10. Kyle Busch returns with a vengeance – Kyle Busch was notably absent from victory lane for much of 2020. Kyle only notched one win in 2020, at Texas in the 33rd race
of the season at Texas. JGR, as a group, was off their game in 2020, with Martin Truex, Jr., also notching only one win. Nothing was normal in 2020, and nothing was odder than seeing Kyle Busch running outside the top 5 in most races. Look for the Gibbs camp to get things straightened out this offseason and look for a highly motivated Kyle Busch to return with a vengeance. My prediction: Kyle Busch gets the monkey off his back by winning the Daytona 500, ends the season as part of the Championship 4, and the over/under on his victories for the year is 5.
9. Matt D. gets the Wood Brothers their 100th win – Matt D. has made a name for himself over the last two years.First, with his impressive run at Bristol in 2019, where he led a ton of laps and nearly held off a hard charging Denny Hamlin for the win, and then in 2020 he dramatically raced his way into the playoffs, securing his spot in the final regular season race at Daytona.Matt D. has capitalized on the underdog role, and his likable personality is quickly making him a fan favorite.Some of DiBenedetto’s losses have been heartbreaking!Bristol, Talladega and Las Vegas are examples of how Matty D. is this close to grabbing his first win, and the Wood Brothers’ 100th win as NASCAR owners.The fact that DiBenedetto’s near wins have come at a short track, a mile and a half, and a Superspeedway shows the breadth of his talent and that he is a threat to win at almost any track.My prediction:put all your chips on Matt D. when the NASCAR series visits Las Vegas in March.
8. Ryan Blaney has a breakout season – Ryan Blaney was an absolute beast in 2020….. in the first two stages.Stage 3 was Blaney’s Achilles heel.Whether Blaney used up his equipment early, whether his team wasn’t as adept at making pit road adjustments, or whether it just bad luck, Blaney didn’t have nearly the success when the pay window opened, as he did in the preliminary stages.Blaney reminds me a lot of Chase Elliot.Blaney has started 198 races, Elliot 185, Blaney is 27 years old, Elliott is 25, more importantly, Chase Elliott was a young driver that gave away some victories (Darlington, the All Star Race, etc.), and later matured into a champion.I see Blaney in much the same way.He’ll figure how to keep his speed when the pay window opens and visit Victory Lane multiple times in 2021.My prediction:3 wins for Ryan Blaney in 2021.
7. The Championship 4 looks like a Hendrick Motorsports group photo – Hendrick Motorsports is set for success in 2021.The momentum from Chase Elliott’s championship, the confidence gained from having the Championship Trophy in their building for the first time since 2016, the addition of Kyle Larson, and the expanded role of Chad Knauss all mean trouble for the competition in 2021.Rick Hendrick has definitely reloaded his arsenal, and probably has the best group of drivers since Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were in their prime.My prediction:Look for at least 2 of these drivers to find their way to the Championship 4 in November.
6. Father Time catches up with Kevin Harvick – Ok, maybe Father Time doesn’t catch up to Harvick in 2021, maybe he just gains a little ground on Harvick.With 9 wins and 20 Top 5’s, it’s not exactly a bold prediction to say that Harvick will take a step back in 2021.I see Harvick’s season playing out a little differently in 2021.I’m seeing fewer victories, but I’m seeing him as a member of the Championship 4 in November.My prediction for Harvick is 5 wins, including two in the playoffs for 2021.
5. Brad Keselowski leaves Team Penske – Keselowski signed a contract extension in August 2020, but it was only for one year.At that time, he had 3 wins on the season, and was a serious title contender.It seems like Keselowski wanted to get a contract extension done to remove any distractions and let the team focus on a run at his 2nd title, but it also seems clear that Keselowski is interested in testing the free agent market, why else would he sign a one-year extension?Keselowski’s decision to re-up for one year shows some serious strategic thinking on his part.There will be a number of major rides potentially up for grabs at season’s end.Among the contracts that are set to expire at the endo of 2021:Aric Almirola and Cole Custer at Stewart-Haas, Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin at Joe Gibbs Racing.Some of these drivers will likely be re-signed, but some will likely be let go.This could put Keselowski in position to sign a very lucrative contract with a top-tier team at season’s end.My prediction:This one is a shocker – Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski have never had a good relationship, but Tony knows a good driver when he sees one, and he’s shown a history of preferring veteran drivers over unproven rookies.With Kevin Harvick entering the latter part of his career, Tony will put aside his differences with Keselowski and capitalize on the opportunity to sign a big-name driver in the peak of his career.
4. Richard Childress Racing visits victory lane multiple times – Austin Dillon visited victory lane at Texas for his 3rd career victory, notched 4 top 5’s (the most of his career) and had a surprisingly strong playoff run.Tyler Reddick will be entering his 2nd full time Cup season and is likely to show improvement and build on the 3 finishes he had inside the Top 5 in 2020.RCR seems to be undergoing a resurgence, and the overall organization seems to be more competitive.They are on the verge of being mentioned with the top-tier teams in the sport and they will continue that climb back to prominence in 2021.My prediction for RCR:2 wins in 2021.
3. Denny Hamlin doesn’t win at Daytona – Hamlin has won two consecutive Daytona 500s and 3 overall, making him the current king of tapered-spacer racing.Hamlin has actually been pretty dominant across the spectrum of tracks over the last two years, notching a total of 13 wins over the last two seasons.Hamlin is in the prime of his career, and he’s likely got several more years where he will be a threat to win at virtually every track, but I’m predicting that Daytona won’t be good to him this year.There are a million ways to lose a race, maybe more at tracks like Daytona, and very few ways to win.Even if Hamlin can avoid the “big one” and be up front near the end of the race, his reputation as the undisputed king of Daytona will likely work against him.Other drivers will be looking for him and they are all well aware of what a threat he is at Daytona.For this reason, they will probably be more aware of where he is on the track and take view him as “the guy” that they have to beat.My prediction:Hamlin runs near the front all day, but aggressive blocking at the end of the race keeps him from notching victory number 4 at Daytona.
2. The 23XI team struggles – So, you walk into a new job, it’s in a highly competitive industry, and you look around and realize that it’s everyone else’s first day on the job too!No one there has ever worked together before.Then you realize that your new company has never actually produced a single part, piece, or component, everyone has to learn their roles, responsibilities, how to work together, and how to somehow organize all the parts and pieces into a world-class product.Oh, and your first product has to be delivered in just a few months!Sounds like quite a challenge!This is exactly what is facing the 23XI team in 2021.They’ve got some very talented people there, they’ve got big-time sponsors with deep pockets, but it will take time get everything together, so don’t expect big things from this team right away.They might pull of some decent finishes, and might even get to Victory Lane through some pit strategy, but don’t expect them to live up to the hype this year.They have the money needed to succeed, and the alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing will be incredibly helpful, but look for this to be a season of growing pains for this team.My prediction:0 wins, 7 Top 10 finishes.