This season is one that is very interesting going in, because 2016's champion, and perennial championship contender more or less since the start of the re-imagined WoO, Josh Richards, has left the tour to go run the Lucas series. It was a move that sent shockwaves through the sport. His seat in Mark Richards' house car team was filled by Brandon Sheppard, who has previously driven the car on tour with quite a bit of success, but he left the ride shortly into the season to be closer to home. Brandon has already picked up a win in the car this season at East Bay a couple nights ago, so the combination should be quite successful going into the season.
Another move made by a WoO team was Steve Casebolt leaving the Tye Twarog #9 and was replaced by young upstart Devin Moran, with plans to follow the whole tour in 2017. Devin had previously attempted to run the Lucas tour in his own equipment, but had to drop off due to a lack of funding. With the Twarog partnership, funding won't be an issue, and it'll be interesting to see what he can do on tour. He's always very stout at shows around his region, and has shown flashes of brilliance in his trips further from home before. I tend to think he'll be pretty good on tour once he gets the Rockets he's in figured out.
A new face on tour this year will be Chris Madden. Chris is one of the very best regional drivers, if not THE best, in the entire country, and has won big races before in trips out of the region. He previously started off with the WoO in 2007, but dropped off in June. He's definitely capable of winning a championship, and will get his wins for sure, but he's shown commitment issues with following a tour. Everything interview I've read with him going into this season, though, he definitely seems serious about it this year. I definitely hope he follows through with the whole tour, because simply being there makes each race more interesting. He's that good.
Other than that, contingent upon what happens at Screven and Volusia, of course, the rest of the tour should look pretty much as it has the last handful of seasons. The schedule isn't all that different, either, save for the shows at the re-opening Rt. 66 Dirt Oval in Chicago. That schedule can be found here.
All that said, let's get to predictions. Here's where I think the top twelve in points will be come the end of the World Finals in Charlotte.
1. Brandon Sheppard, New Berlin, IL.
9. Chase Jughans, Manhattan, KS.