News & Media

Preseason staff picks good, but no one predicts champ

December 11, 2011, Mark Aumann,

Most on NASCAR.COM staff pick nine Chasers correctly, but no one had champ

Here's the confession: When we sat down in January and made our predictions for the 2011 season, all eight members of the editorial staff at NASCAR.COM thought Tony Stewart was good enough to make the Chase. But none of us had the foresight to pick him to win the championship.

Then again, there was a stretch where Tony didn't think he belonged in the picture, either.

Season of surprise

In 2011, 36 races were won by 18 different drivers -- five of them were first-time winners -- on 23 different tracks in 20 different states. Winless streaks were broken, feuds continued and a remarkable reign ended.

Like a bunch of city slickers at a shotgun range, once the smoke cleared and the noise abated, we pretty much all missed hitting the target. Then again, very few people saw this coming, except maybe for the fans who still think he's driving the Home Depot car and some employees of the Dairy Queen in Columbus, Ind., who picked Stewart with the idea he'd leave them a bigger tip the next time he came in to buy a Dilly Bar.

Proving that the crack staff of writers and editors apparently uses a cracked crystal ball, five of the eight let it ride and thought Jimmie Johnson would lather, rinse and repeat. Two -- myself and Bill Kimm -- mistakenly expected Denny Hamlin to carry his 2010 momentum. Wrong.

That left David Caraviello. Somewhat akin to being the least worst of the bunch -- or putting it another way, the most competitive start-and-parker -- David was prescient enough to choose Carl Edwards, so one of us half-wits got it half-right.

Actually, looking back at the predictions, we didn't do that badly. Six of us correctly selected nine of the 12 Chase drivers, and the other two got eight correct. We all figured out that Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Johnson and Stewart were Chase-worthy. Of course, we all picked Clint Bowyer, too, so don't get that impressed.

None of us chose Brad Keselowski. But Joe Menzer had Kes as his Driver to Watch, which means one of two things: Joe is an excellent judge of driver talent or he didn't know how to spell A.J. Allmendinger.

So in an effort to break a six-way tie -- let's see NASCAR try to do that -- I whipped out my well-worn copy of Microsoft Office Excel 2003 and created a "simple" points system to figure out which one of us should be declared the Prognosticator of the Year. (Not to be confused with Procrastinator of the Year. I'm still working on that.)

Here's how it worked: Each correct selection earned points, starting with 12 points for picking Stewart, down to 1 for getting Kurt Busch correct. But just to make it interesting, negative points were awarded for a pick which missed the Chase, growing larger the farther down the standings the driver finished.

So just like the Sprint Cup awards ceremony -- except for missing a musical interlude by Kid Rock, formalwear rentals or a really cool post-banquet party -- I'll go from bottom to top, just to add unnecessary suspense and to create additional page views.

On the positive side, Dave Rodman was the only one of us to correctly anticipate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return to the Chase. Sadly, based on the quality of the rest of his picks, random throws into a dartboard might have done just as well. Not only did Dave inexplicably fail to choose Edwards for the second year in a row, he also failed to include fellow Roush teammate Matt Kenseth.

Instead, Rodman reached into a hat and somehow came up with Mark Martin, Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray -- plus he picked Keselowski as his driver who wouldn't meet expectations in 2011 -- leaving him with 8 points and in danger of needing a competition caution to keep from being lapped by the field.

What did you think?

NASCAR Nation invites you to submit your thoughts, commentary, recaps, and insights on the entire 2011 season.

Menzer may have won the Fantasy title this season, but his preseason predictions would better be found on the library shelf under "tragedies." Ganassi teammates Juan Montoya and McMurray were particularly rough on NASCAR.COM's predictions, as half of the staff incorrectly picked one or the other. That is, except for Menzer, who was the only one to take them both, sinking him to seventh with 30 points.

Jarrod Breeze was one of three staffers to include Ryan Newman, the others being fellow editors Jill Erwin and Bill Kimm. A bit of collusion avoidance, perhaps? Jarrod missed on Martin and McMurray, placing him sixth with 36 points.

Kimm and Chris Stanfield each scored 41 points, although they did it in different ways. Bill had perhaps the best consistency with his failed picks of Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Montoya -- but he, like Rodman, didn't include Kenseth. On the other hand, Chris got Kenseth right but missed badly with McMurray. Bill wins the tiebreaker, though, because his Angels signed Albert Pujols and Chris is still in tears his Cardinals let him go.

Just like Johnson, I failed to live up to the lofty expectations following a sterling 2010 season in which I got 10 of 12 right. Nine? Nein. I correctly chose Kurt Busch to make the Chase but incorrectly selected Biffle and Logano, leaving me with 44 points and in a tie with Jill.

However, Jill's missed picks of Jeff Burton and Montoya were less lousy on average, placing her second and earning her rookie of the year status. Since Jill was the only newcomer in this year's selections, that was somewhat of a given. Andy Lally can empathize.

So the crown this year goes to Caraviello with 47 points, capping off a year in which his beloved Gamecocks not only repeated as College World Series champions but curb-stomped Clemson on their way to a Capital One Bowl matchup with Nebraska, which used to be known as the Citrus Bowl. Orange you glad to know that fact?

Bad puns aside, how did Caraviello do it? His list of 12 Chase drivers failed to include Keselowski, Earnhardt and Newman. But where he shined in comparison to the rest of the motley crew was in avoiding at least one really awful pick, which ultimately proved to be the difference.

He missed with Bowyer, Biffle and Montoya -- and when your worst choice finishes 21st in the points, that's not bad considering the competition, or lack thereof.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

NASCAR.COM 2011 Staff Predictions:

Seven drivers unanimous picks to return to Chase

Johnson the driver to beat in '11

Opinions mixed on who won't meet expectations

Menard tops list of drivers to watch for 2011