It feels like only yesterday when Martin Truex Jr. hoisted his Cup Series first championship trophy, but the 2018 NASCAR season is already upon us as the season officially begins next Sunday (Feb. 18) at Daytona.
Each week, we’ll rank the top 10 drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series. Our rankings will be somewhat reactionary, but we won’t panic if a top driver has one bad race because it’s bound to happen to even the best drivers at some point during the season.
We’ll start with a preseason top 10 as drivers prepare for the Clash at Daytona on Sunday. Feel free to send us your rankings and opinions each week.
1) Martin Truex Jr.
When the 2017 season started, Truex had seven career wins in the Cup Series. He more than doubled that total in 2017 en route to his first career championship. The 37-year-old had one of the fastest cars each week, and he took advantage of stage points and earned plenty of extra playoff points throughout the year. Given how he finished the 2017 season, we can expect Truex to be right back in the mix this year.
2) Kyle Busch
Busch came up just short last year in his quest for a second Cup Series title, and it was a battle all season long between him and Truex. It took Busch over half of the year to earn his first win of the season, but he still finished with five trips to Victory Lane. He’s the favorite to win the title this season, and given how fast his No. 18 was a season ago, he’s the favorite for a reason.
3) Kyle Larson
Larson technically finished eighth in the standings last year, but that offers a deceiving look at how he performed in 2017. Larson won four races — the third most of any driver — and he likely would’ve been competing for a title at Homestead had he not suffered engine failure in the last race in the Round of 12. We can expect to see Larson back in Victory Lane again this year.
4) Kevin Harvick
Harvick has more experience than just about any other driver in the Cup Series, and he proved last year he’s still capable of contending for championships. Harvick finished third in the standings, and he finished in the top 5 in the last four races of the year — including a win at Phoenix. Harvick is 42, but he’s not going anywhere.
5) Chase Elliott
Elliott still hasn’t won a race in the Cup Series, but it’s only a matter of time for the 22-year-old. Elliott came so close to winning on numerous occasions, and he finished fifth despite not winning a race. Once he breaks through and wins that first race, fans can expect plenty more to follow.
6) Jimmie Johnson
It might seem strange to see the seven-time champion so low on the list, but the second half of the 2017 season was unkind to Johnson. He won three races in the first half of the year, but he struggled mightily down the stretch and was never a real threat to win the title in the postseason. Now, that could easily change this year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him back at the top again. But it’s no longer a foregone conclusion that the 48 will be in contention for a championship in November.
7) Brad Keselowski
Keselowski is coming off of a Championship 4 appearance, and he won three races a season ago. The 2012 Cup Series champion didn’t always have the fastest car last year, but his driving skill kept him competitive throughout the year, and it should do so again in 2018 even if the Ford Fusion is a step behind other manufacturers.
8) Denny Hamlin
Hamlin enters the 2018 season as the most accomplished driver without a championship. He’s almost always in contention for titles, but he hasn’t been able to break through just yet. On top of that, he’s also Public Enemy No. 1 among many NASCAR fans after his feud with Chase Elliott last season.
9) Ryan Blaney
Blaney earned the first win of his career last season, and he made it to the Round of 8 in the playoffs. He made the move from Wood Brothers Racing to Team Penske in the offseason, and he is one of the young drivers in the sport who could be on the verge of breaking through and becoming a star.
10) Joey Logano
Last year was the worst season Logano has had since 2012, and he missed the postseason as he finished 17th. He won a race at Richmond, but the win was encumbered due to a violation. Logano finished second the previous year, and he’s proven he has the talent to win the championship. Fans should expect a bounce back season from Logano in 2018.