Roger Diez: A Monster of a season, but what about future? | NevadaAppeal.com

Roger Diez: A Monster of a season, but what about future?

Roger Diez

As you read this, 2018 is less than 48 hours away. Unfortunately, it's still quite a ways until racing season starts, but let's take a look at what we can expect from the 2018 season, and maybe some guesses about the unexpected as well.

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With the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series due to kick off with the Advanced Auto Parts Clash on Feb. 3, ongoing series sponsorship for 2019 and beyond is still in question. Monster Energy, which was to pick up a two-year option through 2020 has requested and received an extension on its decision until this coming spring. Hedging its bets, NASCAR is quietly researching possible alternate sponsors in case Monster elects not to renew. As we all know, sponsorship is the lifeblood of the sport, and NASCAR may need a transfusion by the end of the coming season.

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Monster Energy will continue to sponsor the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, however. Kurt Busch has finally signed a contract with the team and will continue as the driver for 2018. SHR is one of the Ford teams that had some success last year and is looking to improve in 2018. Both Penske Ford drivers and one Roush-Fenway driver also scored wins last season, but will have to step up the pace if they're to match the Toyota brigade.

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So what does the manufacturer picture look like for 2018? Will the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas continue their dominance in the coming season, or will the top Chevy and Ford teams be able to catch up and surpass them? Look for Kyle Larson to improve on his excellent 2017 season. He's shaping up to be the next driver in the Jeff Gordon/Jimmie Johnson mold. Interesting all three are from California originally. And speaking of Johnson, can he step up and win an unprecedented eighth championship in NASCAR's top series? He's in his 40s now, with not too many years of competitive driving left. I think he and crew chief Chad Knaus are going to go for broke in 2018. Hopefully the changeover from the venerable SS to the new ZL1 Camaro will prove to be a positive step for the Chevy brigade.

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And what of the other young guns? I predict Chase Elliott will have a breakthrough year in the No. 9 Hendrick Chevrolet. I think he'll not only score his first win, but also a couple more — provided he can steer clear of Denny Hamlin. Eric Jones will have an awesome car, a Gibbs Toyota, and he will also score at least one win next season. Young William Byron is good, but he's taking a big step up and I don't believe he'll visit victory circle in 2018, but will have a good season learning the Cup ropes. And Bubba Wallace will improve on his already impressive record as a substitute last season in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. His car may not be up to the Gibbs, Hendrick, Penske, Childress, or Ganassi machines, but I look for him to have a solid season with some top fives and maybe a win.

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Several Camping World Truck series standouts are also moving up to the next step for 2018. 2017 Champion Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe will compete in the Xfinity series in the upcoming season. Bell will wheel the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 machine, and Nemechek will split the season in the No. 42 Ganassi Chevy with Kyle Larson. Cindric and Briscoe will share the No. 60 Roush Mustang with fellow Xfinity rookie Ty Majeski.

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So expect to see some new names in the Truck series roster for 2018. Two veterans who have been confirmed to return are Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter.

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Next week, we'll take a look at what's upcoming for the IndyCar and Formula One series, as well as the Weathertech Sportscar series, which will be the first to take to the track. The 2018 Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona will see the first green flag of the season on Jan. 27.