WALTZ: Looking Into The Crystal Ball

Keith Waltz Mug
Keith Waltz.

HARRISBURG, N.C. — With another racing season shifting into high gear, it’s time to pull the old crystal ball — we fondly refer to it as Wilbur — out of closet, dust it off and see what it has to say about the season ahead.

Even though Wilbur is correct about as often as Michael McDowell wins a NASCAR Cup Series race, our cantankerous crystal ball is always entertaining and often leaves us perplexed.

As for series champions, Wilbur predicts:

– Chase Elliott will repeat as the NASCAR Cup Series champion. The additional road-course races on this year’s Cup Series calendar only increase the odds that the second-generation speedster will make multiple visits to victory lane, and he’ll be well positioned for another playoff run.

– Mexican wheelman Pato O’Ward and Arrow McLaren SP will upset the apple cart by defeating Team Penske, Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing to claim the NTT IndyCar Series crown. O’Ward, who will turn 21 prior to the Indy 500 in May, will be smooth, fast and consistent as he adds America’s biggest open-wheel championship to his 2018 Indy Lights title.

– Much like the NASCAR Cup Series, Wilbur expects a repeat champion in the NASCAR Xfinity Series where Austin Cindric appears to be the class of the field. Cindric will win at least a half dozen races before shifting his focus to the Cup Series and Wood Brothers Racing for 2022.

– John Hunter Nem­echek’s big gamble will pay off with a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. The second-generation driver walked away from a midpack Cup Series ride so he could be a contender in one of the potent Toyota trucks fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports. Smart move.

– Logan Schuchart will make his grandfather the happiest man on the planet when he wins the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series title. Bobby Allen’s grandson was a WoO title contender last season and he’ll be even better this year.

– Eighteen-year-old Ty Gibbs will turn the ARCA Menards Series into his own personal playground as Joe Gibbs’ grandson easily wins the championship in his first full season in the series. After visiting victory lane in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut on the Daytona road course, this teenager has a bright future.

– Brandon Sheppard will earn his fourth World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series crown. He won 14 races a year ago en route to his second consecutive series title in Mark Richards’ No. 1 Rocket and Wilbur expects him to top that number.

– After sitting out the COVID-19-shortened season a year ago, John Force will return to NHRA drag racing in a big way by storming to his 17th Funny Car title. Force, who turns 72 next month, will shock the racing world by announcing his retirement following his title-clinching pass.

– Brady Bacon is methodically building a powerhouse sprint car team in conjunction with the Hoffman family, and the resident of Winchester, Ind., will romp to his fourth USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series crown in the legendary No. 69 car.

– The All Star Circuit of Champions title fight is so wide open that Wilbur simply fogged up when asked to predict who would win that sprint car series’ championship.

As for some of the bigger races, Wilbur predicts:

– Even though the crowd will be limited due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, Alexander Rossi will edge Josef Newgarden to win the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500. The two American racers will exchange the lead numerous times during the closing laps with Rossi winning by two inches.

– Donny Schatz will win the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway for the 11th time. Following a two-year drought and a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic, Schatz’s victory will come after he passes local favorite Brian Brown in turn four on the final lap of the half-mile dirt track.

That’s all of the predictions for this year because Wilbur says he’s worn out and ready to return to storage until next season.