The biggest storyline for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has to be the one about the new youth movement. Kyle Busch isn’t a fan of it, but lets face the facts, NASCAR is in a transition period. Gone are big stars like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. They’re not walking in that door anymore. Instead of veterans replacing them in the top rides, younger drivers are.
Look at the ages of drivers in these rides in Cup now.
Alex Bowman (24), William Byron (20) and Chase Elliott (22) are with Hendrick Motorsports. Erik Jones (21) and Daniel Suarez (26) are with Joe Gibbs Racing. Ryan Blaney (24) is with Team Penske. Heck, Joey Logano, also with Penske, is only 27 years old himself. Throw in Bubba Wallace Jr. (24), Kyle Larson (25), Austin Dillon (27) and Ty Dillon (25) and you have 11 drivers right there that all can win future Cup championships that are all also under the age of 27.
But, here’s the thing, only one driver left in the series has ever won multiple Cup championships. That guy is Jimmie Johnson.
Think about it, since Johnson won his first championship in 2006, just five drivers have won a title since. One of them is retired, the others have each won just one title (Brad Keselowski – 2012, Kevin Harvick – 2014, Kyle Busch – 2015, Martin Truex Jr. – 2017). While that’s three new Cup champions in the last four years and five in the last seven, none of which have gone on to win another one since their lone triumph. And the only driver left in the series that has even won a title before Johnson win his first in 2006 was Kurt Busch who won his first and only Cup championship in 2004.
Johnson, 7 championships and Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Harvick and Truex are the only drivers left in the series that have even won a Cup championship before. That six out of 40 starters.
So, would you take a past champion to win the 2018 Cup title at Homestead this November, or everyone else?
The thing now is, Johnson is coming off of one of his worst seasons of his career.
Now, the magnifying glass is squarely on Johnson with both the other drivers that took some of his Hendrick limelight having since retired from the sport.
How does he rebound in 2018 coming off of a career worst season in 2017? How does he do so without being able to really bounce setup ideas off his teammates? After all, the three other teammates have combined to make just 159 career Cup starts.
2017 was frustrating for Johnson. He had just three victories, the worst since having only two in 2011. He had at least four wins in 12 of the previous 13 seasons prior to that. He also had just four total top five finishes, 11 top 10’s and 217 total laps led. All were career lows for him.
With the new lower downforce car last season, Johnson who normally likes a loose handling car, struggled to grasp this one. They spun out by themselves numerous times and were completely non factors all season long.
Can they correct that in 2018 with very little feedback coming from his teammates, especially with a completely new car from Chevrolet, or does Johnson’s slide continue? Do you trust he can win this year’s title?
What about Keselowski? He’s openly said that Ford is going to be at a huge disadvantage in 2018. Yes, he and Harvick made the Championship 4 last year, but they had nothing for the Toyota’s in Busch and Truex. Can they overcome an aero and speed disadvantage and win this year’s title? Kurt Busch drives a Ford so he’s in the same boat.
That leaves just Kyle Busch and Truex. They’re the odds on favorites in my opinion, but nothing is guaranteed. With so many of those youthful drivers in such top rides, it may be their time to shine. Maybe we see a string here of more first time Cup winners and all being this talented youth class.