Pete Pistone ranks the top 10 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers as the 2018 season gets ready to officially begin with Sunday’s Daytona 500.
1. Martin Truex Jr. – He has the top spot until someone takes it from him, something nobody was able to do in 2017 when Truex Jr. sped to his first career Cup Series championship. The Furniture Row Racing team comes into the new season leaner with only a single-car effort, but most feel meaner and a real threat to be the first back-to-back series champions in nearly a decade.
2. Kyle Busch – He started the year with a solid Daytona 500 qualifying effort and was in the mix to win the Advance Auto Parts Clash until the late race fireworks broke out. Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team are not too far behind the top spot and a second title run will be in store this season.
3. Brad Keselowski – He gave everyone a sneak preview of how good this team is Sunday with his Clash win. Keselowski has voiced some concern over the Ford camp’s potential challenge overcoming Toyota and Chevrolet but don’t be surprised if some of that concern is overstated.
4. Kevin Harvick – One of last year’s Championship 4 competitors, Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team return virtually unchanged from a year ago.There is zero reason to believe Harvick won’t again be an impact player in 2018.
5. Kyle Larson – The end of last season and Larson’s string of DNFs that knocked him out of the playoffs should be an anomaly The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is more than ready to take the next step in his career and build off his four race wins of a year ago to challenge for the title all the way to Homestead-Miami this season.
6. Chase Elliott – The Hendrick Motorsports driver is more than ready to shake off his reputation of “Mr. Second Place” and score his first career Cup win. Four of his five runner-up finishes came in the playoffs, which ended in frustrating and controversial fashion. Elliott is more than determined to put that bitter memory behind in 2018.
7. Denny Hamlin – Will this be the year Hamlin can finally go all the way to the championship promised land? He’s got some speed in Daytona and will start the 500 outside the front row. But the real test for Hamlin will come in the playoffs, where he’s endured frustration after frustration during his career.
8. Jimmie Johnson – Forget his Clash performance, which ended with a mind-boggling seventh DNF in the pre-season exhibition race. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus hear the rumblings around the sport about whether their years of dominance are coming to an end. They’re not and the 48 team has all the signs of a group ready for a big rebound in 2018.
9. Erik Jones – Last year’s Rookie of the Year has a more than solid opportunity to get even better in 2018. He moves in-house at Joe Gibbs Racing to take the wheel of the No. 20 car. With crew chief Scott Graves also moving over from the second Furniture Row Racing team, improved performance should follow.
10. Joey Logano – You can officially forget what happened to Logano and company last season. The Team Penske No. 22 squad is more than ready to put the 2017 disappointment behind and return to the form that brought Logano to the Championship 4. He might not be a preseason title favorite this year like he was twelve months ago, but Logano should not be taken lightly.