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2--Brad Keselowski (Miller Lite, Discount Tire): Ford’s great white (colored car) hope makes the best of an outdated aero package.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.
|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.