Friday, February 2, 2018

2018 Spade Racing Nascar Cup Series Regular Season Preview and 2023 Predictions—because previews for one year are for wimps!


After an offseason of change, Nascar is finally gearing up for its 2018 season.  With a number of drivers retiring, moving on to new places, and changing sponsors, who will step up to victory lane?  Well, here’s some answers and a look to the future:

Car #, Driver, Top sponsor(s)

MULTIPLE RACE WINNERS
18--Kyle Busch (M&M's, Interstate Batteries): The Rowdy One continues his assault on the Nascar record books—and this THIS series, it actually matters.  Where will he be in five years:  A two-time champion constantly threatening retirement.

11--Denny Hamlin (FedEx): The sneaky-great career continues.  Will this be the year he finally breaks through for the championship?  Mmmmaybe.  Where will he be in five years:  The first driver since Mark Martin to have a successful part-time Cup schedule.
Discount Tire steps up to sponsor
Brad Keselowski in Cup for 10 races

78--Martin Truex Jr. (Bass Pro Shops, 5-Hour Energy): Is it Toyota’s aero and engine dominance, or simply the fact that they have the highest-concentration of talent?  Yes.  Where will he be in five years:  Contentedly settled into the old Matt Kenseth “always a threat to win” role, still awkward when being interviewed by Michael Waltrip.

2--Brad Keselowski (Miller Lite, Discount Tire): Ford’s great white (colored car) hope makes the best of an outdated aero package.  Where will he be in five years:  Still winning races while preparing to restart BKR with an eye on Cup.

48--Jimmie Johnson (Lowe’s): Jimmie’s the first Chevy driver to adjust to the new Camaro, but it still might be a while until he finds victory lane.  Where will he be in five years:  Preparing for his first year out of the driver’s seat replacing Dale Jr. at NBC.

No more red 42 car...
SINGLE RACE WINNERS
42--Kyle Larson (Credit One, DCSolar): Kyle tries to get used to a new car model, while fans try to get used to him not running a red car.  Where will he be in five years:  The new driver of the Hendrick Motorsports 48 car.

14--Clint Bowyer (Rush Truck Centers, Mobil 1): The good ol boy finally finds his way back to victory lane.  Where will he be in five years:  Occupying the Kasey Kahne spot of “what happened to his career?”.

22--Joey Logano (Pennzoil/Shell, AAA): JoLo rediscovers his touch, but only collects a single checkered flag.  Where will he be in five years:  Coming off a narrow loss of his elusive first championship.

9--Chase Elliott (Napa, 3M): I’ll call it now—Chase finishes second a few times early, wins the All-Star race, then wins the 600 in dramatic fashion.  Where will he be in five years:  Coming off a narrow win of his elusive first championship.

4--Kevin Harvick (Busch Beer, Jimmy Johns): Harv has a tough start to the year before getting into the swing of things as the weather heats-up.  Where will he be in five years:  Preparing for his final year as a full-time Cup driver for the newly-renamed Stewart-Haas-Harvick Racing team.

12--Ryan Blaney (a bunch of Penske associate sponsors, Menards): Ryan Blaney, appropriately, wins the Jeremy Mayfield Memorial Guy Who Leads the Points Early for Some Reason Award.  Where will he be in five years:  Moving to a rejuvenated Ganassi Racing team for a chance to be “The Man”.

17--Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Fastenal, Fifth Third Bank): The “leader” of the Roush brigade continues his success on plate tracks.  Where will he be in five years:  Running mid-pack for the most-part, but getting his name out there as a part-time broadcaster.
New look, new car, new driver

88--Alex Bowman (Nationwide, Axalta): The first first-time winner, and the first first-time winner conspiracy theory subject of 2018.  Where will he be in five years:  Having been controversially forced-out at HMS a few years back, currently preparing for a strong second year at Stewart-Haas-Havick Racing.

SNEAKING INTO THE PLAYOFFS WITHOUT A WIN
31--Ryan Newman (CAT, Grainger): He won’t impress much, but then you’ll look up around Darlington and realize he’s locked himself in on points.  Where will he be in five years:  Retired and serving as a driver coach for up-and-comers like Buddy Baker before him.

3--Austin Dillon (Dow, American Ethanol): See above.  Where will he be in five years:  Coming off the best-year of his career, with people wondering if it was him finally “getting it”, or RCR-Germain finally getting outside help to turn around their team.

41--Kurt Busch (Haas, Monster): A year of drama—is he getting crummy equipment so he’ll leave?—still results in a playoff berth…barely.  Where will he be in five years:  Happily retired for a few years, waiting to see if he’ll get inducted to the Hall of Fame.

JUST MISSING THE PLAYOFFS
1--Jamie McMurray (McDonalds, Cessna): He tries to point himself in, but comes up a position or two short at Indy.  Where will he be in five years:  Prepping for retirement and serving as Ganassi’s Nascar team driver coach.
Lord Byron's scheme

24--William Byron (Liberty U, Axalta): Byron contends for a number of races, barely misses the final Playoff spot, and yet still has people calling his rookie year a “disappointment”.  Where will he be in five years:  Still smarting from his near-miss championship a few years back, but determined to win one—and become the first-ever Nascar racer with a doctorate from Liberty U.

20--Erik Jones (DeWalt, Reser's): A tough year adjusting to JGR equipment sees a late-season surge fall short—followed by a win in a Playoff race.  Where will he be in five years:  Dueling with Kyle Busch frequently on the track but glad to not come with even a tenth of the controversy.

DISAPPOINTMENTS
Slightly different look for Suarez
19--Daniel Suarez (Arris, Stanley): People will question if he really “belongs” in Cup, ignoring the fact that he comes with solid sponsorship.  Where will he be in five years:  Forced-out at JGR, Suarez moves to Roush Fenway Racing to prove that his fuel mileage win wasn’t just a fluke.

13--Ty Dillon (Geico, Twisted Tea): A year of improvement still falls short, as Pop-Pop makes plans to absorb the 13 team into RCR ownership.  Where will he be in five years:  Still running for RCR-Germain Racing and finally posting some wins in Cup.

47--AJ Allmendinger (ClickList, et al): Two disappointing runs of his own doing at each road course race show that JTG-D might have maxed-out on performance…until they switch to an HMS alliance.  Quietly retiring from Nascar in order to focus on sports car racing.

10--Aric Almirola (Smithfield): The most-disappointing of the major team drivers, they openly start testing set-ups for the Playoff-bound teams mid-year.  Where will he be in five years:  AA came on like wildfire in 2019, but unable to replicate that year, he’s fallen back into the middle of the pack.

BACK OF THE PACK
21--Paul Menard (Menards, Motorcraft): Well, its about time we find out just how good Ryan Blaney was…and just how lucky Paul Menard is.  Where will he be in five years:  Retired from full-time racing, but still running Xfinity and late-model races in the midwest.

6--Trevor Bayne (Advocare, Performance Plus): Chris Buescher to the 6 car in 2019, anybody?  Where will he be in five years:  Out of big-time racing, but still running local tracks from time-to-time.
Sponsor for only a few races, but seems
to have been designated the "main scheme"

43--Bubba Wallace Jr. (ClickNClose, STP): Nothing short of a hail mary pit strategy call will help this team in major rebuilding mode.  Where will he be in five years:  The surprise choice to replace Alex Bowman in the 88 car has a Terry Labonte-style career renaissance in HMS equipment.

37--Chris Buescher (Kroger, etc.): Ryan Reed to the 37 car in 2019, anybody?  Where will he be in five years:  Trying to lead Roush Fenway back to glory with a less-fluky Cup win under his belt.

38—David Ragan (1000Bulbs, Shriners): The numbers don’t lie, even if the drivers change—this team is still well behind the best AND the rest.  Where will he be in five years:  Running part-time for a mid-level Xfinity Series team.

34—Michael McDowell (Love's, K-Love): Focus on the positives, like road course strategy and plate track roulette.  Where will he be in five years:  Running sports-cars again as well as serving as an occasional road course ringer.

95—Kasey Kahne (Procore): Kasey falls into the Clint Bowyer “I’m Stuck Here” role and never sniffs the front of the pack.  Where will he be in five years:  Running sprint cars again for his own team.