Fast Forward ~ The 2015 Season Preview, Part 1
This could be an interesting year for Jamie. Matt McCall will be his new crew chief, so that may bring about some better finishes, although, to this observer, most of Jamie’s poor finishes were due to the decisions he made while driving on the track. With his sponsorship expected to solidify even more than last year with McDonalds signing on to sponsor more races, and Cessna returning, that should not be on his mind. The interesting part will be to see how he and his new crew chief communicate....often a problem for the first few races for most teams....unless you are Gordon or Johnson. Jamie’s best year was 2010 with three wins and at 39, I don't see the wins piling up anytime soon. There is a time to be aggressive on the track...he just needs to temper that with track smarts. I believe he has one win for sure, maybe two in 2015. His decision making makes it difficult to pick a season ending spot, but I will say somewhere between 10th and 20th and either just making or just missing the chase. I doubt you will find him in the top 10.
This team comes to the track from Team Penske, under the watchful eye of team owner, Roger Penske, affectionately known in several racing venues as, “The Captain.” Driver, Brad Keselowski and crew chief, Paul Wolfe each race under a contract that runs through 2017 along with primary sponsor, Miller Lite Beer, whose logo will appear on the “Blue Deuce” 24 times in 2015. Another 3 races will carry primary sponsor, Wurth. (They wholesale auto parts, from screws to electronic & electromechanical components… is it just me or would sponsors get more bang for their bucks if they actually told the fans what they make or do?) Team Penske fields Fords powered by Roush-Yates engines. This half of NASCAR’s Team Penske entry finished 5th in the new Chase format of 2014, and comes to 2015 essentially unchanged in personnel or sponsorship. I see Web garbage claiming driver Keselowski to be among “drivers people hate.” I suspect those people might be other drivers. “Bad Brad” as some brand him, is easily among the best on the track today, and arguably the best, 5th place finish notwithstanding. Last season they hauled in 6 wins, 17 top-5s and 20 top 10s with only one DNF, to take home $7,532,456. My prediction is that this team will finish better in 2015 than it did last year. First place is easily within their capability and level of talent. Raw luck of course, can change that, as being lucky has somehow surpassed being good as the measure of a NASCAR team and/or driver.
Remember the excitement when the announcement came out that the #3 would be returning to the track? Everybody, including this person was interested to see how the Rookie (why a rookie carrying a number that evoked such respect) would do. My how the excitement climbed when he took the pole for the Daytona 500. Of course he didn't win...that only happens in fairytales and Hollywood....but he did finish 9th! Not too shabby. Then he was top rookie in two of the next three races and people were on cloud nine. Ahem...hello? Another rookie then got his seat under him and it wasn't long before young Larson left Austin in the dust. So, how will Austin react to that in his sophomore year? That remains to be seen obviously. He may yet far surpass Larson in the long run, but right now he wants to prove himself. Even when it was obvious the ROTY Award was slipping from his grasp, did he get anxious and try to force the issue? No.. and that shows savvy, which will take him a long way. Add to that the fact that his primary sponsors, Dow Chemicals, Cheerios, Bass Pro Shops and American Ethanol are all returning should help his frame of mind. One of the main reasons Dillon lost the ROTY Award was the number of DNFs he had...13. Anyone who suffers 13 DNFs out of 36 races will truly suffer. Gil Martin returns as his crew chief which may or may not help. I say, because of his apparent savvy, and the team behind him, one win, maybe two and will probably make the Chase.
Not much is different for Kevin Harvick as the 2015 season dawns…Except for the big silver trophy he has that says he was the Champion of the 2014 season. Harvick and his team have to feel great about their performance last year and can only hope that this season is just as successful. Budweiser, Outback, and Jimmy John’s are back on the car again this season, and for two races, they will be replaced with Ditech Mortgage. With the win and you’re in methodology of Chase qualifying, you can expect Harvick to make it in the ten race brouhaha once again this season, and if things go right, he could once again be in the thick of it come Homestead.
Kasey’s contract is good thru 2018 as of November, 2014 and his sponsors, most notably Farmers Insurance and Pepsi are returning. It is reported Farmers Ins. has signed on until 2018, so they must see something in him. Plus, his old crew chief, Keith Rodden, returns after a stint with McMurray, so that may help. Kasey gave us some exciting races last year, and I expect the same out of him this year. His problem, like Dillons, was DNFs....he only had 5, but they hurt him...and at least one I remember, was entirely his doing. The DNFs were a good reason he only had 3 top 5s in 2014. That has to change. He has had at least one win the last four years straight. I think he continues that string and depending if he can make better on track decisions, he might get two, even three wins and a definite Chase spot.
This is a brand new team running under an old and iconic number. I’d hope that everyone reading is familiar with Mark Martin and his many years of proudly piloting the #6 for Jack Roush and the Roush-Fenway Racing group. At the helm for 2015 will be young Trevor Bayne (Turns 24 on February 19). It will seem strange to most that Trevor will run for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year in 2015, despite having run 58 races in Cup under the Wood Brothers’ banner, and won the 2011 Daytona 500. Please don’t shoot the messenger. The old rule of running no more than 7 races (Used to be only 5) is no more, since NASCAR instituted the policy of only declaring for points in a single series. To their corporate mind, that means that even though a driver is paid for where he finishes, for other purposes, he really wasn’t there. Nope! I didn’t see Trevor with the entire Wood family in Victory Lane, did you? Returning to the top of the box after a long health-related hiatus will be Bob Osborne, last seen as chief Pit Bull for the #99 of Carl Edwards. Welcome back Bob! The team will of course, field Fords, powered by Roush-Yates engines. Primary sponsor is listed as AdvoCare. (According to Google it’s an American multilevel marketing company, which sells nutrition, weight-loss, energy and sports performance products.)
This team is Tommy Baldwin Racing, with co-owners Tommy Baldwin Jr. and Al Heinke. It is expected to be the only full-time team fielded by TBR this year. In a late off-season move, last year’s driver, Michael Annett will be moving to H. Scott Motorsports to become a teammate to Justin Algaier, and I’m told he will take last year’s primary sponsor, Pilot Flying J (Truck Stops) with him. Piloting the #7 entry this year will be sophomore driver Alex Bowman, seen last year in the #23 BK Racing entry. Bowman finished 2014 in 35th place in points. The departing Annett was 33rd. Crew Chief Kevin “Bono” Manion is about the only stable thing on this team aside from Tommy Baldwin himself. Bray Pemberton joins the team as General Manager and Chief Legal Counsel; Danielle Randall comes aboard as Director of Business Development; Mark Gutekunst is elevated to position of Chief Engineer and spotter Doug Campbell will guide young Bowman from on high. Toy State will be a primary sponsor for at least 5 races on the Chevys of Baldwin Racing. Engines come from ECR Engines and PME Engines
Sam Hornish is making his return to the Sprint Cup series after running a limited XFINITY schedule in 2014 for Joe Gibbs Racing, along with three seasons prior driving for Team Penske, scoring three wins in the past four years. If I was writing this for 2010, I would have said that Hornish would lead the series in wrecked cars, and be lucky to be in the top 30 in points. However after four seasons in the XFINITY series, and almost winning the 2013 XFINITY title, Hornish has developed into a contender, and has been given something rare in racing: a second chance in Sprint Cup. Look for Hornish to run well on the short tracks, flat tracks, and look for Hornish to be a dark horse contender for making the 2015 Chase providing Richard Petty Motorsports obtains funding for the races Twisted Tea will not be on the car.
Danica Patrick is entering her third full time year in the Sprint Cup series. In 2014 she showed improvement, scoring three top 10's and led ten more laps than her rookie season. Patrick also improved her average finish to 23.7 from 26.1 in her rookie year. In 2015 look for Patrick to improve on her stats, and even score one top five finish. If Patrick pulls off a win in 2015, look for it at a restrictor plate track, or at a 1.5 mile track, as two of her three top-tens were at a 1.5 mile track. As long as Danica Patrick can stay away from her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the track, she has the potential to improve her 2015 stats. Without a victory, she will not make the Chase, as she is not consistent enough to regularly score top-tens.
A big crew chief shake up over at Joe Gibbs Racing has a new bug in Denny Hamlin’s ear for the 2015 season. Darian Grubb has packed his bags for the new effort of Carl Edwards, also under the JGR umbrella, while ex-Kyle Busch chief Dave Rogers comes over to fill the seat previously enjoyed by Grubb. For sponsorship, you can expect to see again the united colors of Fed-Ex, through the Express, Ground, Freight, and Office divisions, and joining in for two races is Sport Clips as well. I’m also hearing that long time pit box topper Todd Berrier has come over to JGR as well in a role of Director of Inspections. It would be hard to imagine a Chase without Denny Hamlin in it, especially since he has quite the long winning streak intact. However, last year’s only win came at Talladega, and I think it’s going to take better performance at the non-plate tracks for Hamlin and his team to be locked into the Chase fray before the cutoff.
Casey Mears returns to the GEICO Chevy for another season in 2015. Mears showed improvement in 2014, as he scored his first top five in six years at Daytona in the Firecracker 400. This team is always competitive at the restrictor plate races, as all three top ten finishes the team earned was at Daytona and Talladega. The team is improving on non-restrictor places as well, as Mears’ average finish also improved from 24.4 in 2013 to 22.3 in 2014. In 2015 look for this team to improve again on their 2014 finishes and earn a top ten on a non-restrictor track. The Chase for this team will only occur if Mears can win a restrictor plate race
Dear Gods of Racing, whom are loved so much. Please, in your infinite wisdom and foresight, find a way to keep Tony Stewart safe. You see, the past few years have not been easy for him. The year before last, he was involved in a accident and broke his legs, ending his season. And last year, the worst kind of tragedy occurred. This year, as Bass Pro, Mobile 1, Rush Trucking Centers, and Code 3 Associates adorn his race car, please keep those sponsor decals in one place. And as he continues to listen to Chad Johnston in his ear piece, please help him to keep that ear piece from the beginning to the end of each race. And as he continues to drive Chevrolets, powered by engine from Hendrick Motors Sports, please help to keep those engines whole and those Chevrolets pointed in the right direction. If you can see to do that, O merciful Gods of Racing, then perhaps Tony Stewart can return to Victory Lane this year, and make the Chase once again. After the past few years, I believe he’s earned it.
5-Hr Energy returns for the fourth consecutive year as Clint's primary sponsor for the majority of the 2015 season. Only six remain to be sponsored. The paint schemes won't differ too much, so if you are used to looking for him, he should be easy to find.
The biggest problem I see this year is the same one they had last year. They seemed to have an aerodynamics problem, that Michael Waltrip seems to feel they have worked out. Comparing themselves to JGR racing, he said they (JGR) weren't haven't much luck either. Michael did say they (MWR) just need a "tick more speed" to be competitive with JGR. Clint and crew chief Pattie have been together since 2012, and have produced three wins and "1st Loser" spot in their first year together after all was said and done. They have both recently been extended for multiple years. Prediction: 2015 will be like 2014, unless they solve their aero problem or get that "tick more speed", or both. One or the other, or a combo of both' could equal a 3 win season, a solid seat in the Chase, and a possible championship.
This is the senior team from Roush-Fenway Racing, or as many would say, what’s left after Matt and Carl moved across the street to Joe Gibbs Racing. Greg once again laid to rest rampant rumors of his departure when he re-signed with RFR. Crew Chief Matt Puccia also returns to this Ford team, which runs engines from Roush-Yates. The only visible change here will be seen in the paint schemes of a couple new sponsors. Biffle’s familiar 3M colors will move to Jeff Gordon in the final year of his stellar career, while Greg will be seen sporting Ortho products along with Cheez-It snacks. Predictions? This scribe hates them, but I don’t see any reason to expect great improvement in this team over last year. I’ve heard that if one keeps making the same mistakes, one is bound to wind up in the same places. Greg was 14th after Richmond last year, and finished the year 14th. There’s a possibility he makes it into the fun and games after Richmond this year, but no guarantee. This is a back-end possibility team, teetering on the brink come Richmond.
J. L. Steele