This is the second and final installment of a series of burning questions that might be asked for NASCAR’s 2016 season:
Q. Who will be rookie of the year?
A. This year’s class is as deep as there has been in quite some time. It includes Chase Elliott, Brian Scott, Chris Buescher, Ryan Blaney and Jeffrey Earnhardt. Elliott has lots to fall back on -- driving Jeff Gordon’s old No. 24 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports – and might be considered the favorite. Like Elliott, Buescher is a former Xfinity champion (last season). But let’s go with Blaney, who will drive the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford. Blaney was solid last season in 16 Cup races, finishing fourth at Talladega and seventh at Kansas.
Q. How will Joey Logano respond to last season’s drama?
A. Logano was in a prime spot to win the Chase last season, winning three straight races in the postseason at one point. That third victory, at Kansas, came at a cost for Logano, however. He bumped then leader Matt Kenseth out of the way to win, and was paid back in full a week later when Kenseth took Logano out in Martinsville. The Chase is a different world than the regular season. How well Logano understands that now will be a major key to his championship hopes.
Q. Who’s a good darkhorse pick for this year’s title?
A. There’s a driver out there, like Martin Truex Jr. in 2015, who few people are thinking about making the Chase of winning the championship. It’s tough to break through in NASCAR if you’re not driving for one of the sport’s super teams, but maybe this is the season somebody like, say, AJ Allmendinger muscles his way to the front.
Q. Will Jimmie Johnson rebound?
A. Count on it. Johnson will come out smoking as he looks for his seventh championship, one he fell short of last season after a broken part at Dover cost him a chance to advance in the Chase. The No. 48 team, led by crew chief Chad Knaus figures to be in it again this season, all the way to Homestead.
Q. Will there be a first-time winner?
A. If there is, look for it to be either Kyle Larson or Austin Dillon. Larson, 23, had two top-5s last season and is also a good pick to make the Chase for the first time. Dillon, 25, driving for his grandfather Richard Childress, was consistent last season, starting all 36 races and completing 95.7 percent of his laps on the way to a top-5 at Michigan and five top-10s.