor in the final 10 races. It remains to be seen if that will be the case this year.
6) Brad Keselowski - He showed he has the ability, now he just needs consistency. This could be the next step in his development and he may not be far away from making a serious run at the title.
7) Kyle Busch - We've seen how well he can do in regular season, but doing well in the Chase remains a bit of a mystery to him. Maybe the late season penalty where he had to sit out a Sprint Cup race made him think a little bit, or will make him think a little the next time he's feeling a little impatient on the track. The Wild Thing is capable of running off a Stewart-like streak of winning five out of last 10. So, if just gets in, he's got a shot.
8) Denny Hamlin - He got a top crew chief in Darian Grubb, so there's really no excuse now. Grubb has proven he can excel under pressure. Hamlin has not, so maybe this is the right match.
9) Matt Kenseth - He's proven he can be consistent. He just needs to go for the win a little more often. But that consistency makes him all but a lock to make a Chase. The fact he's got sponsorship issues shows unfortunately, it's not always about ability.
10. A.J. Allmendinger - His strong finish last year was overshadowed by Stewart, but Allmendinger has proven he not only belongs in NASCAR, but can compete with the best of them.
OK, that's it for now. Can't wait for Sunday.
Until next time