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2008 will go down as a memorable season

With the 2008 NASCAR season officially in the books, I went back and looked at some predictions I made more than 10 months ago. On Feb. 1, I picked the 12 drivers that would make the Chase and the driver I thought would win the 2008 championship.

As anyone who reads my rumblings on a regular basis knows, my prognostication ability leaves much to be desired. In fact, I can’t think of one time I correctly picked a race winner this season, but I like trying.

Before the season started, I picked eight of the 12 chase participants; I got it 66 percent right. But the eight that I picked were no-brainers. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the drivers that I correctly predicted would make the Chase. As you can see, I didn’t venture too far out on the limb with this bunch.

The drivers that made the Chase but didn’t make my list were Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin. Those drivers finished third, fifth, sixth and eighth, respectively, in the final standings.

The four drivers that made my original list but didn’t even pose a threat to cracking the top 12 were Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch and Elliott Sadler. My reason for picking Kahne and Sadler was the re-dedication of Ray Evernham to performance issues of all the Gillette Evernham teams. My thinking was that Ray would work his magic and get these guys into the chase.

Well, Evernham has practically no influence now with that team and is on the verge of selling his remaining small share of the team. Ray is more interested in television work now instead of making a racecar go faster. I really missed the mark on that one.

And my pick in February to win the Sprint Cup championship was Tony Stewart. Oh well, missed that one too.

With the season now over, we may never see another season like this one for a long time. First, because we had a three-peat championship winner for the first time in 30 years and only the second time ever. Secondly, because the level of manufacturer and corporate support is on the decline, and it very well could take years for it to return to what it once was.

The Big Three automakers are struggling mightily, and even though it might be one of the last expenditures to be affected, cash outlays for racing surely will be impacted. General Motors, Ford and Dodge spend millions per year in NASCAR. With stock prices at 50-year lows for Ford and GM, it would be nave not to expect some tightening of the purse strings.

Teams have also found the search for new sponsorship dollars to be non-existent. I would not be surprised to see some races next seasons with less than the typical 43 cars entered.

This will pass, like it always does, but it looks to be a rough ride on the way to recovery.