Predictions and Wishes ~ Through a Hazy Crystal Ball
We're days away from another season of NASCAR racing. It's the time of year when many predict what they think will happen in the months to come. Of course no one really knows and I certainly have no special insight. Some of this might just be wishful thinking although a lot of thinking has gone into it based on what we saw in 2017 and what we've heard about drivers, cars and teams heading into this season. Regardless, it might be fun to revisit in mid-November, so here's what I see for 2018.
There's been a lot of talk about the new Chevrolet's. I don't expect them to set the world on fire right out of the gate. It might take several weeks for the teams and drivers to get comfortable with them but be patient; they'll figure it out. I heard from a reliable source that the Chevy teams who tested at Las Vegas were very pleased with how the cars responded when adjustments were made. That's a great start.
At this point it seems like the Fords might be behind the curve. Everyone knows what the Toyotas can do and Chevy has their new car. It might seem that the Ford teams’ best chances for wins will be on the super speedways, where horsepower is key and where they proved last year they can win. I have a hard time believing someone like Roger Penske is going to stand pat, especially with the addition of Ryan Blaney on his team. The blue ovals will find their share of wins in 2018. As a matter of fact, I think we'll see a Ford driver celebrating after the Daytona 500.
There's a lot of debate over which if any of the new or newer drivers will win this year. Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones return and now Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace and William Byron are joining the party. All are in top flight rides although with Richard Petty Motorsports moving to Chevy, the 43 might be behind the others. Any of those guys could win but I think one stands above the others at this point. Chase Elliott showed last year he can run up front and be a factor; he just never closed the deal. I do think his scuffle with Denny Hamlin taught him something about himself and I expect it to payoff this season. I will be shocked if Elliott doesn't wheel the 9 to victory lanes not just once, but multiple times.
It was great to see both Roush-Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing return to their winning ways in 2017. They didn't just win, they both won twice. I expect to see them continue that in 2018. I think both Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon take the checkers at some point. For RFR though, I think Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is the only one capable of doing it for that team.
How will the new engine rule affect teams? It should be interesting to see how it develops, especially for Kyle Larson. He had multiple engine woes toward the latter part of this past season. If not for that, it's safe to believe he could've gone a lot deeper into the playoffs. That's one unknown factor that's going to be fun to watch play out.
Speaking of Larson, I'm saying now he'll be the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion. With the playoff system, it seems harder than ever to predict who's going to walk away as the champion. I just think he's such a pure racer, who gets absolutely everything out of his car. He's certainly capable of getting the job done and he'd make an excellent champion for the sport. Speaking of playoffs though, don't bet against Jimmie Johnson. There's no way that team doesn't bounce back after a three win season that only they could describe as a disappointment.
Regardless of how accurate or ignorant these thoughts look after Homestead, it should be a fun season. There's an excitement and newness in the air that only comes around this time of year. Now on to Daytona!