Best Free Agent Pickup: Kurt Busch #1
The “new faces in new places” for 2019 were numerous, but overall it didn’t quite have the same “silly season” vibe of years past. That being said, a couple of teams vastly improved their talent pool, but the greatest benefactor is Kurt Busch getting picked up by Chip Ganassi Racing. Joining super-duper popular Kyle Larson, CGR is going to be that “pure drivers” team that your purist NASCAR fan friends will bug you to death about. I can already hear Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip whinging on about the attitude that Busch is bringing to the team, and how the veteran champion will motivate Kyle Larson to improve. Despite all the annoying rhetoric, I’m confident that the 1 car will be back in victory lane in 2019 after a long absence.
Comeback Driver of the Year: Jimmie Johnson #48
After an abysmal 2018 season (by his standards) Johnson, one of the greatest drivers of all time, has a new look and feel for the 2019 campaign. With a new crew chief and new sponsor giving the ol’ reliable team a fresh coat of paint, I expect big things out of the 48. This is expected especially given the improvement of the Camaro chassis from this time last year. Jimmie Johnson is easy to dislike with his general lack of personality, model wife, and atypical chiseled features. But much like his NFL counterpart, the man Sports Illustrated once called “Tom Brady in a firesuit” is at his best when everyone else is gunning for him.
Out of Nowhere Success: Ty Dillon #13
Germain Racing is possibly the weirdest race team in NASCAR history. If you’re unfamiliar with the financials of NASCAR racing, consistency is something that’s very hard to come by. Generally speaking, if you’re not a top level team, sponsorship, personnel, and financial stability will be always be a constant and ongoing struggle. The exception to this seems to have always been Germain Racing. Since entering the Cup series in 2008, the 13 car has had Geico as a primary sponsor, has been featured in national commercials, has only used about three drivers/crew chiefs in that time, despite VERY modest results. You might say that this is an example of good business, or virtuous patience on all parties involved, but that’s not quite it. Actually…Germain Racing is a sex cult. Something in the water makes Germain employees and associates happy, pliant, and always coming back for more. Offering no evidence to prove that theory, let’s just say that Ty Dillon is going to turn some heads this year in the race standings..and we might start calling big brother Austin the lesser Dillon brother by the time November rolls around.
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Preece #47
The Rookie of the Year award has finally gained back some sizzle in the last handful of years, after a long and horrid dark age. While 2019’s rookie class isn’t exactly as sexy as the last couple seasons, there’s still a pretty interesting pair of drivers looking to fight it out for ROTY. In this fight, I give Ryan Preece the slight nod over Daniel Hemric. Preece began his career grinding for scrappy middling teams in the xFinity series before taking a new approach in 2017. Rather than racing for entire seasons with lesser equipment, Preece pooled his money and drove for the behemoth Joe Gibbs racing, racking up 2 wins despite driving in less than half the amount of races. While superior equipment doesn’t guarantee future success, I’m hopeful that Preece will combine his experiences from both prime and subprime environments to become a complete driver at the cup level in 2019. And shit, if it doesn’t work, there’s always modified racing.
Biggest Letdown of 2019: Ryan Blaney #12
I take no pleasure in predicting this, as I’m quite fond of the vintage hat sporting little podcaster. However, Ryan Blaney is going to be the most significant victim of the Ford upgrade to the Mustang chassis. The 2018 season was an awful one for Chevy, as their new Camaro chassis and body looked amazing, but struggled in comparison to the ancient Ford Fusion and
conspiracy driven cheating Toyota Camry. This season, Chevy will have a leg up as their Camaros have had a year to sort things out, while Ford releases in the Mustang into the cup stable. Ryan Blaney was a deserved fan favorite driving for the Wood Brothers making a perfect “vintage” mashup of driver style and team, and had lot of success considering the circumstances. Unfortunately, the economics of NASCAR being what they are, Blaney was shifted over to the financially stronger, if less soulful Roger Penske operation. Being a clear “3rd” driver on Team Penske lead to an overall underwhelming 2018 season given the expectations, and the changes to the 2019 package yield the potential for more of the same. Mind you, this entire theory hinges on a car chassis I know nothing about, having struggles I couldn’t possibly predict, in an environment I have no influence over. So, should Blaney overcome my prediction and hoist some trophies in 2019, he’s more than welcome to invite me to his Glass Case of Emotion for some well deserved mockery and derision.
My Hopeless Obsession: Bubba Wallace #43
I couldn’t begin to tell you the joy I felt when I first heard about Darrell Wallace Jr. landing a full time cup ride, and how the joy was compounded when I heard it was with the sport’s most famous team. Something about this just clicked with me from day one last season, and I imagine many other people feel the same way. I’m not one for claiming expertise on social or political issues, but one fact I’ll fight anyone on: Bubba Wallace winning would be great for NASCAR. Perhaps it was just a bit of beginner’s luck, but this impossible team was making it work in 2018. Finishing 2nd in the Daytona 500, and showing some muscle in some interesting scenarios, the #43 was starting to look relevant once again. Unfortunately, the team was running out of steam by the end of the year, and sponsorship woes meant a disappointing result by season’s end. Still, Richard Petty is showing confidence in his young driver, and there’s nothing that says a hot start like last season is out of the question. Maybe it’s naive to think this team could achieve the success I’m hoping for…but if nothing else, it would tell the Facebook comment thread haters exactly where and how they can go fuck themselves.
2019 Monster Energy Cup Champion: Chase Elliott #9
Chase Elliott will be the 2019 Monster Energy Cup Champion at season’s end. I promise this pick has nothing to do with my infatuation with Mtn Dew (ok, maybe a tiny bit, but not an obscene amount). To my mind, Chase Elliott is like Dale Jr, but with a healthy support system. As you of course know, Earnhardt Jr was given the unfair task to mature as a driver without the help of his legendary father, but ALSO all while driving for a race team owned by his literal evil step-mother. Chase Elliott on the other hand, is fortunate enough to have his legendary father around on Sundays, and drives for the greatest team in NASCAR history. Chase is going to accomplish everything we expected from Dale Jr., and even take it to the next level. Maybe you don’t believe me, maybe you think the powers that be in NASCAR have different ideas in mind. MAYBE you’re a student of the school that thinks the whole damn thing is fixed. Well if so, then Chase Elliott is set for even bigger accomplishments. NASCAR needs a new title sponsor. and needs a new “face” on the racetrack. When Elliott got his vengeance on Denny Hamlin at Phoenix in late 2017, I could hear the checkbooks of major corporations scribbling an infinite number of zeros to sign over to the France family. Like it or not the future is Chase, and the future is awesome.
Congrats Chase Elliott, you’re going to make 2019 an amazing NASCAR season.
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