In the spirit of the season, here’s a Christmas wish list, highlighting the things I hope to see during the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Young guns rising to the occasion
We already saw a bit of this in 2017 with Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson, but I expect (and hope) to see it even more so in 2018. With an exodus of several big names, it is critical that these young guns rise to the occasion and take the fight to veteran drivers. Elliott did just that in 2017 when he butted heads with Denny Hamlin and the fans loved him for it. This upcoming year, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Darrell Wallace Jr. will step up full-time while second-year drivers Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones are still hunting their first win. Blaney has moved up to Penske, Elliott is on the cusp of breaking into the win column himself and Larson will surely be a title threat again. 2018 should be a great year for NASCAR’s young talent pool as they take up the torch from the outgoing names, solidifying their place as the future of the sport.
We saw Kyle Busch and Joey Logano come to blows after an early-season race at Las Vegas. And later in the year, Elliott and Hamlin were a major highlight of 2017 after their coming togethers at both Martinsville and Phoenix, leading to a massive buzz around the sport. NASCAR desperately needs more raw emotion like that in 2018. Bonus points if it’s a young gun and veteran facing off. NASCAR was built on that sort of thing from the days of the ‘Silver Fox’ (David Pearson) and ‘The King’ (Richard Petty) to Jeff Gordon taking on the late great Dale Earnhardt in the ’90s.
Ford and Chevrolet make gains on Toyota
Toyota absolutely dominated the 2017 season. They won 16 races and eight of the last ten. Truex was crowned champion with a fellow Camry driver in Busch just behind. And for the second-consecutive year, Toyota took the manufacturer’s crown. What I want is to see Chevrolet and Ford mount more of a challenge. I have high hopes for the former as Chevy prepares to introduce the Camaro to the Cup Series. But if I had to guess, Toyota will likely still be leading the charge throughout the 2018 season.
An underdog story
Who doesn’t enjoy a good David vs. Goliath story? Whether it be Front Row Motorsports going 1-2 at Talladega or Matt DiBenedetto giving BK Racing a stunning sixth-place finish at Bristol, underdog stories are a great part of all sports. In 2018, I will look towards Kasey Kahne, who moves from top-tier equipment to Leavine Family Racing for a new beginning. He is a proven winner as recently as this year’s Brickyard 400 and It would be a remarkable story if he could bring that No. 95 to Victory Lane.
Less drama in tech inspection
Fairly self-explanatory. If we could go one weekend without drama in the tech line, I think all NASCAR fans would breathe a sigh of relief. There were far too many issues and finger-pointing throughout the 2017 season, leading to big names missing qualifying sessions and encumbered finishes. It also took away from the on-track action, which is never a good thing.
The All-Star Race becomes something worth watching again
It’s sad to see how far the All-Star Race has fallen since ‘One Hot Night’ in 1992. The race has been plagued in recent years by dull events, a lack of passing and convoluted formats that confused both fans and teams alike. NASCAR’s All-Star Race is something I’ve always looked forward to and I hope it delivers a race worth remembering in 2018, but something will have to change before that can happen.
Charlotte Roval turns out to be a success
Next fall, NASCAR will have their first ever road course race in the Cup Playoffs. Yes, it’s an infield road course but it’s better than nothing. My hope is that it turns out to be an enthralling race that leaves fans wanting more long after the checkered flag flies. And if that is the case, I truly believe it leads to more road courses in the future — hopefully on proper road racing circuits too.
No big format changes
Far too often does NASCAR make big format changes just before the new season, usually in January. My final wish is that they just leave everything be for the most part. Yes, improvements can be made here and there, but no more complete overhauls. NASCAR needs to stick with a format and leave it be for more than a year or two. They must if they want their championship to be taken seriously.