Staff predictions for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

A new season of NASCAR is here and with that comes new expectations, new rules and new faces in NASCAR. The writers at Motor Racing Digest try their best to have a little fun with preseason predictions for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

1. Which driver will have the most wins at the end of the season?

Matt Lovisa: Kyle Busch, but just barely edging out Martin Truex Jr.

Steven Taranto: Kyle Busch is a safe bet for this. He was in position to win a lot more races than he actually did in 2017, and I can easily see him making frequent trips to the Winner’s Circle.

Dave Thompson: Kyle Busch

2. Which team will have the most wins at the end of the season?

Matt Lovisa: The obvious choice here is Joe Gibbs Racing. I’m also going to keep my eye on Team Penske. If Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano both find victory lane twice and Ryan Blaney joins them at least once they could give the JGR juggernaut a run for their money.

Steven Taranto: It’s hard to bet against Joe Gibbs Racing. The advantage that the Toyotas have isn’t going away anytime soon, especially not on downforce tracks.

Dave Thompson: Team Penske

3. Which driver will lead the standings at the end of the regular season?

Matt Lovisa: Martin Truex Jr. If his No. 78 team continues to dominate stage points like last year, all bets are off for the rest of the field.

Steven Taranto: Kyle Larson has flashed the ability to be very consistent. If Ganassi keeps putting good cars under him like they did last year, I expect him to lead the standings at the end of the regular season.

Dave Thompson: Kyle Busch

Will Martin Truex Jr. lead the way with wins during the regular season or will it be Kyle Busch? (Matthew T. Thacker, NKP)

4. Which driver(s) will win their first race in 2018?

Matt Lovisa: I was one for two last year by saying Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott would win. I will stick with choosing two again for this year and go with Chase Elliott and William Byron.

Steven Taranto: I said this last year, but Chase Elliott is past due for a victory. Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are both safe bets with Gibbs, and I expect William Byron to get into the Winner’s Circle at some point – He has been a very quick study in everything he’s ever raced.

Dave Thompson: William Byron

5. Which one driver will surprise in a positive way this season? Which one driver will disappoint this season?

Matt Lovisa: Jamie McMurray. I think he breaks his winless streak dating back to October 2013 at Talladega Superspeedway. Overshadowed by his teammate Kyle Larson the past three seasons, McMurray has been consistent in making the playoffs.  After winning twice last year, I think Ricky Stenhouse Jr. disappoints and misses the playoffs. Stenhouse and his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford won’t have the luxury of two wins and finish outside the top-20.

Steven Taranto: I think a lot of people are sleeping on Paul Menard’s ability to be a fixture in the Top 10. I expect him to run a lot like Ryan Blaney did last year and contend for the odd win or two. I really like that Richard Petty Motorsports has made a move to Chevrolet, but without major funding I’d be a little wary of saying that Darrell Wallace Jr. will light the world on fire in his rookie year.

Dave Thompson: Not really a surprise, but more of a rebound from last season, Joey Logano. Unfortunately, I think Erik Jones will have a disappointing season in the No. 20.

6. Which four drivers will be in the final round of the playoffs at Homestead?

Matt Lovisa: Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson.

Steven Taranto: Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano

Dave Thompson: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.

7. Which driver wins the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship?

Matt Lovisa: Kyle Larson. This is the year he finally reaches Homestead with a chance to win the championship and capitalizes on his opportunity.

Steven Taranto: As long as Kyle Larson makes the Championship Four, I don’t think there’s any stopping him at Homestead. Bank on him winning the race and the championship in this scenario.

Dave Thompson: Kyle Busch

Is this the season Kyle Larson wins his first NASCAR championship? (Nigel Kinrade, NKP)