Photo courtesy Ed Clark official Twitter account

You want new year’s predictions? Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Ed Clark has some for you

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What’s the new year without predictions, right?

So as we head into 2018, Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark is out with his annual list of NASCAR predictions.

Clark consulted his magical crystal ball and here’s what he came up.

“I’ve been pretty close on my predictions over the past couple of seasons, and I’m confident the trend will continue in 2018,” Clark said. “So without further ado, here are my predictions for the 2018 season.”

Do you agree with Clark’s predictions? Leave a comment if you do – or don’t.

1. Chevrolet Rides The Camaro ZL1 To 2018 Manufacturer’s Championship

You can’t keep American muscle down for long! After Chevy’s 13-year run of manufacturer’s championships between 2003 and 2015, Toyota earned its first two titles in both 2016 and 2017. But with an all new model in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for the 2018 season, the Camaro ZL1, Chevrolet will get back into the manufacturer’s win column on the strength of a powerhouse lineup of Bowtie drivers, including Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

2. William Byron Wins Rookie Of The Year … Again

Talk about a rising star. It seems more and more these days that there isn’t much AMS Thursday Thunder Legends alumnus William Byron can’t do. As a quick recap, Byron won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the Year in 2015, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year in 2016 and the NASCAR XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year just this past season in 2017. So why stop now? William Byron will continue his ascent to stardom by winning his fourth Rookie of the Year award in as many seasons, edging out Darrell Wallace, Jr. for the 2018 title in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series behind the wheel of his sleek new No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports ride.

3. All Three Team Penske Drivers Find Victory Lane

Between Team Penske veterans Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, the pair of Ford drivers have no less than 42 career Cup Series victories under their collective belt. Each with at least one win every season since 2012, Penske is a perennial powerhouse among the top teams on the circuit, and it will only get better with the addition of Ryan Blaney as the team’s third full-time driver in 2018. All three Penske drivers will find Victory Lane next season, as they continue to feed of each other’s on-track success.

4. A Top Team Announces Manufacturer Change For 2019

Like we’ve seen in recent years with teams like Stewart-Haas Racing and Furniture Row Racing, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a major NASCAR race team to jump ship from one car manufacturer to another when an advantageous opportunity presents itself. That said, I predict one top Cup Series team with a long-tenured manufacturer alliance will announce plans sometime in 2018 to move to a different OEM (Official Equipment Manufacturer) for the 2019 season. Keep an eye on the news for this one.

5. More Aggressive Stage Finishes

Considering the way Martin Truex, Jr. racked up stage wins all season long to put himself in a favorable position all throughout the 2017 NASCAR Playoffs, a majority of race teams will adjust their in-race strategies in 2018 – especially early in the season – to focus more on collecting those highly valuable Playoff points. That will result in even more frantic, aggressive and highly chaotic final laps at the end of stages next year.

6. Three Drivers Earn Their First Cup Series Victories

There are a lot of talented drivers out there who have yet to earn their first career Cup Series victory. That will change for three of them in 2018. Chase Elliott, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Alex Bowman, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Ty Dillon are all likely candidates to find Victory Lane next season, and half of them will do it.

… ONE MORE THING:

Oh, and just as a side-note, you may have noticed that I chose not to predict a Cup Series champion for next year. I picked Joey Logano in both 2015 and 2017, but it appears it may have been more of a curse than a blessing each time. So with that in mind, I’m going to try and avoid being a harbinger bad luck in 2018. Sorry about that, Joey!

Well, be sure to check back in with me next November to see just how accurate I was with my predictions for 2018. Until then, have a happy holidays, and we’ll see you in Atlanta in February (for the Folds of Honor Quick Trip 500)!

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has ‘some interest’ in being part of group that buys Carolina Panthers

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not one of two race car drivers who are part of Felix Sabates’ group seeking to buy the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, according to the Associated Press.

NASCAR’s 15-time most popular driver told the AP he hadn’t been asked by Sabates to join the group. But Earnhardt said he reached out to Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., about the possibility of being part of an effort to pursue the team.

SMI own Charlotte Motor Speedway and seven other NASCAR tracks.

“I said, ‘Hey, Marcus, if you guys are in the middle of it and you think it’s a good business deal, I definitely have some interest,'” Earnhardt told the AP. “But I am not one of the guys that Felix is talking about.”

Sabates, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, told the Charlotte Observer last week he was part of a local group in the Charlotte area seeking to buy the Panthers. Sabates said he is not in position to be the majority owner by a “long shot.”

Sabates’ group includes five businessmen, two of the team’s existing minority owners and two race car drivers, who Sabates declined to name.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is selling the team after it was revealed in December by Sports Illustrated that four former Panther employees received “significant settlements” for workplace misconduct that included “sexual harassment against female employees and for directing a racial slur at an African-American employee.”

NASCAR recently denied a report that CEO and Chairman Brian France was part of a group interested in buying the team.

Earnhardt, a noted fan of the Washington Redskins, recently retired from Cup racing after 18 full-time seasons on the circuit.

“I wouldn’t have the kind of money where I would move the needle too much, but it would be something to have a lot of pride in, and a good Charlotte NFL team is good for the city of Charlotte,” Earnhardt said. “I wish them success because of what it does for our community, not only from a pride standpoint, but an economical standpoint. I wouldn’t be a big player, and it wouldn’t be an investment that would really create a big change in my life.

“But I certainly would love to be supportive to the team and the success of the team to the community. That means a lot to me.”

Earnhardt will make his debut as a member of the NBC Sports broadcasting family next month during coverage of the Super Bowl and winter Olympics.

DC Solar to sponsor Chip Ganassi Racing in Cup, Xfinity races

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DC Solar will sponsor Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray in select Cup Series races and several Xfinity Series races this year, the team announced Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

DC Solar has backed Ganassi for the last three seasons in the Xfinity Series. It sponsored Brennan Poole‘s No. 48 Chevrolet for the last two seasons. Ganassi will only field one full-time car in the Xfinity Series this season.

The provider of mobile solar lighting devices will be on Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet and McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet in Cup. Both drivers will pilot the No. 42 in the Xfinity Series, along with John Hunter Nemechek.

McMurray hasn’t competed in the Xfinity Series since 2013.

DC Solar will make its Cup debut with Larson and the in the season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash exhibition on Feb. 11.

DC Solar provides mobile solar lighting solutions, EV chargers, and power stations to multiple tracks, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway (Phoenix) and Darlington Raceway.

The company has also partnered with ISM Raceway during its $178 million renovation project.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make NBC Sports debut with Super Bowl, Olympics coverage

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s 15-time most popular driver, will make his debut as a member of the NBC family with the network’s coverage of next month’s Super Bowl and the winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Earnhardt, who just retired after 18 full-time seasons in the Cup Series, will be part of NBC’s pre-game coverage of the Feb. 4 Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While there, Earnhardt will take part in outdoor events and activities taking place in city leading up to kickoff.

Earnhardt will then travel to PyeongChang, where he will explore the culture, people, and traditions in South Korea and experience the Olympics first hand. Earnhardt will visit the speed skating venue at Gangneung Ice Arena, and through the lens of a racer will view the speed, close contact, and tight turns on the speed skating oval.

Following a recent invite on social media from the U.S. bobsled team, Earnhardt will also travel to the Alpensia Sliding Center where he will get to ride in an Olympic bobsled.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games begin Feb. 8.

“I’m excited to get to work with my new NBC family,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “Beginning with two huge events like the Super Bowl and Olympics, right out of the gate, should be quite the introduction. I’m looking forward to raising the profile of NASCAR, and all that we’re going to be doing during the 2018 season.”

Earnhardt will be an analyst on NBC’s coverage of the NASCAR season. The NBC portion of the Cup schedule begins July 1 at Chicagoland Speedway on NBCSN.

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Cody Coughlin joins GMS Racing in Truck Series

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GMS Racing announced Tuesday that it has signed Cody Coughlin to compete for the team in the Camping World Truck Series this season.

Coughlin, the son of NHRA driver and JEGS President John Coughlin, joins the team after one year driving for ThorSport Racing.

The 22-year-old driver will pilot the No. 2 JEGS Chevrolet in his second full-time season in the series.

“I couldn’t be more excited to join the GMS Racing family as well as be back running for Chevrolet,” Coughlin said in a press release. “GMS is a team that has proven to be one of the teams to beat every time they unload at the race track and now I have the same opportunity. I can’t thank GMS Racing, (team owners) Maury Gallagher and Mike Beam enough for this chance. I think we have the right tools and personnel in place with the No.2 team to run up front and contend for race wins every weekend.”

Coughlin joins Justin Haley, Dalton Sargeant and 2016 series champion Johnny Sauter.

Coughlin has 35 series starts since 2015. His best finish is third at Phoenix in November last season. It is his only top-five finish. He has three tops 10s.

The native of Delaware, Ohio, will be paired with crew chief Jerry Baxter. Baxter worked with Kaz Grala in 2017. Together they won the season opener at Daytona and earned five top fives and 11 top 10s.

Baxter has 10 wins as a crew chief in the Truck Series, including five with Darrell Wallace Jr.

“I’m more than ready to get the 2018 season underway,” Baxter said in a press release. “Last year we raced against Cody every weekend, so I have an idea of the type of driver he is. It will be even better to be able to work with him now firsthand. We have a good group of hard-working guys on the No. 2 that will definitely put us in the position to run well every time we’re at the track.”

The 2018 Truck Series season begins Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway.

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