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Here are the top five story lines for the 2018 NASCAR season Chris Trotman/Getty Images
HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 19: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota, celebrates with crew chief Cole Pearn and the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, 2017 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

While it might feel like the 2017 NASCAR just ended, the 2018 season is just around the corner.

With the Daytona 500 less than two months away, here are the five biggest storylines heading into the 2018 season.

1. Will Martin Truex Jr. repeat as champion? 

It’s not often a driver pushing 40 has the best year of his career en route to his first championship, but Truex was able to accomplish that feat in 2017. Entering the season, Truex only had seven careers wins. He more than doubled that in 2017 as he won eight races, including four playoff races and the season finale at Homestead.

Truex had the fastest car all season, and he was the most dominant driver all year. While he’s established himself as one of the top drivers in the sport, it will be difficult for him to repeat as champion. The last driver not named Jimmie Johnson to repeat was Jeff Gordon in 1997 and 1998, and only three drivers have done so in the last 30 years (Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt).

Kyle Busch will be the most likely candidate to knock Truex off, but rising stars such as Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott will also be threats. If Truex picks up where left off, he’ll certainly be a contender again. But history tells us there will likely be a different champion hoisting the trophy in 2018.

Related: Martin Truex Jr., Dale Jr., among those with ?best moments? on NASCAR.com

2. Will the new Camaro help propel Chevy back into contention after Toyota dominated last year? 

One of the biggest surprises of the 2017 season was Chevrolet being left out of the championship picture for the first time in 15 years. The manufacturer had been a mainstay in the championship conversation for nearly two decades, but it was a down year last season.

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The good news for Chevy is that they’re unveiling the new Camaro ZL1 for next season, and the upgrade should result in major improvements for the manufacturer. While Chevy missed out on the Championship 4 last year, they still had drivers in contention. Chase Elliott finished fifth, and Kyle Larson was in contention for most of the year. Jimmie Johnson also made the playoffs and won three races.

The upgrade in model should help Chevy drivers compete on a closer level to Toyota after the Japanese manufacturer dominated in 2017.

3. Will ratings and attendance continue to decline after the departures of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick?

It’s no secret that NASCAR struggled in the ratings and attendance department last year, and those issues could worsen after Dale Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick all retired after the 2017 season.

The sport needs new stars to emerge to fill the void left behind when Dale Jr. retired. It might take a couple of years for a driver such as Chase Elliott to cultivate a massive following, but the sport needs to see signs of growth next season.

Monster Energy is already considering opting out of its contract as the primary sponsor after the 2018 season, and that would be disastrous for NASCAR. If they see signs of growth to start the next season, perhaps it would convince them to extend their deal for two more seasons.

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Either way, the 2018 season will be critical for the future of NASCAR. The executives will certainly be hoping for an improvement in the ratings department, but there’s a good chance it will continue to be an issue.

Related: Kevin Harvick is optimistic about the future of NASCAR despite the ratings decrease

4. Can Jimmie Johnson return to championship form, or will the young drivers steal the show at Hendrick Motorsports?

Jimmie Johnson won three races last year, and he won his seventh championship in 2016. So, the 42-year-old hasn’t exactly fallen off of a cliff, but it’s impossible to ignore his struggles down the stretch last year.

Johnson had only five top-10 finishes in the second half of the year, and it never felt like he was a true contender in the postseason. He finished 10th, but even he would admit he wasn’t exactly a championship contender.

The aforementioned new Camaro should help Johnson next season, and he’ll more than likely be a playoff contender again next year. Along with Johnson’s top competitors from other teams, he’ll also have the challenge of competing against an impressive group of young drivers on his own team. Chase Elliott has emerged as a legitimate title contender, and he could be the face of Hendrick Motorsports next year and beyond.

William Byron and Alex Bowman will both be rookies next season, and they also have the ability to compete at a high level. Johnson might be the best driver of all-time, but even the best of the best reach a point in their careers where they aren’t as strong as they once were.

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It’s never a good idea to count out Johnson, but he’s not the driver to beat heading into 2018.

5. Will there be another first-time champion? 

Four of the last six champions in the NASCAR Cup Series have been first-time winners, including Martin Truex Jr. last year. Before that, Kyle Busch (2015), Kevin Harvick (2014) and Brad Keselowski (2012) won their first and only championships.

Will we see another first-time champ next season? There are a handful of candidates who could take home their first championships, but they’ll have to beat several former champions along the way.

Kyle Larson might be the most likely candidate to win his first title next year. With Larson, it’s almost a matter of when, not if, he’ll win a championship. The same goes for Chase Elliott. Both will be title contenders for the foreseeable future, and they will likely be in the mix next year.

Denny Hamlin is probably the most accomplished driver without a championship, and the 37-year-old could follow in the footsteps of Truex by winning his first title at age 37. He was close to being in the Championship 4 last year before running into trouble down the stretch.

Joey Logano is another veteran driver who could earn his first championship next year. Logano missed the playoffs altogether in 2016, but a bounce back year is expected from the No. 22 driver.

Ryan Blaney impressed many NASCAR fans with his performance last year in the playoffs as he advanced to the Round of 8, and his move to Team Penske could help him become a championship contender.

All of those candidates could win the title, but they will have to battle the likes of Truex, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski for the Cup Series championship in 2018.

Cole Frederick About the author:
Cole Frederick is from a small town in Alabama, and he graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in journalism. He loves all sports - especially football and basketball - and quotes The Office frequently.
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