A new face joins the Joe Gibbs Racing lineup for the 2018 NASCAR season as the team looks for more continued success and another championship.
Kyle Busch, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota (Crew Chief: Adam Stevens)
2017 stats: 2nd in points, 5 wins, 14 top fives, 22 top tens, 8 poles, 39 playoff points
2017 recap: Kyle Busch came within one position of winning his second career NASCAR Cup Series championship. Busch was the strongest performer of the JGR camp all season but wasn’t the strongest Toyota. That honor went to Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 champion. Busch didn’t visit victory lane until the July race at Pocono but still managed to score three wins in the playoffs.
2018 outlook: It’s not unrealistic to think Busch and his team won’t be back in the Championship Four at Homestead. The biggest question will be if his team has caught up to Martin Truex Jr. and if so, can they stay even or ahead of Truex when it matters. If this team can stay within striking distance of Truex like a season ago, Busch has a real chance at another championship.
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Toyota (Crew Chief: Mike Wheeler)
2017 stats: 6th in points, 2 wins, 15 top fives, 22 top tens, 2 poles, 9 playoff points
2017 recap: Denny Hamlin didn’t score his first win of the season until July at Loudon, but his spot in the playoffs was never really in question. For a majority of the season it was never “if” with this team but more of “when.” Hamlin’s come from behind win at Darlington looked like it was going to give his team a shot in the arm when they needed it most. The win ended up being encumbered and Hamlin’s would never sit higher than 5th in the standings during the playoffs.
2018 outlook: Hamlin has finished sixth in the standings the past two seasons, an improvement from ninth in 2015. Hamlin has won at least two races in the past three seasons and to think Hamlin won’t win two races in 2018 would seem unreasonable. A trip to the Championship 4 would be overachieving, advancing to the Round of 8 seems realistic and a first round exit would be a big disappointment.
Erik Jones, No. 20 DeWalt Toyota (Crew Chief: Chris Gayle)
2017 stats: 19th in points, 0 wins, 5 top fives, 14 top tens, 1 pole, 0 playoff points
2017 recap: In a one year deal, Erik Jones drove the No. 77 Toyota Camry for Furniture Row Racing in his rookie season. Despite not finding victory lane, Jones scored more top five finishes than six playoff drivers. In a season where his teammate dominated the series, it was hard for Jones to make noise since he was never able to break through for a win. Jones won the Rookie of the Year honors, making him the first driver to win all three awards in consecutive years.
2018 outlook: The sky is the limit for Jones this season as he replaces Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota. Kenseth finished seventh in the final standings and scored a win in his final season with JGR. Jones will be taking over a care capable of not only winning races, but contending for a championship.
“I’m really excited to not only get back to JGR, but to get back on track in 2018 and continue building on the success Chris Gayle and I had in 2017,” said Jones. “We were able to accomplish the goal of winning Rookie of the Year in 2017 and we’ve set some big goals for this year.” One of those goals is to earn his first Cup Series win, which would more than likely come with a playoff berth.
Daniel Suarez, No. 19 Arris Toyota (Crew Chief: Scott Graves)
2017 stats: 20th in points, 0 wins, 1 top five, 12 top tens, 0 poles, 1 playoff point
2017 recap: The 2017 season wasn’t supposed to be Suarez’s rookie season. But it was. The surprise retirement announcement from Carl Edwards in January meant that Suarez would be taking over the No. 19 Toyota in the Cup Series, not the Xfinity Series. Suarez had a respectable rookie season and finished second in the rookie of the year standings.
2018 outlook: All indications are pointing towards Suarez picking up where he left off a season ago. Suarez will be paired with crew chief Scott Graves for the third straight season, second straight in the Cup Series. The continued pairing will be crucial in helping continue their success. It isn’t unrealistic to think that Suarez won’t finish inside the top-20 once again or even earn his first career win or playoff berth.
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