2003 Fearless Predictions Revisited

There’s one reason writers will sometimes shy away from making pre-season picks. More often than not you are more wrong than you are right and you look like an idiot. There is one reason most writers go ahead and make pre-season predictions anyway. It’s tough coming up with story material in the dark days that mark the end of January when the new racing season is still weeks off and the old one has already been discussed to death. When you see a column offering predictions for the upcoming season, it should come with a subtitle “I’ve been banging my head on my desk for three days now and can’t come up with anything else to write about.”

Most writers would prefer you not save a copy of their pre-season predictions then review them when the season is over. But having not lost the ability to laugh at myself quite yet every year I’ll go ahead and ‘fess up to how wrong I was, and, campers, this year, I really screwed the pooch big time. A purple butt baboon picking numbered balls out of a trashcan would have been more accurate. I could offer excuses this was a particularly unusual season with a great many unanticipated variables like the “Lap Back” rule thrown into the mix, but that’s grasping at straws. Truth be told, I’ll fess up to being dumb. That way you needn’t remind me of the fact, which vexes my family to no end.

Below in bold (if this column works right) are some of my pre-season predictions with the regular face text below it analyzing how I did.

Winston Cup Champion- I’m going to pick Jeff Gordon this year, and cheat shamelessly by labeling Kurt Busch my dark horse pick.

Nope and nope. Gordon at least looked like he had a shot at the title early in the summer but I could not have anticipated a driver of his caliber would endure a month as bad as what Jeff experienced in August. Heck, I couldn’t have anticipated Todd Bodine would endure a month as bad as Gordon’s August. Gordon ended up fourth in the standings. Kurt Busch ended up 11th at years end.

Of the other contenders, I think the new Dodges are going to throw Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman a few curveballs particularly early in the season.

Well I was half-right. Wallace never got a handle on his Dodge. Newman only won eight races. Sigh.

I think Tony Stewart will do well, but the distractions of being reigning champion will take their toll on his racing efforts as will that annoying little problem some jokingly refer to as Tony’s personality.

I’ll be the first to admit it. Other than cursing out Goodyear a couple times Stewart was fairly well behaved most of the season. Kurt Busch has stolen his limelight as the bad boy of NASCAR with Harvick waiting in the wings.

My Pre-season Top 10 Picks- Gordon, Martin, Stewart, Newman, Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Burton.

Let’s see. I got six out of ten correct, but failed to pick eventual champion Matt Kenseth. Hey, at least I got Elliott in there. I really tanked on the Dale Jarrett pick however. DJ wound up 26th despite having never finished outside the top 10 since joining RYR prior to this year. The average finishing position of my ten picks was an even 10th. (Fifth would have been perfect.)

Rookie of the Year- A lot of people are going to pick Jamie McMurray because he’s actually won a Cup race prior to even officially becoming a rookie. But that was with the 40 team and Sterling Marlin will be that team’s driver this year. Jamie will be with a new outfit under the Chip Ganassi umbrella. In looking over the contenders I’ll go with Greg Biffle because he’s been rookie of the year in the Busch and Truck series and he’s with last year’s hottest organization, albeit a new team for that organization.

Dang, I had a fifty-fifty shot and I flubbed it! McMurray’s resurgence to the front late n the season was one of the nicer stories of this year. Meanwhile the 16 team seemed to jump the rails. Hey, at least Biffle won a race.

Busch Series Champion- I think this is the year Jason Keller finally wins the Busch series title.

Keller arrived at Homestead with a chance to win the championship (admittedly a very slim one) but got put into the wall early by his own teammate. He wound up fifth in the standings. Keller is becoming the Mark Martin or the Busch series, the best driver never to win a title despite a lot of chances to do so.

Craftsman Truck Series champion- The Dodges were fast in preseason testing so I’ll go with Ted Musgrave again. Experience counts for something.

And the Dodges remained fast all year. And Musgrave had a great shot at taking this year’s truck title until that controversial call by NASCAR on the final restart. I’m not so sure Musgrave didn’t win the title even if it wasn’t awarded to him.

Daytona 500 winner- Forget the preseason testing numbers. Look for Dale Earnhardt Junior’s team to unload the sandbags out of the trunk of that Chevy and Junior to join his late dad on the Daytona 500 roster of champions.

Right team, wrong driver. Another fifty-fifty opportunity squandered.

Southern 500 Winner- Even in the years he pretty much sucked Bill Elliott always seemed to run well at Darlington. I look for an emotional and popular win for Bill at this year’s 500, most likely the last Southern 500 ever to be run in daylight.

Hey, Elliott did in fact run very strong in this year’s Southern 500 and it was another veteran driver who, Terry Labonte who won the race. But I’d never, not in a million years, even smoking whatever someone at NASCAR is smoking, would have predicted NASCAR would take the Labor Day date away from Darlington and the Southern 500 and give it to that cookie cutter in Lala Land.

Next First Time Winner- I’m hesitant here, but I’ll go with Kenny Wallace because Bill Davis’s luck simply can’t remain as horrendous as it was last year and Herman is hungry despite all that Stacker 2 he’s been taking. Greg Biffle will also win at least one race this season and I think it will be out at Fontana or up in Michigan.

Ix-nay on the Allace-way. Biffle did win but it was at Daytona.

Returning To Victory Lane- Rusty Wallace will win a race though it will probably be late in the season. And I’m going to guess Jeff Burton wins multiple races again this year.

Strike one! Strike two!

Locked Out of Victory Lane- Terry Labonte

Strike three. YER OWWT!

Most Wins- Jeff Gordon- six.

Or three, maybe. Newman actually won the most races scoring eight victories. So much for the sophomore slump theory I’ve adhered to.

Manufacturer’s Title- Mercedes Benz….oops I mean Dodge.

Well they did finish second, but once again Chevy overpowered the field.

So there you go. If I were anymore off base I’d have been in the outfield bleachers catching a fair ball still in play. I could say now that I won’t be doing a predictions column in 2004 to spare myself the embarrassment but come the dark days of January most likely I will once again be driven to do so by desperation. But this year I think I’ll run down to the pet store and get me a purple butt baboon, then write the drivers numbers on some Ping-Pong balls, toss em in a trashcan and let my simian pal make my picks for me. It couldn’t hurt.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2003

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