2018 Monster Energy Cup Series Preview

Jan 24, 2018 by Nascar Wagers

2018 Monster Energy Cup Series Preview

2018 Monster Energy Cup Series Preview
by Jay Horne of NASCARWagers.com, NASCAR Handicapping Service

As the clock on the right side of our home page ticks down, we are getting inevitably close to the start of the 2018 racing season. The season will unofficially kick off with the running of the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona on February 11th which will unravel a serious of events known as “Daytona Speedweeks” leading up to the running of the Daytona 500 on February 18th. With the season inching closer, it is important that we have a baseline of expectations to ensure we have a strong start to our season while possibly understanding where we are headed. Therefore, I want to take this time to address some of the hot topics leading into the 2018 season and share my thoughts on each issue.

Will Toyota’s manufacturer dominance continue?

In the last two years, Toyota drivers have won 32 races in the Monster Energy Cup Series. In comparison, Ford and Chevrolet have combined for just 40 wins among their larger driver base. The Toyota’s have an advantage and it is not a debate. The nose on the Toyota Camry created a clear aero advantage that Toyota teams have built on. Now I am not trying to discredit anything Toyota has done from a team and engineering standpoint because they have invested more money than any other manufacturer in research and development. However, they have been privy to an undeniable advantage. The glaring question heading into 2018 is will it continue?

The short answer: Yes. The Joe Gibbs Racing teams along with their alliance at Furniture Row Racing that fields the #78 of Martin Truex Jr have done a tremendous job building on this new aero package. Truex’s 2017 season was nothing short of incredible the way he dominated the 1.5 mile tracks and was able to sustain speed on long runs against the competition. They have not only been given an aero advantage but these teams have perfected how to perform with it. The 2018 rules changes surrounding the specifications to the chassis on the Cup Series cars are minimal to say the least. Therefore, I would be surprised if we saw any “major” changes at the start of the 2018 season as Toyota continues to lead the pack.

However, I will go ahead and tell everyone that Team Chevy will close the gap as the season progresses. Team Chevy has introduced a new design this season with the Chevy Camaro in effort to maximize the aero effects similar to the Toyota Camry. It will likely take some time for the teams and drivers to make the best of this new car. There is a thin line between the balance in aero speed and handling that will need to be refined. However, do not overlook the importance of this new design and the effects it will have on this low downforce package. These Chevy cars will benefit in every way imaginable. In the past, Hendrick Motorsports teams have typically adapted to new car designs very well which bodes well for the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, William Byron, and Alex Bowman. Even if that is not the case from a team perspective, the Chevrolets will be better. Can you imagine an even faster Kyle Larson in 2018? Time is the only obstacle now holding the Chevy brigade behind. As the season progresses, so will the gap in terms of manufacturer dominance.

What can we expect from the youth movement?

The 2017 season ushered a changing of the guard as two of the sport’s veterans in Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr announced their retirements. In many ways both Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr connected the “old school” drivers to the “new school” of youth that is taking over the sport. The list of drivers that can still be considered a part of the “old school” is growing frail thin. The sport has lost some of its greatest drivers like Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Jeff Gordon in just the last 3 years. As a result, those seats have been vacated for rising stars. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones were among the first wave of young drivers to roll into the sport. Now William Byron, Alex Bowman, Darrell Wallace Jr, and Ryan Blaney are among the next wave. I know Blaney has been in the Cup Series for a few years but his move to Team Penske will put him behind the wheel of a championship caliber team in 2018. Therefore, I am throwing him into this new wave of talent.

So what should we expect from this new youth? Well, I understand we should have different expectations for each driver. I mean Kyle Larson is basically a championship contender already. However, I believe that all of these drivers are going to make impacts in the immediate future. Chase Elliott will join Larson as a championship contender on a near yearly basis. Yes, I know Elliott has not won a race yet but people forget that neither did Larson in his first two years. Both Larson and Elliott are two of the best drivers in the sport and if Team Chevy does close the performance gap, look out!

For Byron, Jones, and Blaney, I truly think those drivers will contend for victories in 2018 and possibly on a regular basis. Perhaps it will take Byron longer to get to victory lane but all 3 drivers are equipped to handle the Cup Series and succeed. Blaney broke through with a win at Pocono last year and more will follow. More importantly, all 3 drivers are in very prestigious rides with the top teams in the business. We are vastly approaching unchartered waters in NASCAR’s Cup Series in terms of youth. These drivers coming into the Cup Series are extremely talented and it will not be long before more than half of the top 10 each week is being compiled of drivers 25 years of age or younger.

What can we expect from Charlotte’s ROVAL?

Over the past few years, road course races have produced some of the most exciting races on the NASCAR calendar and even put pressure on NASCAR officials to potentially add more road courses to the schedule. Whether you love or despise road course racing, you may not be able to escape it. In September, Charlotte Motor Speedway will hold the first race on what is being called the “ROVAL” (Road Course + Oval) in the Bank of America 500. Charlotte has combined part of its 1.5 mile oval racing surface with its infield road course in an effort to bring an entirely new combination style of racing to viewers. Not only has this never been attempted before but the ROVAL project will come as the final race in the opening round of the Chase meaning playoff implications will be on the line. As you can imagine, this will create quite an intriguing spectacle.

I know the ROVAL race at Charlotte may not garner everyone’s attention but I think the topic deserves attention because it could shape the future layout of the sport surrounding their venues. If this project is a success which I believe will be the case, this idea of ROVAL racing could be adopted at other tracks around the country. Several NASCAR tracks have already indicated interest in creating something similar to Charlotte but everybody is waiting to see how the Bank of America 500 unfolds. I have personally never been the biggest fan of road course racing but even I will admit that this Charlotte race has the ingredients to be a success. The speedway has done a great job of designing the layout and the race falls during the perfect time of the Chase to create an intense atmosphere. For now, I believe the project will succeed and the ROVAL will become the new normal for Charlotte’s fall race. I also would not be surprised to see another track attempt something very similar in the near future.

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