What's the only thing gimmicky-er than Nascar's new Chase Grid? The Spade Racing season preview, that's what!
(*Asterisk indicates Rookie of the Year contender)
SPRINT CUP CHAMPIONSHIP
These four drivers will compete in a single race, winner-take-all event that will determine the championship in a single race. Its just like the Super Bowl…if the other 30 NFL teams all played in the same game.
JEFF GORDON 24
|Technically, he has TWO Cup|
championships (Brooke got half)
(AARP, Axalta, Pepsi Max) Why he's here: People have been saying for a few years now how Jeffy has nothing but bad luck. But for my money, a millionaire race car driver married to a supermodel with two healthy kids is the kind of guy lucky enough to win a disastrous final event that could be determined by a Parker Kligerman spin with eight laps to go.
JIMMIE JOHNSON 48 (Lowe's) Why he's here: Jimmie has everything it takes to go for his seventh championship--the drive, the team, the car, even the crew-chief. However, I have to think that Mike Helton will "Jimmie-proof" the finale just so Brian France can feel like he actually did something right.
DENNY HAMLIN 11 (FedEx) Why he's here: My pick for Rebound Driver of the Year, Denny seems to have the right balance of cool-under-pressure and killer instinct for this new points system. Thus, we'll have to endure ten weeks of ESPN stories hounding Denny about his friendship with Michael Jordan.
CARL EDWARDS 99 (Fastenal, Subway, Aflac, Kelloggs) Why he's here: Well, Nascar seems to like it when they have a final race to the championship with Carl involved. But unless they change Homstead to concrete--or allow Jack to use some "special" spark plugs--it'll be another close-but-no-cigar season for the cousin.
Essentially the runners-up group, with the four drivers who jusssst missed out on racing for the championship. By the way, I had no idea that Mike Helton was such a big ZZ Top fan.
|Kyle's long-awaited Derrike Cope|
tribute paint scheme
KYLE BUSCH 18 (M&M's, Interstate Batteries) Why he's here: The downside for him is that the championship still values consistency in the final ten races of the season, something that he has yet to show. The upside for US is that we'll still get to see shots of his wife.
MATT KENSETH 20 (Home Depot/Husky Tools, Dollar General) Why he's here: The "runner-up curse" doesn't strike quite so hard this year, with Matt putting together another solid season. By the way, who'd-a thunk it that the Chase would have been implemented due to Matt not winning enough races, then tweaked due to Matt winning too many races?
TONY STEWART 14 (Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1) Why he's here: Tony and SHR bounce back in 2014 with a solid season and a few wins along the way. Meanwhile, fans everywhere wonder who the skinny clean-cut guy driving the 14 is, thinking that he looks a little like that guy who ran in IRL in the 90's.
GREG BIFFLE 16 (3M) Why he's here: The Biff has a very Biff-like season, running strong but not strong enough to truly compete for the Cup. I pick Spring Kansas for the race he wins in 2014 that almost everyone forgets about by August.
Nascar's obsession with the number 4 continues with this grouping, those who are eliminated after the first six races. If the top eight are feted in Las Vegas, these four should be celebrated On The Waterfront.
BRAD KESELOWSKI 2
|"Hi, I'm Brad. Y'know, you look|
a LOT like my brother."
(Miller Lite, Alliance, Wurth) Why he's here: Nascar's Most-Outspoken Driver will have a much-better year than his crummy 2013, but will still miss out on truly contending for a second championship. Maybe it'll be Rusty Wallace constantly calling him, bugging him for a second test run.
KEVIN HARVICK 4 (Budweiser, Jimmy John's) Why he's here: The top new face in a new place rises above the imagined-drama at Stewart-Haas to post some wins in 2014. Just goes to show you what the white-hot hatred of an ex-boss's son can do for your career.
KASEY KAHNE 5 (Farmer's Insurance, Time Warner Cable) Why he's here: I'm picking Kasey for the "Pretty good season that somehow gets treated like a major disappointment" award this year. Oh well--at least he's not dealing with the creepiness that is Ray Evernham's personal life anymore.
CLINT BOWYER 15 (5-Hour Energy, Peak) Why he's here: After SCRATCHING at the door of the championship for years, Clint's just ITCHING to get back to the top. However, it'll be a HOT competition just to make the Chase, as MWR tries to rebound from CHEATING.
The bottom-four of the Chase, those who get off to a bad start and don't recover in time. So basically, the Ryan Newman Group.
RYAN NEWMAN 31
|Ryan uses his new sponsor's|
equipment to take revenge on
(Caterpillar, Quicken Loans) Why he's here: Well, just look at the name.
JOEY LOGANO 22 (Shell/Pennzoil, AAA) Why he's here: Last year's rebound of the year bounces the wrong way this year. Also, given the number of enemies he made last season, I wouldn't be surprised to see his face bounce off a few fists as well.
JAMIE MCMURRAY 1 (McDonald's, Cessna) Why he's here: Jamie proved last year that a driver from a mid-level team could win, and now that he's the #1 driver at Ganassi, I think its time. By the way, expect plenty of uneducated griping online by bitter Dale Sr. fans. Which reminds me…
DALE EARNHARDT JR. 88 (National Guard, Diet Mtn Dew, Your Name Here) Why he's here: Yes, he would have won last year's championship if this year's rules were in place. But until they put twenty races a year at Michigan, he'll have to settle for also running as an also-ran.
JUST MISSED IT ROUND
Leave it to Nascar to quit after just naming the top four groups--I'll keep you informed as to what drivers belong where!
KURT BUSCH 41
|"I promise that I will disappoint you,|
and I won't disappoint you on that."
(Haas Automation) Why he's here: I'd expect Kurt to contend for wins as the Chase draws near, but he'll be kept out by just a bit. On the plus side, just imagine how many people will rush out to by CNC Machines.
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. 17 (Nationwide, Zest, FifthThird Bank, Best Buy?) Why he's here: Last year's ROTY steps it up a notch in 2014, going from quiet disappointment to quiet overachiever. Its too bad that we don't know much about his personal life though--things like who he's dating, you know.
*AUSTIN DILLON 3 (Cheerios, Dow Chemical) Why he's here: Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2014 Nascar Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year! As for his car number? Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2014 Overblown Story of the Year!
ARIC ALMIROLA 43 (Smithfield, STP, Air Force) Why he's here: A delicious sponsor, yes, but its still tough for a mid-level team to contend for the Chase. But the sponsor IS delicious. Man, i can taste that F-14 right now!
Finishing outside the top-20 is a disappointment, and these disappointing seasons do not disappoint.
|Kyle Larson or Sam Bradford?|
*KYLE LARSON 42 (Target) Why he's here: In the rush to proclaim him The Next Big Thing, people have forgotten that he won a grand total of zero Nationwide Series races last season. I expect more out of the driver of Joe Nemechek's former ride.
MARCOS AMBROSE 9 (Stanley/DeWalt) Why he's here: Yes, a driver like Marcos could conceivably win a road course race, then coast into the Chase. But Marcos would have to win first, and it seems like unless the track is greasy, its not so easy-peasy. (Sorry).
PAUL MENARD 27 (Menards) Why he's here: The Thinking Man's Brendan Gaughan continues to run well, but not well enough to contend regularly for wins. And to think, just a few years ago he seemed on his way to stardom. Wait a minute, no he didn't.
BRIAN VICKERS 55 (Aaron's) Why he's here: It'll be great to see Brian back running Sprint Cup full-time, but the MWR team has been reeling since they lost Napa. Methinks they're going to be putting all their eggs in one Bowyer come mid-season.
BAD DECISIONS ROUND
Drivers who go to new teams don't always see immediate results--we can't ALL be Matt Kenseth. Besides, if we were, the media would have to do a lot more fake-laughing at our "jokes".
MARTIN TRUEX JR. 78
|Possible sponsor for Colorado's|
Furniture Row Racing?
(Furniture Row) Why he's here: Yes, they made the Chase last year, but that was with a former-champion driver. Really, the Furniture Row team's greatest individual achievement is still winning a race on fuel mileage, and having THAT overshadowed by a Busch-Harvick brouhaha.
AJ ALLMENDINGER 47 (Kingsford, Charter, Clorox, etc.) Why he's here: Hey, we're all glad to see Dinger get another shot at a full-time Cup ride. But he's going to a team that's shown zero speed outside of the plate and road-course events. Maybe he can make a little extra money haulin' the mail?
DANICA PATRICK 10 (GoDaddy, Aspen Dental) Why she's here: When you're racing for a top-flight team and you have top-flight sponsorship, anything less than the Chase is a disappointment. And when you're coming off a rookie season when you were celebrated for a 12th-place finish, this counts as an improvement.
*JUSTIN ALLGAIER 51 (Brandt) Why he's here: The lateness of the official announcement, the lingering of James Finch, the crumbling of Turner-Scott Motorsports, all points to one thing--THIS will be the guy subbing in god-forbid someone else gets injured.
BACKHANDED COMPLIMENT ROUND
These are the teams you hear called "doing great for what they have", or "just trying to string some top-20s together", or "suddenly I'm hungry for Long John Silvers for some reason".
DAVID RAGAN 34
|Geckos are green. Coincidence?|
Well, yeah, probably.
(CSX, boss's restaurants) Why he's here: Being mentioned as the example of how a backmarker team can make the new Chase has to be pretty depressing.
CASEY MEARS 13 (Geico) Why he's here: This team switching from Ford to Chevy is a little like me switching colognes--sure, it'll turn a head or two, but I'm still going home alone (…and possibly with a new restraining order or two).
DAVID GILLILAND 38 (Love's Travel Stops, boss's restaurants) Why he's here: Coasting on the success of a single Nationwide Series win is like coasting on the success of a successful B-side.
MICHAEL BURTONCHEK 66 (Peak) Why he's here: Nascar's newest portmanteau looks to challenge for a spot in the Owner's Chase Grid. Well, assuming that there IS one. Brian, could you get back to me on that?
UNDERFUNDED ROOKIES ROUND
This group is made up of four rookies running for teams that will be glad if they can just make payroll every week. But don't despair, drivers--you could one day wind up the next Hut Stricklin.
*ALEX BOWMAN 23
|"We want Nemechek!"|
(Dr. Pepper, Burger King) Why he's here: Note to Alex--when you lose your Nationwide Series ride and you wind up running a Cup car, that doesn't mean you got lucky--that means you'd better keep a lawyer on retainer.
*MICHAEL ANNETT 7 (Pilot/Flying J, Accell) Why he's here: I don't know. I really don't know. Could someone PLEASE tell me WHY he's kept his sponsors THIS LONG?!?
**COLEKER KLIGERWHITT 26/30 (Swan Energy, Lean 1) Why they're here: I think that if you combine Cole Whitt & Parker Kligerman's stats for 2014, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Like, "Wow, I had no idea a single driver could post 40 DNF's".
*RYAN TRUEX 83 (Burger King, Borla Exhausts) Why he's here: Will he make it through the season? Will he finish more races than he DNF's? Will anybody care?
AND THE REST ROUND
Because part-time teams, start-and-parkers, and Josh Wise gotta go somewhere.
|"Hi Woods, remember me?|
Oh, you don't."
WOOD BROTHERS RACING 21--Trevor Bayne returns to the historic team for approximately 12 races. And…um…OK, can't really joke about him anymore.
GO FAS RACING 32--Terry Labonte runs at the Daytona 500, followed by someone who'll have to fill Timmy Hill's surprisingly comfortable shoes.
CIRCLE SPORT RACING 33--Brian Scott has this ride at the 500, to be followed by someone who doesn't mind filling in for Idaho's greatest race car driver.
TOMMY BALDWIN RACING 36--Reed Sorenson is likely to hold on to this ride through 2014, but it remains to be seen if kids will continue to eat free at a reasonably priced chain buffet.
CIRCLE SPORT/HILLMAN 40--Landon Cassill is likely to drive this car at Daytona, and who knows what the future holds? Um, probably a few start-and-parks, to be honest.
PHOENIX RACING 52--James Finch returns to run Bobby Labonte in at least the Daytona 500. Can lightning strike twice for the single, underfunded team at a plate track? Answer--no.
??? 77--When you have a team without a name, owned by a notorious start-and-park owner (Randy Humphrey), it just makes sense to have Dave Blaney as your driver.
LEAVINE FAMILY RACING 95--Michael McDowell takes longtime sponsor Black Paint to the team that made Red Paint famous.
PHIL PARSONS RACING 98--Josh Wise, clinging onto the back-end of relevancy as always.