We’re less than a month away now from the start of the 2019 NASCAR season. This year, will feature a lot of uncertainty. With a new rules package and more drivers changing rides, the 2019 season likely won’t look like anything we’ve seen in years past.
With that being said, here are the top five storylines to watch for the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
How is this not No. 1 on the list? Racing will look vastly different in 2019 than 2018. The reason? The rules package is going to be completely different. NASCAR is going to use the same package that we saw in last year’s All-Star race in Charlotte. But, they’re going to do so at every race rather than certain ones. Granted, some races will have different variations of other tracks, but the concept is all the same.
They’re hoping for more drag and similar horsepower which in turn is supposed to create pack racing similar to what we see at Daytona and Talladega. Goodyear has already said that the tire will have minimal fall off, which in turn means everyone will essentially have the same thing.
So, how can you get any separation?
That’s why predicting anything for this season is virtually impossible.
Can Ford Keep 2018 Pace With New Car, Will Chevy Make Up Ground?
Ford is coming off of their best season in over two decades. 2018 was the first time that they won both the owners and drivers championships in the same season since 1999. They took 19 checkered flags a year ago, the most since 19 trips to victory lane in 1997. They also led over 5,700 laps, more than Toyota and Chevy combined. Despite that, they have a new car in 2019 as well as a new rules package.
The Mustang debuts and Ford is hoping that they don’t have the same falloff that Toyota and Chevrolet had when they introduced new cars the last two seasons. Chevy brought out the Camaro in 2018 and they had the fewest wins as a manufacturer since 1982. For the second consecutive year too, they didn’t have a driver competing in the Championship 4 at Homestead. The year prior, it took Toyota literally half the season to get their new Camry up to par. Will Ford have similar struggles out of the gates?
The one thing going for them is this new rules package. Ford has been the ones to beat with restrictor plates over the last several years. They won the All-Star race with this package last year and have won 13 of the last 18 points paying plate races.
Something has to give for 2019. The manufacturer battle will be a key one to watch now.
Veterans vs. Youth
Last year, the big storyline at this time was the “youth movement.” Most of the top rides had drivers 27 years of age or younger. A ton of NASCAR’s marketing went to them as a result. That in turn ruffled some feathers with the veterans of the sport who felt like they had already paid their dues and were still in the midst of the primes of their careers.
Well, the “Big 3” all drivers in their 30’s and even 40’s, won 16 of the first 21 races in 2018 and were the class of the field. But, through the final 15 races, the youth movement came on in full force. Joey Logano dominated and ended up winning the championship. Chase Elliott won three times himself. Ryan Blaney reached victory lane at Charlotte on the ROVAL. Erik Jones won at Daytona in July. The younger drivers found their momentum and head into 2019 with all of it.
Just three of the first 21 races in 2018 were won by a driver 27 years of age or younger including four of the 26 regular season events in total. In the playoff though, five of the final eight were won by drivers 27 or younger.
Throw in Kyle Larson, William Byron, Alex Bowman and others, and you can see why this year more than any will see many the tides turn to the younger drivers winning more races than the seasoned veterans.
Can Hamlin, Larson and Johnson Rebound?
For the first time in their NASCAR careers, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson failed to reach victory lane in a single season. Both made the playoffs, but neither were really factors. Now, can both return to victory lane in 2019?
Both have new crew chiefs a top their pit boxes and hope to end winless droughts. Throw in Kyle Larson into the mix, and you get three very talented drivers looking to reach victory lane for the first time in nearly two years.
Johnson, hasn’t won in 59 races. Hamlin hasn’t won in 47 races with Larson holding onto a 46 race winless streak.
This is a new rules package this season too, so can all three get back to victory circle in 2019?
New Faces In New Places
Nine drivers head into the 2019 season in new rides. Some albeit are rookies, but others like Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing), Kurt Busch (Stewart Haas Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing), Daniel Suarez (SHR to JGR), Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing to Roush Fenway Racing) and Matt DiBenedetto (Go Fas Racing to Leavine Family Racing) have switched rides.
Moving from one ride to a completely new team is challenging enough. Now, to do so with a completely new rules package is a whole new story. Some of those drivers on the move are past champions. Some are moving from really good rides to another good ride. Will there be any drop off in the process?
This is something to watch out for as well.
Truex, won 16 of his 19 career races since 2016 with FRR. In that time frame, he also had 47 top five finishes, 64 top 10’s and 12 of his 19 career poles. He also led 5,078 of his 7,535 career laps. Now, he joins a JGR car that failed to make the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
Busch, had six wins with SHR but takes over a car with Ganassi that has one win since 2011. The car had four or fewer top five finishes in a second in seven of the last eight years.
Can either of those two drivers elevate those teams?