But anyway, I'm going to make some predictions for the 2009 NASCAR season that you can bet your 401k on, if there's anything left in it. If you will indulge me, I will do a countdown list here for your reading pleasure.
Prediction number 10: No matter how the Chase for the Cup turns out in 2009, even if all 12 of the Chase contenders finish within a tenth of a second apart, fans will still complain about it. Old timers will always see the Chase as young Brian France monkeying with the system, trying to fix something that didn't need to be fixed in the first place. I consider myself to be among that group. Not that I'm an old timer, of course. I was barely out of my diapers when Richard Petty ran his last race. Some people don't consider 29 to be too old to be potty trained, do they?
Prediction number 9: Speaking of Brian France, even if the 2009 season provides the best racing in the history of NASCAR, some people will not be happy with the job he's doing. NASCAR purists will remember that Big Bill France gave us NASCAR. Little Bill, also known as Bill France Jr. gave us the modern era of NASCAR. Brian France gave us the Chase, and the Car Of Tomorrow. NASCAR president Mike Helton gave hope to those of us with mustaches that we can still look cool wearing them in the 21st century.
Prediction number 8: Someone, oh, I don't know, maybe the driver of the 14 car, will say something bad about Goodyear tires in 2009. Someone will also be called to the big house for a sit down, come to Jesus meeting, and probably won't say anything at all again for a few weeks about tires. Goodyear and NASCAR will be burning the midnight oil to ensure that the tires for the Indianapolis race in 2009 will be better than they were for the 2008 race at the Brickyard. But then again, I think that if they rolled out the tires they used at Watkins Glen in 2008, they would be better than what was used at Indy last year. If they rolled out the cheapest passenger tire that can purchased at Wal-Mart, it would probably be an improvement. What I want to know is where can I buy a supply of 2008 Indianapolis tires to put on my truck in order to have a valid excuse for being late to work about 3 times a week in 2009?
Prediction number 7: NASCAR's beefed up drug testing policy for 2009 will probably net exactly nothing. If any of the crews, drivers or anyone else involved in the drug testing program can't quit long enough to pass the newly mandated tests, they're in the wrong business anyway, and probably have already left the sport, at least temporarily after the announcement last month. The drivers supposedly can be tested at any time, and I seriously doubt that there will be any of them that will try to beat the system in that regard. Sure, NASCAR has had a couple of drivers over the last few years who did have drug problems, but they're pretty much gone now. I believe we're fortunate in many ways that NASCAR has evolved as sport that seems to not have major drug problems, as other sports have had, and still continue to have at times. Most of America is so used to random drug testing now, that we who actually attempt to work for a living try to steer clear of anything that might cost us our jobs. Heck, I even avoid eating poppy seed rolls, since they have shown up as opiates on some drug tests. You have probably been drug tested several times if you've changed jobs at all in the last 30 years. I know I have. What NASCAR should really do is institute mandatory polygraph testing for their crew chiefs. "Did you purposely move that shock mounting bracket to cheat?" "No, sir. I did not." BUZZZZZZZZ! "Wrong answer, dumb butt! You're outta here!"
Prediction number 6: Former driver and now FOX TV broadcaster Darrell Waltrip will once again lavish excessive praise upon a rather unpopular driver, and tick off a lot of fans. Last year, it was Kyle Busch, and Darrell's e-mail inbox is still probably overloaded with upset fans' messages. Give Darrell some credit though. He's been in this sport longer than just about anyone else who's still around now, and he likes what he likes. We need to remember that once upon a time, Darrell wasn't the grand old guy of this sport. When he showed up around 1972, he peeved a lot of people off, and did so for a large chunk of his career. Darrell has never been shy in front of a microphone, and in many ways, he's helped bring our sport to the level of popularity that it currently enjoys. To me, Darrell Waltrip is a genius. He understood, early on, that NASCAR gains popularity when controversy reigns. Darrell's just doing what he's always been so good at: Stirring the pot. He gets people talking and buzzing about things. For a sport that's seen a down turn in ticket sales and TV ratings, starting off the 2009 season with ole DW on FOX is just what the sport needs right now. (DW, please e-mail me. I'll tell you where to wire the money!)
Prediction number 5: No matter how well the various networks that broadcast NASCAR in 2009 perform their duties, racing fans will be unhappy. In 2008, I thought each network had it's strengths and weaknesses. My personal favorite is FOX. The guys in the booth just seem to have more fun with their broadcasting duties. I like fun. I don't watch racing because I want to get stressed out, even though I often do. I like fun, and to me, the guys at FOX keep it fun. I do, however give kudos to the other networks that broadcast NASCAR as well. Kyle Petty is always a joy to watch and listen to. Kyle has a no nonsense way of getting his point across and I appreciate that as a fan. TNT was very smart to hire Kyle Petty to be in the booth. I will say the same for ESPN and ABC for having the smarts to hire Dale Jarrett. Dale is obviously a chip off the old block, because his dad, Ned Jarrett has been a long time favorite of mine as well, not just as a broadcaster, but as a driver, and indeed, just a nice guy. (Dale and Ned, please see my message to DW above!)
Prediction number 4: The new NASCAR testing ban probably will not cut down on testing very much. The teams that have the pockets laden with cash to test, will test. They can't test at a ton of tracks now, but there are always tracks out there not sanctioned by NASCAR. If I had about 1000 more acres, and access to a bulldozer and and asphalt machine, I'd build a prefect replica of Daytona in my back yard. (DW, Dale, and Ned: You might want to keep that in mind while you make your contributions. Wink, wink.)
Prediction number 3: The number '3' will not be run in NASCAR in 2009. Richard Childress, I assume, will keep the rights to use the number this year, and will not use it. I don't know that I ever want to see it used again, except if Childress' grandson Austin Dillon wants to use it. I know that Richard would probably give it to any Earnhardt that wants it as well, but right now, I don't see the '3' being used in 2009. For many of us, I think we're only just beginning to sort out just how much the loss of Dale Earnhardt has meant to the sport. It's amazing to me, but the fact is that the pain I felt on February 18, 2001 still exists today. I miss Dale. I miss him more than I ever believed I could.
Prediction number 2: Jeff Gordon will win again, and probably in 2009. That team was so close, so many times, in 2008, that I know Jeff still has more wins left in him. I don't know about the championship, but he's got more wins left. I believe that Jeff could possibly become at least the 3rd winningest driver in NASCAR history, after Richard Petty and David Pearson. I also believe the crew chief Steve Letarte will be in for even more flack from many of Jeff's fans, unless the 24 team wins early and often in 2009. Love him or hate him, Jeff Gordon is still the real deal. (Jeff, please see prediction number 4, and I'll add you to the list!)
Prediction number 1: This one is easy. If Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins 20 races in 2009, and wins the Cup by 1000 points, there will still be fans calling for the head of crew chief Tony Eury Jr. delivered on a silver platter. The hatred of Tony Jr. is phenomenal, to say the least. Cousins for life, Tony's often blamed for the lackluster performance of the 88 team in 2008. At the beginning of the season in 2008, they set some goals for themselves. Win a race. They did at Michigan in June. Make the Chase. They did, but ended up finishing 12th out of 12 Chase contenders. Not a great year for the 88 team, but they improved tons over 2007, their last year with DEI. My personal feeling is that Tony Jr. be given a chance in 2009. I know many of my Earnhardt Nation brethren feel differently, but I say give Tony a second year at Hendrick Motorsports. If they don't do a better job in 2009, I'll join the anti Eury Jr. choir on this one. If I see 2 or more wins, and see Junior competing for wins during the Chase, I will vote that Tony Jr. stay on the job. Personally, I see Junior's mind wandering at the end of a long season. I'm not questioning his commitment to the job, I'm just saying that Junior probably needs a little extra pumping up when it gets to the end of a long, grueling season. He's human, as are we all, but if he's going to win the whole enchilada, he needs more cheerleaders on the radio, and Tony Jr. can help more in that area than he has in the past. I say both Jr.'s need to step up to the plate a little more in 2009, and if they can do that, they can win it all. That's what they're for anyway, isn't it?