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Categorized | NASCAR

2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season Preview: Championship Favorites and Contenders

2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season Preview – Championship Favorites and Contenders: Speedweeks is fast approaching, but before cars start to hit the track at Daytona International Speedway, it’s time to talk about the championship contenders for 2018. Last year, Martin Truex Jr. claimed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series crown, capping a dominant season.

The defending champ wants again makes my list of title favorites for 2018, but there are plenty of other perennial contenders waiting to dethrone him, along with one of the deepest crops of up-and-comers in recent memory.

Get ready for the 2018 Cup Series with a closer look at all of my top championship contenders.

2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season Preview: Championship Favorites and Contenders

The Favorites

Defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. was the class of the field from start to finish last year, and while repeating is never easy, his dominance at the 1.5-mile ovals the last couple of seasons bodes well for his chances. He led the series in just about every statistical category last season, so even if his competition has closed to gap, he should still be a championship-caliber driver.

Despite an offseason switch to Ford, Kevin Harvick still found himself racing for a title at Homestead for the third time in his four seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing. More importantly, Harvick improved as the year went on, and I fully expect the late-season momentum to carry into 2018. He has been the model of consistency with SHR, and one of the safest bets to be in the title mix this year.

He came within one spot of winning his second Cup title last year, and Kyle Busch was really the only driver who could consistently hang with eventual champion Martin Truex Jr. in terms of week-to-week speed. Busch has always been able to win plenty of races, and his last two seasons have been his best from a consistency standpoint. Busch shows no signs of leaving the title scene any time soon.

Engine issues at the worst possible time cost Kyle Larson a chance to compete for the championship last year, but 2017 was still a breakout year for the uber-talented young gun. He won four races, emerging as a contender at almost every type of track on the schedule and finishing third in laps led. Don’t be surprised if he takes another step forward in 2018 and is racing for the title at Homestead.

The Contenders

It has been a rough couple of seasons for Jimmie Johnson, and he finished 2017 with a career-low four top-five finishes. Despite experiencing some of his worst years in terms of consistency, he still managed to pick up the title in 2016 with a few timely wins. You simply can’t count out the seven-time champ, and while he doesn’t deserve to be considered the frontrunner, he shouldn’t be written off either.

He led the series in complaining about the Toyotas in 2017, but for all the whining Brad Keselowski did, he still managed to make the championship finale. He is one of the most consistent, well-rounded drivers in the series today, and his ability to contend for Top 5s and wins at every type of track makes him a player in this current title format

While he is still looking for his first Cup Series win, Chase Elliott showed last year that he is turning into a legitimate title contender. Near wins at Martinsville and Phoenix late in the year would have put him in the championship race, and Elliott started to lead laps on a routine basis in the second half of 2017. Look for Elliott to pick up his first win and then some this season.

He tends to run as hot and cold as any of the top drivers, but Denny Hamlin has quietly strung together the two most consistent seasons of his career in 2016 and 2017. He just missed out on the championship finale last year, and as impressive as Joe Gibbs Racing was as a whole last year, Hamlin should be right back in contention in 2018.

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