Opinion: Pressure Packed Season Ahead

Paul Menard

Paul Menard jumps into a ride that was as competitive as any inside the Ford camp a year ago with the hopes of elevating his performance.. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Several drivers will be under the spotlight next season with a point to prove behind the wheel.
 
A flurry of moves, personnel changes and team alignments have created a pressure-packed environment for these five drivers as they get ready to embark on the 2018 NASCAR season.

Chase Elliott
Welcome to Year 3 of the "When will Chase Elliott win his first Cup race?" sweepstakes. The Hendrick Motorsports driver returns to the team where he came very close to knocking down the door to Victory Lane a number of times last season. Elliott is famous for being as tough on himself as anyone in the sport and it's surely gnawing at him about remaining winless in his Cup career. Throw in a change to the famous Elliott family car No. 9 this year and the 2018 season is full of both promise and pressure.

Aric Almirola
His move from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing gives Almirola a chance to prove he can compete at a high level in top-notch equipment. RPM was not able to provide the resources SHR can and Almirola has an opportunity to quiet the naysayers who expected more when he moved to the Cup Series. Danica Patrick underachieved in the ride Almirola takes over. Can he provide a much-needed upgrade to the overall SHR effort?

Darrell Wallace Jr.
Almirola’s departure from RPM opened up an opportunity for Wallace to go full-time in the Cup Series. There are still many details to be unveiled on this ride’s status including manufacturer and sponsor. But ready or not, Wallace gets his turn to show more of the talent he already displayed in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series now behind the wheel of the iconic No. 43.

Alex Bowman
The man anointed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. to replace him as driver of the No. 88 Hendrick ride brings a great deal of expectation into the new season. You’ll have that when you inherit the seat of the sport’s most popular driver. Bowman did a stellar job filling in at the end of 2016 for Earnhardt while he recovered from his concussion. But now, he gets the keys to the car for a full season. Will he be able to handle being under the microscope by "Junior Nation's" legion of fans who have adopted him?

Paul Menard
Ryan Blaney goes over to Team Penske after two years of bringing the Wood Brothers back to prominence. In comes Menard from Richard Childress Racing after a pair of sub-par seasons. He jumps into a ride that was as competitive as any inside the Ford camp a year ago with the hopes of elevating his performance.
 
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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