Yeah, I know, the WoO late model series started up their season already a couple weeks ago. And you were probably wondering why we didn't do any kind of season preview here at TDN, because, well, we do that kind of stuff around here.
But here's the thing, if you'll notice, last year we didn't do our preview until after Speedweeks either. You know why it's like that? Because with both national touring series, you'll have guys that announce their intentions to follow a tour, but have a crappy Florida and decide against it. So I figured that it's probably for the best that I wait until things shake out and we have a better idea who's actually going to follow the tour for the whole year.
Going by that, this is the list of dudes that thought they might try to run the full WoO: Josh Richards, Shane Clanton, Rick Eckert, Frankie Heckenast Jr, Morgan Bagley, Chub Frank, Boom Briggs, Brandon Overton, Eric Wells, Chase Jughans, Steve Casebolt, Brian Shirley, Paul Wilmouth, Joey Coulter, Billy Moyer Jr., Chris Ferguson, Jason Feger, and Rambo Franklin.
Do the math. That's sixteen dudes. The tour pays the "Winners Circle" money to the top ten guys in points. You're going to have some dudes drop off, and I think I have an idea who will be left come May or June. So that's what I'm gonna base this preview on. I'll do what I did last year and basically list where I think they'll end up in points, and who I think will win RoY, so without any further ado...
1. Josh Richards. I know, I know, I picked him to win the points last year, too. I was wrong, so shoot me. However, he's been hotter than a Firecracker (pun intended or something) straight out of the gate to start the season, with 7 wing and no finishes worse than 7th in 14 starts amongst both national late model tours. He's the hottest driver in the country at this moment. And he's already leading the points. I don't see him slowing down any time soon. I look for him to more or less dominate the tour the way he was before the health problems, now that he's knocked the rust all the way off.
2. Shane Clanton. Shane is the defending champ (after having a monster start to the season last year), and I fully expect him to still be fast and win his fair share of races, I just don't think he'll be as consistent as Josh.
3. Rick Eckert. A move to Longhorn chassis towards the end of the year last year rejuvenated Rick a bunch, and propelled him back to being a competitive most nights again. Always a smooth dirver, I look for him to pick up a couple wins and have a pretty consistent year overall and end up in the heat of the points battle.
4. Brian Shirley. Brian was one of them "maybe" guys going into 2016. He was going to go to Florida and see how things went and if they went well, he was going to run the whole deal. Well, Florida went very well for him, and he's currently third in points, and when the tour re-convenes in April, theyre going to be in his wheelhouse. I believe he's going to stay on tour until the finishes go way south. I don't see them going south for him. He's been very fast most nights so far. He's tired the WoO before, but never followed through. He;s got the backing, I think this is the year he follows through. I look for him to be pretty consistent and pick up a win or two. It'll be good enough for the top 5 on points.
5. Frankie Hecknast Jr. Frankie had a pretty solid year last year in his first full year with the WoO. He already announced his intentions to follow again in 2016. I expect him to get even better this season and even win a race or two, and be more consistently good than he was last season as he'll be more familiar with the tracks they're running. I would not be surprised to see him sitch chassis at some point his year, though. Them Club cars seem to be falling out of favor.
6. Steve Casebolt. Steve was another maybe to start the year. He's currently tenth in points, so he's going to keep following the tour. I look for him to improve that position as the year wears on and stay on tour the whole way through. He's no stranger to following a national tour, and he's damn competitive most nights out. He'll win at least one race along the way.
7. Chub Frank. Chub had his best year in a while last year, finishing third in points despite not winning any races. I don't look for him to have the same year this year. However, it won't be that he'll be regressing (although age is slowly, but surely catching up to him), it'll just be that everybody else just got better.
8. Chase Jughans. I believe Chase will have a year very similar to last year. He'll be great some nights, terrible others, and okay the rest of the time. He may win a race or two along the way, but the ups and downs will keep him in roughly the same spot in the points as last year.
9. Brandon Overton. I also believe Brandon will have a year like last year, but it'll be an easier year. He'll be visiting tracks he's seen before, and that helps, and he appears to have more and better equipment this year. It's just that he's going to be facing tougher competition than last year, too.
10. Morgan Bagley. I see Morgan regressing some, he made improvements last year, sure, but everybody else got better, and with a couple new faces (and good ones, at that), somebody is bound to get lost in the shuffle a bit. Unfortunately for him, I think Morgan is that guy.
11. Boom Briggs. Boom is Boom. He's one of the more inconsistent drivers I've ever seen. In 2016, I expect it to be much more of the same, however, above him has become a bunch more compeitive, and they're going to capitalize on that inconsistency. That said, I certainly wouldn't be surprised if he managed to win a race or two on tour, because when he's good, he's really good. It's just that when he's bad, he's really bad.
12. Paul Wilmouth. Well, should win RoY rather handily, as I don't think Casebolt or Shirley are eligible. He's said he's always wanted to try running the WoO, and bah gahd, he's gonna do it in 2016. He's going to be in over his head a lot of nights, but he'll be competitive enough to make it interesting.
13. Joey Coulter. Joey turned a lot of heads by mentioning that we was gonna try the WoO in 2016. I mean, after all, it's not like he is an accomplished dirt driver, he's a pavment racer at heart. Still it looks like he's going to follow through with it. He's gonna take his lumps most nights, but will be competitive just enough to keep going, if for no reason than to learn. He'll be a much better dirt laste model driver in 2017 for it.
And that's it. That's my predictions for the rest of the WoO tour in 2016. I know, I know, I made some bold predictions in there, just as I made some bold predictions last year. Some will be right, some will be wrong. Whatever happens, it should be pretty interesting, I think Clanton v. Richards should be a season long rivalry for the ages. That said, lets revisit this in Novemeber when it all shakes out and see how right or wrong I was.
May your beer stay dirty, and your ears stay ringing at the races in 2016.