Looking ahead to 2007 | NevadaAppeal.com

Looking ahead to 2007

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

Well, 2006 is in the history books, and all good race fans are anxiously looking forward to what 2007 will bring in the world of Motorsports.

Fans are poring over fantasy league picks, and local racers are thinking about firing up the space heater in the shop or garage so they can start repairing last season’s damage and installing next season’s rule changes. Winter “bench racing” is in full swing, with rampant speculation put to rest with each press release issued by teams and sanctioning bodies.

In one instance, a car owner is bucking NASCAR’s trend of hiring young, unproven drivers. Robert Yates, trying to regain his team’s championship form, has brought 50 year old veteran Ricky Rudd out of retirement to partner with young David Gilliland’s No. 38. Rudd’s car number will be either 28 or 88, but has not been finalized. Both cars will be sponsored by Masterfoods USA, maker of M&Ms and Snickers, as well as other brands.

Whether this move will put Robert Yates Racing back on top remains to be seen. The Hendrick, Roush, Childress, DEI, and Evernham organizations showed a lot of strength in 2006, and will likely carry that momentum into 2007.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a few predictions. If they’re mostly wrong, that will probably qualify me for a job as a weather forecaster. For the 2007 Nextel Cup championship, I’m going to bet that the Hendrick camp repeats.

For my money it’s a tossup between newly crowned champ Jimmy Johnson and four-time champion Jeff Gordon. Gordon would have had a much better finish this year but for mishaps not of his making, although the same could be said of other drivers. Other drivers I predict will make the Chase (in whatever form it takes next) are Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle. Note that there are no Toyotas in my Chase picks; even though Toyota dominated the Craftsman Truck series this year, it took them a few years of development to get there.

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I think their Cup program will probably progress a little faster because of their experience with the Trucks, but as competitive as Cup is, it’s a bit much to expect a win right out of the box. Of course, one factor could throw my calculations, and everybody else’s, right out the window.

The Car of Tomorrow will be used in 16 of the 36 Cup races in 2007, and whoever gets the setup figured out first could have a big advantage. At least we’ll find out how sturdy the Car of Tomorrow is, because 13 of its 16 races will be on short tracks. The remaining events will be Talladega, Infineon, and Watkins Glen.

Over on the open-wheel side, the crystal ball is a little cloudier. I expect that Danica Patrick will improve her performance in the Indy Racing League series now that she is with the Andretti-Green team. The Penske cars will still be the team to beat for the Indy 500, and the Target-Ganassi guys will be tough as well.

The Champ Car World Series may be missing its defending champion, as Sebastien Bourdais has a strong shot at a seat with the Toro Rosso team in Formula 1. If that happens, Paul Tracy will have to find somebody else to throw punches and trash talk at. One thing is certain: there will be no reconciliation between the two rival sanctioning bodies for the upcoming season. That needed to happen before both settled on incompatible car designs and engine specs.

As I mentioned last week, there is a huge void in the Formula 1 ranks with the departure of Michael Schumacher. He was one of those larger than life figures in racing, like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Ayrton Senna. I will be anxiously awaiting the start of the season, to see what new convoluted rules on qualifying, racing, pit stops, etc. the sanctioning body comes up with.

Whatever your particular Motorsports passion, I hope that 2007 will be a fun, safe, and exciting one for you. Happy New Year!