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Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark makes bold NASCAR predictions

Atlanta Motor Speedway President and General Manager Ed Clark has made some bold predictions about the upcoming NASCAR season. (Special Photo)

Atlanta Motor Speedway President and General Manager Ed Clark has made some bold predictions about the upcoming NASCAR season. (Special Photo)

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Driver Tony Stewart addresses the media during the Sprint Media Tour at the Charlotte Convention Center last month. According to AMS president Ed Clark, Stewart will make a big comeback from his leg injury sustained last season. (Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports)

HAMPTON — It is time for them to “start their engines” as the 2014 NASCAR season begins.

With “The Great American Race” — the Daytona 500 — starting on Feb. 23 at Daytona International Speedway it’s time for some season predictions.

And no one has done it better than Atlanta Motor Speedway President and General Manager Ed Clark who annually makes bold predictions for each season.

Clark’s many years of experience has shown in making accurate assessments of how the season would pan out on the track. Last year, Clark correctly predicted that Kyle Busch would rebound from missing The Chase for the Championship in 2012 to win four races. Busch won four times in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last year.

Without further wait, here is how Clark sees the 2014 season:

Expect a huge year from the rookies

“This year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie class is one of the most talented groups that we have seen in quite some time,” Clark said. “It rivals the 1979 group that included Dale Earnhardt Sr., Terry Labonte, Joe Millican and Harry Gant as well as in 2000 when Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., entered the Cup Series.”

Clark says the headline-grabbers will be Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson. He also says keep an eye on Justin Allgaier, Alex Bowman and Ryan Truex.

“Both of these guys have an awful lot of talent,” he said. “Add in the fact that they are driving for race teams that are putting a strong amount of support around them, and odds are good that at least one of these guys will contend for a win or two this year.”

Tony Stewart will bounce back

“Mark it down. Tony Stewart will rebound with a vengeance after missing a big part of last year with a leg injury. The driver many of you fans affectionately refer to as “Smoke” will rise in a big way this year. Look for him to win at least four times and be a factor for the season championship.”

Look for big things from Chase Elliott

“The 18-year-old son of Bill Elliott takes the next step in his racing career this year, driving the No. 9 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports. Fans who enjoyed watching “Awesome Bill” race the No. 9 car will have lots to cheer about. I predict that Chase will win a Nationwide Series race and finish in the top five in the points standings.”

Team Penske will have a big year

“Joey Logano had a breakout year in 2013 in making The Chase and picking up a victory. I’d look for him and the No. 22 team to build on that and have a strong season. As for Brad Keselowski? He and his team will rebound in a big way and have a say in determining the season champion. Look, this is the same team that raced for and won the championship in 2012, and it beat Jimmie Johnson in doing so. That, race fans, takes some doing. The No. 2 team has not forgotten how to run well and race for a championship. They will return to that form this year and win multiple races.”

The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion will come from Joe Gibbs Racing

“That’s right! You heard it here first. Between Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, one of them will bring the season championship to Joe Gibbs Racing. Within the past few years, Hamlin and Kenseth have come very close to breaking through and beating out Jimmie Johnson to win the season championship, and Kyle Busch was a huge factor early on in the Chase last year. All three teams at JGR know how to put themselves into position to win a title, and the new Chase format plays very well to the strength of all three.”