January 29, 2018 by squish
Written by Ryan Delaney
As the Winter moves along, we slowly inch our way to the third Sunday in February and the beginning of a new Nascar season. Last season left us with plenty to talk about and plenty to look forward to in this upcoming season. The entire cup series lineup is loaded with great talent and teams, and I don’t think anyone would be surprised by any of them taking home a championship.
Sundays are going to look a little different with Dale Jr. no longer on the track, but the buzz surrounding the crop of young talent in the cup series this season is going to be one of the main selling points for Nascar, and I believe that is by far the biggest storyline heading into the season.
This movement of young drivers taking over the sport began two seasons ago after Jeff Gordon made his departure and Chase Elliott coming onto the scene with Hendricks. Elliott has made the playoffs each of his first two seasons, and was just one spot and a couple of laps away at Martinsville from making a trip to Homestead on the final Sunday, but despite this, does not have his first win. I except much of the same from him this season as he had one of the best cars all season long last year and will again this season.
I am also willing to guarantee that he will not only secure his first win, but will also win multiple races this year. I’ll admit, I’m a bigger fan of Chase than other drivers, but I would be remiss if I did not mention all the other young guns that have a shot at a title this season.
Kyle Larson had one of the best seasons that most people will forget about just because he finished just 8th in the cup standings despite having 4 wins. This actually just goes to show how good and consistent Chase was as he was able finish 5th without a single win, but also shouldn’t take away from what Larson did. This is where the format causes problems, because it benefits who’s driving well down the stretch instead of rewarding longtime success, which it is supposed to do. I think Kyle will do much of the same in this upcoming season and is a serious contender to be on Victory Lane in Homestead in November.
I’m also very interested in what is going to come from guys like Ryan Blaney, who finished 9th in 2017, Erik Jones(19th), the 2017 Rookie of the year, and Daniel Suarez. It would be stunning if even just one of these drivers didn’t make the playoffs this upcoming season, which is remarkable considering they are all under 26 years old. This whole young driver movement is already causing a stir before the season starts with Kyle Busch complaining about how much Nascar is promoting its young drivers and he believes that it is taking away the spotlight from drivers who have been around awhile and have had sustained success.
The best answer for Busch to change this narrative that Nascar is writing is simply just to win and he knows it. I think he realizes he let a major opportunity to take home his second title last season as he had the best car at the end of the year, but couldn’t get the job done. Martin Truex Jr, the 2017 champion, even stated after the race that he did not have the best car at Homestead, but raced the best possible race he and his team could while others made mistakes, and that was why he came away with a victory.
I’m not truly sure what to expect from Truex in the upcoming season coming off his first championship of his career at 37 years old as I believe the competition is going to be stronger this season. However, he does drive a Toyota, and the new Camry’s have been FAST out there, especially last season, and it was evident as Brad Keselowski even complained that the 2018 Camry should’ve been deemed unfair by Nascar. He also went on to pinpoint the cause of him not winning the championship on this, but that’s aside from the point. Furniture Row is going to be tough to beat in 2018, but in the end I do not believe Truex will be able to repeat as champion.
Like I said, it truly is anyone’s Cup to win, but my playoff drivers are as follows (in no particular order):
Martin Truex Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
This list is relatively similar to last year’s playoff drivers, but there are a few changes and new faces. First let’s talk about who’s new that’s in. Obvious with Matt Kenseth taking a leave of absence, he will not be returning, but we hope he can make a comeback soon because I would think he would for sure be returning to the Offs after a 7th place finish in 2017.
I also have Jamie McMurray and Kasey Kahne dropping out as they have not done much to impress recently and it appears their time may be coming to an end. Coming in, or back in, we have Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, and Erik Jones. I’m not quite sure what happened to Joey Logano last year after finishing 2nd in 2016. He does have a target on his back as he is not well liked by many of the top drivers, especially Kyle Busch, but that is still no excuse for dropping 16 spots in one season. Despite this, I fully expect him to have a bounce back year this year and will likely make the Final 8 at worst.
It’s tough to pick who will come out of this group with all this talent, but my heart is telling me it’s going to be these 4 at Homestead next November:
Kyle Busch has had the most consistent team and car over the past three seasons, and I have no doubt he will be right back there again, as he is a threat to win week in and week out. Like I mentioned earlier, Chase is a stud and is going to have his break out year. I’m not quite sure if he has what it takes just yet to take home the championship, but I would not be even the least bit surprised if he did.
Kyle Larson is my bold prediction going into 2018, but what he did last year leaves me with a lot of hope and excitement to see what he can do going forward. Finally, we get to good, old Jimmie Johnson. The 7-time champion and most decorated driver of this generation, and possibly all time, returns to make a run at his record eighth cup. Last season he finished with a bit of a disappointment, especially by his standards, but he was still in the Final 8 and was still fighting down the stretch.
I’m not fully sure why, but I’m confident about Johnson and his team going into this year. Ultimately, I believe Kyle Busch is going to walk away as the 2018 champion. He’s hungry and angry as it’s now going on three years since his last title, and he’s just been too good, something is bound to give eventually. I truly believe this is the year for him, but I’m extremely excited for what’s in store for 2018.