The 2018 season will bring a different looking NASCAR Cup Series. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the series’ most popular driver will not be on the track, but in the broadcast. A notable former champion will also be on the sidelines. The NASCAR Cup Series will also be missing its lone female driver for the first time in several years.
In light of that alone, there will be quite some number of fresh faces making headlines. For this fan, it will be interesting to see how the newbies fare with greater attention. Here’s who I will be watching with interest:
- William Byron– He’s here! Before he had even finished high school, Byron was making headlines in the Camping World Truck Series. He set a record for wins by a rookie with seven in 2015. For an encore, Byron followed that up with an Xfinity Series championship.
He’s a winner, his persona is family friendly, and darn it, people like him. Racing for Hendrick Motorsports as the successor to Kasey Kahne, William Byron now dips his toes in the NASCAR Cup Series waters. All this to say, he has a lot of check marks in the “plus” column. What will Byron do with this opportunity?
2. Chase Elliott- In his first two seasons, William Clyde Elliott II has made a steady ascent in the NASCAR Cup Series. There’s not much further up to go from his fifth place finish in 2017. Well? What about that elusive first win? Is this the year? That third year can often be telling.
3. Alex Bowman- Did you ever imagine day where Jimmie Johnson would be the old man at Hendrick Motorsports? That day is here. After a credible job filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bowman gets a legit shot in winning equipment. Is he a rising star, or just a solid mid-pack driver who doesn’t make headlines one way or the other?
4. Ryan Blaney- After plying his trade with Wood Bros., the driver who made the playoffs and won his first NASCAR Cup Series race in 2017 takes his talents to Penske. That’s some serious equipment.
He has a solid foundation, what’s next for Dave’s boy? If there’s a driver who can compete for the NASCAR Cup Series Most Popular Driver Award with Elliott, it’s Blaney. His dad had a strong following of his own among the serious racing crowd with his World of Outlaws success, and there’s something about the young man that carries a certain good old boy appeal. You get a feeling this could be a true breakout year for Blaney.
5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.- Think about it: 2018 is a season of fresh starts for the former Xfinity Series champion. For the first time in five years, Stenhouse is free from the considerable shadow of ex-girlfriend Danica Patrick. No matter what he did, no sentence was followed without a reference to his famous, polarizing paramour.
This has absolutely NOTHING to do with performance. 2017 was a success for Stenhouse: he bagged his first two wins in the NASCAR Cup Series, and he made the playoffs. What will he do for a follow up?
I will also be interested to see how Kasey Kahne fares in his new ride. What will Martin Truex Jr. do for an encore following his 2017 triumph? How will established veterans like Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch do?
Who holds the most intrigue to you? There are options, for sure. As what is currently known as the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series enters 2018, there’s a lot hanging in the air.