The 2018 NASCAR Season Preview

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SONOMA, CA - JUNE 25: The Start of the race at the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series- Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma,CA on June 25, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2018 NASCAR Season Preview is here. A driver by driver preview from our Jim LaPlante.

The 2018 NASCAR Season Preview

The locks:

Martin Truex Jr.  – Martin has a bullseye mounted squarely on the hood of his Toyota Camry and after what we all witnessed last season it probably will be sitting there all season.  Last season saw Truex have as dominating a season as we have seen since the dominant years of Jeff Gordon.  I cannot imagine any Chase Playoffs that does not include the #78 car in the near future.

Jimmie Johnson – Oh sure, ole seven-time has shown a few dents in the bumper of late but is it possible for him and his team to go very long without getting a checkered flag?  I say not a chance.

Kyle Busch – The winner takes all driving style of Kyle Busch is a perfect match for NASCAR’s emphasis on the wins process.   Kyle will win multiple times during the season and will be a factor come the final race at Homestead-Miami.

Kyle Larson – As similar to Kyle Busch’s win or bust driving style out there today. Larson has quickly become one of the most exciting drivers in NASCAR today.  Larson will drive his #42 car while others will hardly dare.  If he can just avoid a catastrophe in the final playoffs, Larson has a great chance to capture his first NASCAR Cup Championship.

These should be in:

Brad Keselowski – Brad talked about the aero advantage the Toyota’s had last season and I’m guessing he’ll be adding the new Chevy Camaro to that list in 2018.  Despite the fact the Ford’s may have some catching up to do, Keselowski is way too talented a driver not to get the blue deuce on the Chase.  He and his Crew Chief, Paul Wolfe, will find a way to garner enough points to be there at the end.

Chase Elliott – Chase fans are hoping the change from the #24 car to his Daddy’s old #9 will also bring home a victory or two.  The young Elliott has been really close several times. Let us say it here that he’ll take his Chevy Camaro to the checkered flag sometime during the 2018 season.

Kevin Harvick – The torch-carrier of the Stewart-Haas stable, Harvick just has a knack for finding his way up front late in races.  If it weren’t for the fact that Ford may in fact have a disadvantage he’d be in the lock category.  As it is, the wily veteran will find a way.

Denny Hamlin – The dude seems to love short track racing and you have to believe he will find a way to capture a win in the Martinsville or Richmond races.  Toyota’s will be strong again in 2018 and Hamlin will be near the front of the pack when all is said and done.

Ryan Blaney – The young, clean-shaven Blaney moves over to the Penske stable and he’ll benefit greatly by hanging with teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.  Making the Chase in 2017 was a great experience for Ryan and I think it only gets better from here.

Don’t be surprised if:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Rousch-Fenway Racing has stumbled a bit of late, but Stenhouse gave the team a huge lift last season winning at Daytona and Talladega.  Stenhouse is an immensely talented driver and he could certainly repeat his way into the Chase again.

Jamie McMurray – McMurray is one of the series’ best athletes and also seems to collect top 10 finishes.  Although Jamie did not win a race last season, his consistent finishes make him a likely candidate to sneak in on points.

Kurt Busch – Busch won the biggest race of the season last year, capturing the checkered flag at the Daytona 500, and then his season was pretty much bleh after that.  Some believe this is the elder Busch’s final season, the ultra-competitive Busch will pull out all stops to be there come playoff time.

Joey Logano – After his victory at Richmond was ruled encumbered (NASCAR won’t be using that term in 2018), it seemed the wind was taken out of that teams sails.  Don’t be surprised if Logano finds his way to victory somewhere in 2018 and into the Chase.

If you’re looking for Underdogs:

William Byron – We’ve had rookies in the Chase before and I’m guessing we’ll have one in 2018.  Last season’s teenage Xfinity Champion comes with a huge upside and a pretty good car and team, the #24 Hendrick Chevrolet.  It’s difficult for a rookie to have instance success at this level of racing but this dude is a super talent and very capable of doing just that.

Eric Jones – We saw glimpses from Jones at times last season.  This youngster can drive a car and I think we’ll see continued improvement from him this season.  He’s part of the next wave of NASCAR stars and he’s close to making his impression on the sport.

Aric Almirola – Replacing the popular Danica Patrick in the Stewart-Haas #10 Ford, Almirola has jumped up in class.  I for one am very interested to see how successful Aric is for that team this season.

Honorable Mentions:

Ryan Newman – He’s as tough as anyone on the track to pass and he might be heard from again this year.

Austin Dillon – He and his team seemed to up their game after making the Chase last season.  Can they continue on that upswing?

AJ Allmendinger – As long as there are road course on the schedule AJ will always be a threat to win one of those.

We’re sure gonna miss:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – I know we’ll still see him at the track as both a Xfinity team owner and a broadcaster for NBC Sports, but it’s not gonna be the same with Junior riding around the track.

Danica Patrick – Her on-track performance never ever equaled her popularity off it, but she brought a new group of fans into our sport and that shouldn’t be dismissed. She’ll be missed.

Matt Kenseth – One of NASCAR’s best drivers and future Hall of Famer somehow finds himself without a ride in 2018.  A huge loss for NASCAR and its fans.

Thanks for reading.  Listen to WTBQ radio on Monday and Friday mornings at 8:45 as I join Frank, Taylor and the Morning Show gang to discuss all the current happenings in NASCAR.  1110AM 93.5FM or online at WTBQ.COM.  You can also follow me on twitter @JimLaplante

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Embed from Getty Images

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