FOX Sports NASCAR Writer Bob Pockrass had this to say about some 2022 NASCAR driver predictions…
If fans had asked me a year ago to predict the site of the 2022 Clash, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would not have been on my list.
So in that spirit that, think of what’s below solely as predictions — not statements of fact based on inside knowledge — intended to generate some fun conversation and provide a look at the storylines for the 2022 season.
In other words, don’t come back in November and say, “Bob, you dummy. Do you remember in February when you said [fill in the blank]?”
Or you can say that. I’ll own it.
With these 10 predictions, I’m alternating between “good” news and “bad” news, though for haters of certain drivers, the good news might seem bad and the bad news good.
Here we go.
Breakout stars: Byron and Bell
William Byron and Christopher Bell both have the “luxury” of a second consecutive year with their crew chiefs. For Byron, it is Rudy Fugle’s second season as a Cup crew chief, and Fugle has a better idea of what he needs from his crew, as well as Cup strategy.
Bell has a champion crew chief in Adam Stevens, and that will start proving beneficial now that they understand each other much better. Bell’s dirt experience of having to adjust to the track and the car during the race also will come in handy as he tries to adapt to the new car.
Not so dominant: Kyle Larson
Larson might win the championship again. But he isn’t going to win 10 races. With the new car, don’t expect any driver to win 10 races.
My guess would be seven for Larson at most. Cliff Daniels is methodical, and it might take a little time for them to find the sweet spot with the new car.
Coming in hot: Tyler Reddick
Reddick showed in the test at Charlotte that he is willing to see the limits of the Next Gen car. For a driver who loves to run the high groove, scraping the wall should not have the consequences in this car that it did in the previous car.
While I’m not predicting a breakout year for Reddick, he’s here as a driver who will be entertaining to watch. And if he does dazzle with his performance, he’ll be a hot commodity for a team with an opening if it can lure him away from Richard Childress Racing.
Not so hot: Stewart-Haas Racing
It could be another struggle this year, and if so, expect SHR to work the free-agent market, as it already has Almirola’s spot to fill after he retires following the 2022 season.
23XI winners: Busch and Wallace
Both Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace will win races in 2022. Busch because he’s Kurt Busch and a great driver (33 Cup wins, one Cup title) and a great racer. Wallace because he will get it done at Daytona or Atlanta or Talladega.
Wallace’s strength at the superspeedways will lead to another trophy, and this time, it won’t come on a final lap determined by rain.
Not as winning: Brad Keselowski
Keselowski won’t think there is enough progress at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. The organization will be better than it was in 2021, but the progress won’t come as quickly as Keselowski would like. There will be glimpses of improvement, but making the playoffs will be challenge.
Will he win a race? If he does, it might take until the playoffs to get it done.
Road courses rock
The Next Gen car is designed to be more nimble on road courses, and that is going to make for some wild affairs. Drivers are going to hustle these beasts even more, and they are going to feel invincible.
Instead of wrecks coming as drivers either make mistakes or run through people, they’ll be wrecking as they make dicey moves, much like in a superspeedway race.
Rocky bottom: Nashville progress slow
It is difficult to find anyone in the industry who doesn’t want to see the Nashville Fairgrounds improvements happen in order for the historic track to return to the Cup schedule. But Bristol/Speedway Motorsports’ road to getting approvals will continue to be a challenge. While the mayor’s office has agreed to a financial proposal, the Fair Board and Metro Council also must agree, and that likely will take more negotiating.
The biggest hurdle comes with how much Speedway Motorsports must put into the project. There will be comparisons to the soccer stadium financing, which will be countered by Speedway Motorsports contending that Nashville gave the soccer ownership group 10 acres for a mixed-use development.
Another trophy: Chase Elliott will be MPD
Hey, there has to be one prediction here that will actually happen, right? Elliott will remain the sport’s most popular driver.
Another empty trophy case: Denny Hamlin won’t win title
Hamlin will have a walk-off moment in his driving career when he wins the championship. But it won’t come in 2022.
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!