Predictions? COT controversy, Toyota struggles

Some preseason predictions are easy, some aren't. Knowing no reader is likely to forget, Terry Blount sticks his neck out for what he expects to see in 2007.

Updated: December 27, 2006, 5:24 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Predicting the future in NASCAR is a little like going four wide into Turn 1 at Talladega. You know you're probably going to look bad, but it's just too tempting to resist.

The Daytona 500 is less than two months away and Daytona testing begins Jan. 8. And they call this the offseason?

With the NASCAR season closing in, we might as well throw out a few fearless predictions of what fans will see when the cars and drivers hit the track.

And you don't need a palm reader to see what's coming on some of this stuff.

COT complaints

Clint Bowyer
Rusty Jarrett/Getty ImagesTeams -- already openly sniping at the Car Of Tomorrow -- are all but guaranteed to make the first COT race a controversial one.
You're going to hear so much howling over the Car of Tomorrow, it could drown out the roar of the engines. Drivers and crew chiefs hate the new car.

They aren't going to let up on listing all the things they feel are wrong with it (the rear wing, the front splitter and less-than-stylish look) and why it won't race well. The COT's debut at Bristol in March is a guaranteed grumblefest.

Toyota will struggle
Despite all the fears of Toyota taking over NASCAR's world, the first half of the Nextel Cup season will include tough times for the new Toyota drivers.

The three Toyota teams don't rank among the elite of Cup. Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull are new teams. Bill Davis Racing hardly rivals Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs in the NASCAR hierarchy.

Aside from Dale Jarrett with his past-champion provisional, the other Toyota drivers have to qualify on speed for the first five events. Tenths of a second, or even hundredths of a second, can make the difference between getting in and going home.

Toyota officials will jump for joy if all seven full-time Camry drivers make the field for every race.

Even so, Toyota's best chance of winning might come in the first race. Restrictor-plate racing makes the Daytona 500 a bit of an equalizer. Waltrip and Jarrett know a thing or two about racing in the draft. They have four Daytona 500 victories between them.

Montoya will surprise

Juan Montoya
Rainier Ehrhardt/AP PhotoJuan Pablo Montoya could be competitive quickly as long as the equipment is up to par
If Chip Ganassi's team supplies him with competitive equipment, Juan Pablo Montoya will prove he can run up front in Nextel Cup. Montoya has raced with the leaders his entire open-wheel career. He has an enormous learning curve coming from Formula One, but the man can drive.

Montoya also has a temper to rival Tony Stewart's. If his cars are junk, he's going to get frustrated quickly. If the new Dodges are good, just give him a little time and he's going to run with the big boys.

Winning gets a minor boost
NASCAR will announce in January that it is increasing the number of points a driver earns for winning a race, but it won't be enough.

A driver will earn an additional 10 points, maybe 20, for winning a race. The upcoming change is a step in the right direction, but NASCAR won't go far enough to increase the emphasis on winning races.

NASCAR officials are afraid one driver could win five races in the Chase and run away with the title if too many points are added for victories. Hey, if a guy wins half the Chase races, he deserves to win the championship.

Big-money sponsors will miss races
With Toyota joining the show, Nextel Cup will have more quality teams with major sponsors next year.

Only 35 spots are guaranteed at each race, but at least 10 more cars with top sponsorship dollars will attempt to make the 43-car fields. And that doesn't include all the part-time Cup teams that attempt to qualify during the season.

That means some big-money sponsors are going to go home sometimes without making the race.

The last thing NASCAR wants is to anger corporate honchos who are footing the bill. But there are only two ways to avoid doing that in 2007: either increase the number of guaranteed spots or increase the field at some Cup events.

Edwards will win the Busch crown
Not a tough prediction saying Carl Edwards will win the Busch title, since most of the Cup regulars who ran the full Busch season in 2006 are switching to a partial Busch schedule in 2007.

Busch champ Kevin Harvick said he won't run the full season next year. But he could have skipped four races this past season and still won the title since he finished 824 points ahead of Edwards.

Denny Hamlin, Reed Sorenson, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch (four Cup drivers who finished in the top 10 of the 2006 Busch standings) also don't plan to race in all the 2007 Busch events.

David Reutimann and David Ragan, Cup rookies next year, will race full-time in Busch. So will veteran Cup racer Dave Blaney, who will compete in both series for Davis' Toyota team.

Time will tell how many of these prognostications come true. And yes, I know all of you are going to remember.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter