As we prepare to venture towards the beginning of the 2018 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, it’s never too early to pick a favorite to win it all, right?
One way to form a list of favorites is based on past performance. Odds are most drivers that performed at a high level in 2017 should hopefully be able to replicate that success for the new season. The folks over at NASCAR.com have compiled a list of favorites using Motorsports analytics and their reasoning behind their selections.
The immediate front-runner that comes to mind would be the defending champion, Martin Truex Jr. Last season Truex had eight wins, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in a decade. With the addition of a second Las Vegas race, Truex could potentially go seven-for-seven on tracks with a 20 degree banking or less after winning all six races last year at such tracks. With the return of the Furniture Row Racing team fully intact and having more resources now that they’ve made the move to a one-car team, there’s no reason why Truex shouldn’t be the hands-on favorite to repeat for 2018.
Kyle Busch is coming off a five-win season and has finished in the top-3 of the points standings each of the past three seasons. So to not expect him at the top again would just be silly. Busch went the first half of the season without a single victory, so if he can hone in early and often there’s no reason 2018 can’t be a year for Busch and his “Rowdy Nation” to be excited about.
Kyle Larson is not only one of the best young drivers in the series, but one of the best drivers overall. Fresh off a four-win season in his fourth full-time campaign in the Cup Series, Larson also managed to finish with 14 top-5’s en route to being named the Mobil 1 Driver of the Year.
Kevin Harvick may be getting up there in age (42) by NASCAR standards, but you’d have a tough time guessing that by his on-track success. Over the past five seasons he’s had 17 wins and has finished in the top-3 of the points standings in four of the past five years, including his championship run in 2014.
Rounding out the top-5 drivers to watch out for in 2018 is Brad Keselowski. He finished fourth in the points standings a year ago and had three wins on the year.
While the list does conveniently have all four drivers from last year’s Championship 4, as well as the Mobile 1 Driver of the Year, there are plenty of other excellent drivers in the field. If we had to select another driver to compete at the top level it would have to be Jimmie Johnson. After a less than stellar 2018, that saw him slide in the second half of the year, it would be be great to see him bounce back and win it all in 2018. A record eighth title would be the perfect ending to an illustrious career.
But, if we had to make one selection for our early favorite to win it all, we’re going with Larson. He’s poised to take over the sport and this very well could be the year he does it.