It’s only a short time until the annual Media Tour at the Hall of Fame in Charlotte. We will learn a lot there, but a couple things are obvious. There will be 24 major teams running next year (10 Fords, nine Chevrolets, and five Toyotas). Each camp has stars in their lineup, but Toyota’s dominance of the 2017 season (with only six competitive cars) is favored. Let’s look at each team’s lineup.
Chevrolet has the four Hendrick Motorsports cars. HMS fell on hard times last year despite their dominance for several years. Jimmie Johnson will be back in the Lowe’s Camaro. You read that right. The older SS they have fun the last few years is no longer being manufactured, so a change had to be made. Besides, finding a dealer with a Chevy SS was about as hard as finding a needle in a haystack anyway. After Johnson, the rest of the team will be made up of a group of youngsters. Chase Elliott is back, this time taking his father’s No. 9, William Byron, in the 24, and Alex Bowman in the 88. Of this team, only Johnson has ever won a Cup race. You might call this a rebuilding year for HMS.
Richard Childress Racing will field the 31 for Ryan Newman, the 3 for Austin Dillon, and the 27, with the driver rumored to be Brennan Poole, but nothing has been announced. Both Newman and Dillon won races last year.
Chip Ganassi Racing will feature Kyle Larson in the 42, coming off an excellent season. Jamie McMurray will be back in the No. 1 Chevrolet.
Ford will field one more competitive car in 2018. Team Penske has expanded to three cars with Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 and Joey Logano in the No.22 Fords. Ryan Blaney, who earned his first victory in 2017 with the Wood Brothers will pilot the No. 12 Ford. The team’s alliance with the Wood Brothers continues with Paul Menard taking over the driving chores. Penske bought a charter for the No. 12 from Roush Fenway Racing, meaning the No. 16 is not coming back. The Charter was leased to the No. 37 JTG Daugherty team last year.
Roush Fenway will see their improved team have the same driver lineup. Trevor Bayne in the No. 6 and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the No. 17. Stenhouse won two restrictor plate races in 2017 and Bayne won the Daytona 500 in 2011.
Stewart-Haas Racing will see it’s lineup jumbled somewhat. The Ford team will have Aric Almirola move over from the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 and drive the No. 10, formerly driven by Danica Patrick. Otherwise, things stay the same with 2017 Final Four driver Kevin Harvick in the No.4, Clint Bowyer in the 14, and Kurt Busch in the 41.
Toyota saw its field go down a car this year. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable will have the 11 with Denny Hamlin, the 19 with Daniel Suarez, the 18 with Kyle Busch, and Erik Jones, who raced for Furniture Row Racing in 2017 in the No. 20. Much like Team Penske does with the Wood Brothers, Furniture Row and 2017 champ Martin Truex, Jr. will field the 78 Toyota. Furniture Row did not have sponsorship for the No. 77 car, so Toyota’s stable goes from six to five for 2018
These are the teams that I predict will land in victory lane in 2018. Oh, we may get a surprise winner, but these 24 teams will battle race in and race out for the checkers. We will know more in a couple of weeks when the teams meet with the media in Charlotte, but this how I see it now. A big hole was left in the sport with the retirements of Dale Earnhardt Jr, Danica Patrick and Matt Kenseth at the end of the year. How many will stay away from the sport because these drivers are not in the lineup? Time will tell.