2002 Predictions Revisited And Reviewed

It’s a fact of life most NASCAR writers will write a “pre-season predictions” column, but few will go back and review how they did when the season ends. It’s been tested. We’d all like to be considered sages of the sport and there’s nothing worse than having been proven a bonehead in print. Truthfully a lot of us would forget you ever read our pre-season predictions. But if you do this job long enough you develop skin as thick as saddle leather and learn not to take yourself too seriously. So as I do annually here’s a look back at my “Fearless Predictions” written in January and a review of reality. The original predictions are in plain text, while the post-season comments are in bold.


Winston Cup Champion- Like any professional member of the press I am going to shamelessly equivocate here. If Tony Stewart can average a 12th place or better finish in the first 8 races of the season he will be champion. If not, look for Jeff Gordon to take a fifth title. Dark horse pick (Which means I have three chances to be right) Bobby Labonte.

Well, let’s see. Some of you Stewart fans may be surprised to see I chose Stewart as Cup champion but I don’t get full credit here. He actually averaged a 14th place finish in those first eight races, so I wasn’t far off, but I was off. And while Jeff Gordon did rise as high as second in the points, he wasn’t Stewart’s primary competition for the title. My Dark Horse pick came up lame out of the gate.

The rest of the top 5 in addition to the three above- Dale Earnhardt Junior and Jeff Burton.

Nope and Nope. Earnhardt Jr. and Burton finished 11th and 12th respectively.

The rest of the top ten (in no particular order)- Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Sterling Marlin, Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield.

Yep, yep, he would have but he got hurt, yep and nope. Jeremy Mayfield? What was I thinking? So I got five out of the top 10 correct, and a half point for Sterling Marlin. That’s not so good. I completely blew the fact both rookies would have top 10 points finishes, and missed Kurt Busch’s season as well.

Disappointment of the Year- Since you have to have reasonable expectations of success to be considered a disappointment Robby Gordon doesn’t qualify. (Which should be a regular occurrence race weekends by May.) But the award will go to Kevin Harvick who will suffer the Mother of All Sophomore Slumps and get his head back on straight and deflated a few sizes to boot before rebounding late in the year.

Well, I won’t break an arm patting myself on the back, because you don’t need to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. The 29 team was falling apart at the seams down the stretch last year and the driver the team members had once venerated for keeping them together through tragedy was being called some pretty ripe names I can’t repeat by his own crew. I guess the part that has to worry Childress is there wasn’t much of a late season rebound for the 29 team.

Rookie of the Year- Ryan Newman. I’m including this so I can be right about least one thing. Ryan should win one or two races before season’s end. Jimmy Johnson for second. I mean is anyone else competing in ROTY this season?

Hey, it was a fifty fifty shot. I mean we all knew Shawna wasn’t going to win the honor. And Ryan did win a race.

Busch Series Champion- Greg Biffle.

Even a blind hog finds an acorn once and again.

Busch Series Rookie of the Year- Johnny Sauter. I’ve had my eye on this young man this season in the ASA. He’s the real deal. I also predict a top 8 points finish as he will be driving for the Richard Childress team that won last year’s title after all. Could even be a dark horse championship contender this year if he doesn’t wreck too much.

But more often a blind hog stumbles out into the highway and gets smashed flat by a semi. Sauter wrecked way too much and may be suffering long term repercussions from too many blows to the head too quickly.

Craftsman Truck Series Champion- Ted Musgrave. I’m going to bet on experience here.

Musgrave came in third in the final points standings. I enjoy the truck series, I follow the truck series, but I’ll be honest I didn’t even know Mike Bliss was running the full season this year. I don’t think Bliss did either.

Daytona 500 Winner- Dale Earnhardt Junior- legal plate, legal ride height. Dark horse pick- Bill Elliott scoots through last lap wreck to take win. Darker horse pick- Kenny Wallace.

Junior had a car that could have won the 500 as it was strong throughout Speedweeks but problems with the tires doomed his Daytona 500 effort this year. If you picked Ward Burton to win this year’s Daytona 500 I need you to pick some lottery numbers for me.

Southern 500 Winner- Jeff Gordon, it’s been awhile and he’s won a lot of these. Besides my guess is Jeff isn’t going to be able to play it conservative this fall in the title battle.

No, Jeff sure wasn’t in a conservative points racing mode by September, but I wouldn’t have predicted this win would have been a second consecutive race to snap that long drought.

Road Course Winners- One to Tony Stewart and one to one of the Gordons- if Robby still has a job by then.

Another split decision. Stewart won Watkins Glen but neither of the Gordon twins won a road course event.

Next First Time Winner- Johnny Benson. I’ve predicted this the last three years. I figure the first time I don’t he’ll win a race. Followed by Ryan Newman at Charlotte in October.

Well he wasn’t the “Next” first time winner but Benson did finally score his breakthrough victory. Newman won as well, but at NHIS not Charlotte where for the record he finished eighth. And I left Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Jamie McMurray off my first time Cup winners list.

Returning To Victory Lane- Jimmy Spencer and Jeremy Mayfield

Nice call, Mr. Expert. Both drivers appear to be out of their rides for next season.

Locked Out of Victory Lane- Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte.

I didn’t have to go too far out on a limb to predict Labonte in this category but I got a lot of enraged emails from Rusty Wallace fans when this column first ran. They said they were going to email me every time Rusty won a race this year to remind me what an idiot I am. Since I haven’t heard from ya’ll in a while, hope all is well and I wish Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Most Wins- Tony Stewart (8)

Nope, just flat out wrong, but you people who think I “hate” Tony Stewart and “don’t respect” him need to take a look at the above. The young man can drive a race car. Every year I like to drag one completely wrong prediction I’ve made out of the pile to poke a little fun at myself (to spare you the effort) and to emphasis just how futile it is for you to ask my advice in picking a Fantasy Team.

Greg Biffle scores a top 5 in a Winston Cup race, pretty much sealing his chances to replace Kurt Busch in the 97 car. Busch reemerges with AJ Foyt for 2003.

Don’t AJ wish it were so?

Every year after doing this review I swear I won’t be writing a pre-season prediction column the following year. But the reality is that come January it gets to be pretty slim pickings as far as story ideas, and the “Pre-season Prediction” column is one of those chestnuts that amount to a “Mulligan” for a writer that week. So I won’t promise not to right such a column next year, I won’t promise my next batch of predictions will be any better than this years, but I do promise if I take my Mulligan, I’ll be back here about this time next year to ‘fess up to how foolish I was.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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