questionOne way or another, this will be an interesting season, and perhaps a year like we haven’t seen before. Economics may paint an up and down season for NASCAR across the board. While the Cup series may take the least beating, the Camping World and Nationwide series are far from safe this year. Both will probably struggle to fill the track with full fields throughout the year and there is a better than outside shot that may even happen in the Cup series.

But no matter who shows up at the track, fans will be watching. More may be watching from home this year as the economy furloughs more and more of us, but real fans have followed the sport through thick and thin. We just are in another thin period right now.

Once the boys return to Daytona, speculation will ensue about who will make the Chase, who will win their first race and who might close up shop altogether.

Here is my take on some drivers to watch in 2009.

Joey Logano – making his full time Cup debut for Joe Gibbs Racing, much is expected of Logano. He has won in every single series he has raced in and the hype over this kid is enormous. Logano suffered horribly in his few starts last year, but this year he is teamed up with Greg Zipadelli. Zippy and Smoke combined for 33 wins and two titles at JGR and Zippy’s calming influence will be needed this year as Logano faces immense pressure to run well. We’ll see how having a great car and a great crew chief affects young Joey. Will he resemble the lost rookie of last year or a young Jeff Gordon?

My prediction: Joey struggle this year. He will have a few races that he does well in but overall struggles and does not win. I will give him a C+ for the year. And that is not what he is being paid to do. If he does better than that, kudos to Zippy.

Matt Kenseth – winless last year, Kenseth is looking to get back on track. He is teamed with another new crew chief in ’09 and that may set him back a bit again. Kenseth has too much talent to stay out of the winner’s circle for too long, but he may remain in his drought another year.

My prediction: Matt may finally get a win but that is about it. I see him making the Chase but just barely. C+

Casey Mears – moving to RCR this year may finally allow Casey to notch another Cup win. Mears has yet to live up to his billing and he takes the reins over the 07 from Bowyer. Sponsorship will not be an issue for this team and the team is very stable and Chase experienced. But will that be enough for Casey?

My prediction: RCR has been lacking horsepower and if they do not get that problem resolved, Casey will not make victory lane. If they can find some speed, Casey might get one more win, but that is it. C+

Mark Martin – Mark has a new life at Hendrick this year and leaves an uneventful tour at DEI (now EGR) behind. Having never won a Cup title, this could be the last chance Mark has at it. He will no longer be able to talk about how his car was junk, Martin may finally revisit Victory Lane and more than one.

My prediction: Mark will win more than once and I think he will be a Chase contender. A-

Tony Stewart – Smoke joins the ranks of owner/driver and his new diet plan is spelled S-T-R-E-S-S. Bringing over Ryan Newman from Penske helps their chances at being competitive in 2009 but they will be a far cry from winning this year. Should they get lucky at Daytona or Talladega, it will be more than a huge success, it will simply be amazing.

My prediction: I expect them to be better than Haas was on its own, but they will be measuring success in top 20 runs and not top 10. I give them a B because it will be better than Haas has done in the past.

Brian Vickers – Vickers paced Red Bull Racing in 2008 and seemed destined to break the victory jinx. Alas, no such luck. But if they can build on last year’s success, they may grab another win before the season is over.

My prediction: I will give them a B this year and they may crack the top 15 at season’s end.

Scott Speed – moving up from the ARCA and Camping World series, where he finally got back into Victory lane. Speed did not amount to much in F1 and decided to come home and race here. He has shown an ability to adapt and win in stock cars but the leap to heavier and more powerful Cup cars may have him visiting the infield care center more than Victory Lane in 2009. On the other hand, the trucks do drive more like the Cup cars so it may not be all that bad. He will be competing with Logano for Rookie of the Year.

My prediction: C-

David Ragan – He progressed quite well last year and dang near made the Chase. I think Ragan could visit Victory Lane this year and while he may not make the Chase, I think his consistency will have some Chase regulars a bit worried.

My prediction: A-

Juan Pablo Montoya – JPM moves to a Chevy this year and I think that may bode well for the hard-charging driver. While EGR suffers from the same lack of power that RCR does, the Chevy may suit his style more. Yes, I know there is not that much difference in the cars any more, but the switch from Dodge will be key for Montoya more than any other driver in 09. My money says he gets a win in 09.

My prediction: B+

Those are a few of my thoughts for the year, let me know yours.

Keep the shiny side up!