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Updating NASCAR 2012 predictions

Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Michigan this year, and is primed to contend for more victories before the season's end.

A year ago, some believed the Mayan calendar forecasted that the world would end Dec. 21, 2012. Even one company based a Super Bowl commercial around that premise.

Wall writings discovered in Guatemala, though, show that the Mayan calendar goes well beyond 2012, according to a study in May in the journal Science. We'll find out what happens Dec. 21, but the study suggests that not all predictions come true.

But then again, some do.

Before this NASCAR season, I detailed 10 predictions for this year. Surprisingly -- as some might say -- a few of them proved to be right. A few were off. And others have yet to be determined with about half a season left in the Sprint Cup Series.

As Nationwide and Sprint Cup teams prepare to go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week, here's a look back and what was forecast and a look ahead to what might happen.

1. Darian Grubb will be in Victory Lane before Tony Stewart. That proved true; Grubb helped Denny Hamlin win at Phoenix in the second race of the season, and Stewart, with new crew chief Steve Addington, won the following week at Las Vegas.

The new question is who will have more victories this season: Grubb or Stewart? Stewart holds a 3-2 advantage after a miscommunication between Hamlin and Grubb cost Hamlin a chance to win at New Hampshire. While Stewart has eight top-three finishes in the first 19 races, five of those are at tracks the series won't race at again this season. Hamlin has six top-three finishes this season and four, including wins at Phoenix and Kansas, are at tracks the series returns to this season. The pick goes with Grubb and Hamlin topping Stewart in victories this season.

2. The curse continues. I noted that Stewart in 2001-2002 was the last driver to win the title after finishing second in points the year before. The curse seems to have continued as Carl Edwards, currently 11th in points, falls further back.

The new question is will Edwards make the Chase? No. Edwards enters Indy with Chad Norris as his new crew chief after Bob Osborne, citing health concerns, stepped down. While he was a surprising Twitter sensation through the many #ChadNorrisFacts humorously created after his promotion, Norris' job won't be easy. Edwards has not shown the speed as his teammates, points leader Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Edwards has not finished in the top 10 in six of the last seven races. Other than leading 206 laps at Richmond, Edwards has led one lap in all the other Cup races combined.

3. The drought ends. This was a no-brainer figuring Dale Earnhardt Jr. would win a race this season (which came last month in Michigan).

The new question is how many more races will Earnhardt win this year? Two. He's been strong this summer, a period during which he's struggled at times, and based on his driver's rating, four of his six best races have come since June. That's a sign that this team is in a prime position to contend for more victories.

4. A friend returns. I wrote not to be surprised if there's an announcement that Austin Dillon moves to Cup in 2013 and brings the No. 3 with him. Dillon indicated before Sunday's Nationwide race at Chicagoland Speedway that he'll remain in Nationwide next season but do additional Cup races.

The new question is when will the No. 3 return to the Cup with Dillon? I would think that happens when Dillon moves to Cup in 2014 as opposed to a part-time schedule next season.

5. Brad Keselowski will do something no one has ever done before. I noted how he would be the first driver to tweet a picture from Victory Lane before exiting his car (he tweeted this picture after he won at Bristol in March).

The new question is who will be the next to get on Twitter: Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart or Brian France? It won't be Stewart. Earnhardt's fans want him on it and maybe that will happen but just not yet. Edwards won't as he tries to make the Chase. France is the likeliest, as it would be a good p.r. move for him, as NASCAR revamps how it gets its message to fans.

6. Brotherly love. I noted how this year "the Busch brothers will give race fans something to talk about in 2012.'' They have. Admittedly, this wasn't a hard prediction to make with the brothers often at the center of something, whether it's a battle for a win or controversy.

The new question is will they both avoid controversy the rest of the season? Yes -- in terms of off-track controversy. As for what happens on the track? No. Expect something to brew. Both are hard chargers and conflicts arise during hard racing.

7. Look who wins in 2012? Yes, I predicted Danica Patrick would win a Nationwide race. She has yet to do so this season. Her best finish is eighth at Texas. She has one top-10 finish in 18 Nationwide races this season.

The new question is what Nationwide regular without a win (besides Patrick) will win this season? Sam Hornish Jr. He has six consecutive top-10 finishes and hasn't placed worse than 13th since the season-opening race at Daytona.

8. Four-timing. I predicted that all four drivers at Hendrick Motorsports -- Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne -- would each score at least one victory this season. Johnson, Earnhardt and Kahne have won, Gordon has not.

The new question is will Jeff Gordon makes the Chase? No. He needs to win at least once and score a series of top-five and top-10 finishes to have a chance. Two wins likely gets him in the Chase, but it will be hard to do that in the final seven races. Yes, he did win at Pocono and Atlanta last year, which are among the final seven races, but don't see a sweep at those tracks. If he doesn't win at either, then he'll have to win at a track or two he has not won at in years. Of the other five tracks before the Chase, here are Gordon's most recent wins there: Indianapolis (2004), Bristol (2002), Michigan (2001), Watkins Glen (2001) and Richmond (2000).

9. Another upset winner. After Trevor Bayne's victory in the 2011 Daytona 500 -- and how the Daytona 500 winner had gone on to finish in the top 10 in points only three times since 2001 -- I said there would be another surprise winner. Of course, current points leader Matt Kenseth won.

The new question is will Matt Kenseth snap that trend and win the title? No. Kenseth has had a good run and will continue to do so. The fact that he's leaving Roush Fenway Racing after this season might have a small -- repeat, small -- impact but what will prevent him from winning the title will be the competition.

10. A new champion. I predicted before the season that Kevin Harvick would win the championship.

The new question is am I sticking with my pick? Yes. While Harvick is one of two drivers in the top 10 in points without a victory, let's go back to this point last year. Tony Stewart was 11th in the points heading to Indianapolis (Harvick is sixth) and also was winless. Stewart had fewer top-10 finishes (seven at this point a year ago) than Harvick does now (nine). Frankly, as Stewart shows, it's hard to predict a champion at this point. Who would have had Stewart a year ago? You know, back when some people thought the world would end this Dec. 21? Maybe this is Harvick's year.

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