NASCAR Roundtable: Will the Mustang slow Ford down in 2019?
The NASCAR team at Motorsport.com makes some predictions concerning the 2019 season in this week’s edition of the NASCAR Roundtable.
Motorsport.com’s Jim Utter, Nick DeGroot and Tim Southers answer several questions as NASCAR prepares to officially crown Joey Logano as the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series champion this week in Las Vegas.
Who is at least one driver you think will make the Championship 4 in the NASCAR Cup Series next season who failed to make it this year?
Jim: I think there will be two - and both from Hendrick Motorsports, which would be a serious step up in performance for them over this season. I think Chase Elliott advances all the way to the Championship 4 next season and I believe Jimmie Johnson will join him, where he will get an opportunity to win a NASCAR-record eighth Cup series championship.
Nick: Chase Elliott is the popular pick, but I'd also say Brad Keselowski or Kyle Larson. Both are very capable of doing so, but missed out this year.
Tim: I think it will be Chase Elliott. He showed signs this season - especially in the playoffs - that he can close the deal and win when it matters the most and I think that will work well for him next year as he makes his first Championship Four. I even think he will enter as one of the favorites to win the title next season.
Do you expect to see a drop-off in performance from the Ford teams next season with the introduction of the Mustang and no off-season testing?
Jim: I do expect to see some early-season struggles. Simulation is very helpful but it cannot truly reflect real on-track performance with 30-something fellow competitors racing around you at the same time. Do I think Ford will have a season like Chevrolet and get locked out of the Championship 4? No. But the change in body style will be one additional variable Ford teams will have to contend with in addition to the new aero rules. Had it been one or the other, I would feel more confident about Ford's hopes of getting out of the box in top form.
Nick: Yes. There will be a learning curve, as we saw with the Camaro. I will be genuinely surprised if they come out of the box without missing a step. But with powerhouses like SHR and Penske, it shouldn't take them long to find their footing. In other words, I highly doubt they'll struggle as much as the Chevrolet teams this year.
Tim: To me this will be one of the more interesting storylines going into the 2019 season. I think Ford will have at least one driver make it to the Championship Four next season, but I’m sure everyone will be watching closely to see what kind of start Ford has in 2019. There is really no way to predict until the car is on the track in racing conditions.
Who do you think over-performed and under-performed in the Cup Series this season?
Jim: I expected Joey Logano to be improved over 2017 but his race-to-race consistency coupled with his outstanding performances in the playoffs that ended in his first series championship was far more than I anticipated. I also thought Aric Almirola would do well in his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing, but his strong runs, the race win and finishing fifth in the series standings was an unexpected surprise. Hendrick Motorsports as an organization under-performed in 2018, at least to the very high standards it had set for itself in recent years. Chase Elliott was the lone bright spot. I was also surprised by the difficult season Denny Hamlin had, particularly in comparison to his other experienced Joe Gibbs Racing teammates.
Nick: Joey Logano definitely leads those in the 'over-performed' category. He bested the Big 3 and got good just when he needed to. He also had just one win the regular season, coming at Talladega. As for under-performing, I'd say Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. Both went winless for the first time in their careers and struggled for results.
Tim: I think Joey Logano over performed as I wouldn’t have picked him to win the championship based off of his performance during the regular season. Yes, he was consistent, but I don’t think he turned anyone’s head during the first 26 races of the season. As for under-performing, I think it would have to be all of the Chevrolet drivers this season. I thought there might be a learning curve with the new car, but I never would have dreamed drivers and teams - except for Kyle Larson - would struggle like they did this season on the track. Chase Elliott showed in the playoffs that it appears they might have things figured out.
Do you think JR Motorsports will win three Xfinity Series driver championships in a row?
Jim: It will be very difficult, especially now that Chase Briscoe will be competing fulltime in the series with Stewart-Haas Racing and Christopher Bell will be returning for another season after a seven-win rookie campaign with Joe Gibbs Racing. I do expect Noah Gragson to do well in his rookie campaign with JRM, but will have some very experienced competition to contend with on the track, including teammate Justin Allgaier.
Nick: It's going to be a packed field with Chastain in the No. 42. Briscoe securing a full-time ride via SHR and Christopher Bell back for another season. However, I think both Justin Allgaier and his rookie teammate Gragson can get it done. But will they? I'm going to say no, just because I think Chastain and Bell will be leading the charge in 2019.
Tim: I think it will be tough for JR Motorsports to win a third straight driver’s title with the competition now coming from Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. However, they have the driver I think will be very motivated to go after the title in Justin Allgaier. Allgaier came close this season and I feel that frustration of coming up short in 2018 will motivate him and the entire team next season.
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