In the year 2017 ...
Racing in the shadow of The Great Wall? Trading paint within eyeshot of Mount Rainier? A track in the Rocky Mountains? Gazing into the crystal ball, here's a six-pack of predictions for what the wide world of NASCAR will look like in 2017:
1. NASCAR chairman Brian France compares the opportunities for stock car racing in China today to what existed in the United States in the late 1940s, when his grandfather formed NASCAR. Last year France visited the Shanghai International Circuit -- a road course in Shanghai -- and he left determined to bring NASCAR to China.
Prediction: By 2017, there will be a NASCAR China Series, full of Chinese teams, Chinese drivers and Chinese owners. At the end of the race season, the top Chinese drivers will come to the United States to face the Cup boys in what will be dubbed an East vs. West All-Star showdown. Forty-five-year-old Tony Stewart will win the race, promptly retire, then buy a motor home and camp in the infield of every race for the following season -- something, in fact, that Stewart told me he wants to do.
2. France's No. 1 domestic goal is to invade New York City. Thus far, however, it's been a logistical nightmare for NASCAR to win over the various groups in the Big Apple -- the local politicians, the community boards, the planning commissions, etc. For now, NASCAR is no longer looking at the Staten Island site that the series targeted a few years ago, but don't expect France to give up. He told me two years ago that the only way NASCAR can become a truly national sport is to be racing in New York, the media capital of America, which means ...
Prediction: In '17 the green flag will drop on the first Statue of Liberty 400 at New York City Speedway, which will take place on a 1.5-mile track built in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
3. Last week Greg Biffle, Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip lobbied legislators in Washington state to back a proposal that would create public funding to pay for about half of a $368-million race track. (The International Speedway Corp., which is an arm of NASCAR and already owns multiple tracks, would cover the rest.) The actual site of the track hasn't been picked yet, but it would likely be within 50 miles of Seattle. And though there's been consistent opposition from local politicians, it looks like it's just a matter of time before there's a groundbreaking ceremony -- probably on a stretch of land near the airport in Bremerton.
Prediction: In '17 Washington native Kasey Kahne will take the checkered flag at the Seattle Speedway in the Northwest 400 -- though the race will be rain delayed.
4. Along with having a presence in the Northwest, NASCAR also wants to be in the Rocky Mountains. NASCAR execs hope to soon build a facility in either Aurora, Colo. or Commerce City, Colo. NASCAR learned several valuable lessons in their dealings with New York -- namely, that it needs to get community support early in the process -- and ISC has already promised to only build where there is strong support.
Prediction: In '17 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will win the Rocky Mountain 500 at Denver Speedway. This will be the last victory of his career. When he retires at the end of the '17 season along with buddy Tony Stewart, Little E has one Cup championship on his résumé -- which he won when driving for Hendrick Motorsports in '10.
5. It's simple math: When new tracks are added to the Cup schedule, old ones are going to lose their races. What venues will go the way of Rockingham and North Wilksboro and disappear into history?
Prediction: There will be three tracks that are currently on the Cup circuit that won't be on it in '17: Martinsville (Va.); Darlington (S.C.); and Watkins Glen (N.Y.).
6. This weekend Mexico City will host a Busch Series race. NASCAR is taking a cautious approach to expanding its Cup schedule to reach across the border, but it's going to happen. After Juan Pablo Montoya, a native of Colombia, wins the race on Sunday -- and he will -- he'll be on his way to becoming the most popular stock car driver in history in Mexico. This will increase ticket demands in Mexico City, which is the always the best way for a track to convince NASCAR to put it on the Cup schedule.
Prediction: In '17 Montoya will notch his 40th career Cup Vvctory at the road course of Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.