NASCAR is one of the most unpredictable top-line motor racing series in the world and it therefore wouldn’t be wise to assume that reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. will be capable of repeating his achievement in 2018.
Over the last seven years, the series has seen six different champions, driving for five different teams and three different manufacturers. The introduction of the current “Chase for the Cup” format in 2014, which seeks to mimic the playoff format in other US sports, has only added to the unpredictability. As many as nine or 10 drivers are viable champions.
The days in which Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports were able to secure five consecutive championship titles between 2006 and 2011 are now long gone.
The 2018 season gets underway for real with the world famous Daytona 500 on February 18th. That is the first of 36 races in a campaign that stretches through to the championship-deciding Ford Ecoboost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in mid-November.
Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota are again the three competing manufacturers. Toyota have won the Manufacturers’ Championship in each of the last two seasons and had a clear advantage during the second half of 2017, winning 14 of the last 19 races as the pace of their newly-introduced Camry chassis shone through. Chevrolet will seek to fight back in 2018 with the introduction of the Camaro ZL1, which is already receiving rave reviews from its drivers.
The Chase format does, in theory, allow drivers who haven’t necessarily performed all that strongly during the 26 races of the regular season still to mount a challenge for the title during the final eight. A single win during the regular season is usually enough for a driver to qualify as one of the 16 who enter the Chase. There, points are initially partially reset before being fully reset for each round from the round-of-12 down the final four-way shootout.
Truex Jr. did actually enter the playoffs with the highest points haul in 2017, but he was the first champion since the introduction of the new Chase format in 2014 to do so. Indeed,
Johnson won from eighth in the rankings in 2016 and Kevin Harvick from sixth in 2015, suggesting that securing a place in the Chase is more important than topping the regular season standings.
Last season was a surprisingly dominant one from Truex Jr. His eight wins (four in the regular season; four during the Chase) were three more than any of the previous three champions had managed. He also led more laps than anyone else over the course of the year. That means that he should be considered among the favorites to at least get himself into the final-four shootout again.
Kyle Busch also ran very well in 2017, winning five races, and is the United States’ friendly spoortsbooks’ favorite to take the title in 2018. The 2015 champion has reached the final four of the Chase in each of the last three years and will certainly be a contender this time around.
Other potential occupants of a place in the final four include the wily Kevin Harvick, who has made that stage in three of the last four years; Kyle Larson, who ran well throughout last year, winning four races, only for mechanical problems to handicap him in the latter stages of the Chase; and Chase Elliott, who narrowly missed out in 2017. Elliott has been a regular top-ten finisher in his two full seasons in NASCAR but is still awaiting his first victory.
Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joe Logano and Ryan Blaney will also hope to be in the fight.
In addition, seven-time champion Johnson can never be discounted. He is seeking the eighth title that would move him ahead of Richard Petty and Dale Eardhardt Sr. to become the most successful driver in NASCAR’s history and has the necessary smarts to sneak into contention, just as he did in 2016.
Dale Eardhardt Jr. retired from the sport at the end of last year, leaving Jeffrey Eardhardt as the only defender of that famous name. His presence means that for the 40th consecutive year, the Daytona 500 will have at least one member of the Eardhardt family in the field.
There will be only two full-time rookies in NASCAR in 2018. William Bryon joins the Hendrick Motorsports team on the back of winning the junior Xfinity Series last year and should be expected to out-perform the other newcomer, Darrell Wallace Jr.
Our NASCAR 2018 Preview’s Betting Predictions & Pick
As for this preview’s NASCAR predictions, Kyle Larson was unfortunate not to get a chance to compete for the championship last year. With a bit more luck this time around, he should be able to make the final four. If he does so, his consistently strong pace at the Homestead-Miami Speedway makes him a solid bet to take home the 2018 championship and he is our pick: