A Look Back Ahead

Think of what we know now, at the end of another NASCAR season. Try thinking back about 10 or 11 months at what we assumed the coming year would bring.

True, the obvious unexpected happened immediately. No one thought we'd end the year without Dale Earnhardt. And if anyone had predicted such a thing, they would've been considered as crazy as they were ghoulish.

The following predictions, back before this past season cranked up, would've drawn sideways glances…

* Mark Martin, with an expanded contract courtesy of the folks at Viagra, not only goes winless, but doesn't even crack the top 10 in points (which proves, I reckon, that even Viagra is no substitute for charm, boyish good looks, a low chassis and, of course, luck).

* Jeff Gordon not only wins a Cup title without Ray Evernham's clipboard on the work bench, but wins it going away. Naturally, those who didn't give 90 percent of the credit to Evernham aren't totally shocked by this.

* Robby Gordon wins more races than Mark Martin.

* Robby Gordon wears more uniforms than Jose Canseco. (Oops, scratch that…that was one that came true, again).

* The Winston Cup Series welcomes 19 different winners to Victory Lane, and none of them is named Jeremy Mayfield, Terry Labonte, Matt Kenseth or…have we mentioned that Mark Martin went winless?

* Hey, the Wood Brothers won again!

* Sterling Marlin not only gets back in the winner's circle, but wins twice, and nearly won a few other times. And he finished third in points.

* That Ray Evernham's two-man team would be the third in line among Dodge teams to win a race.

* That all Cup owners wouldn't be doing cartwheels over all the new TV money filtering through the system.

Now, look ahead to next season. Shouldn't be hard, since it's less than two months away. All of the preseason publications and broadcasts will contain all or some of the following predictions:

* Jeff Gordon battles for a fifth championship.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes the next step and competes for the title, giving the Earnhardt name that eighth championship.

* Somebody gets mad at Kevin Harvick (hey, some of these are easy).

Finally, just to get out there first (I think), here are a few others. However, I reserve the right to change my mind sometime in early February (who'll remember?):

* Jeremy Mayfield, driving Evernham's No. 19 car, will be in the championship hunt through Labor Day at Darlington at least, possibly even into October.

* Ricky Rudd won't.

* That Viagra influence, taking a while to kick in fully, finally takes hold and Mark Martin not only wins again, but hangs in the top five all year.

* So does Jeff Burton.

* Jack Roush starts thinking he knows something the others don't (again, some of these are easy also).

* By May at Charlotte, Robby Gordon either has two wins under his latest belt, or he's searching for an IRL ride. This one could go either way, and big.

* Tony Stewart finally marries that girl, and like the rest of us, realizes what real discord is all about.

* Hut Stricklin wins a race. No, really.

* Ryan Newman not only wins four poles (minimum) but a pair of races (minimum) and finishes at least eighth in points – one spot higher than teammate Rusty Wallace.

* Al Unser Jr., somehow and someway, finally comes to the other side. Best guess: He runs about a dozen races for Penske, who also fields his Indy 500 ride.

* And finally, no one remembers these picks a year from now, and I can do it all over again and sound like I know what I'm talking about.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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