by Julian Spivey
16. Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch is always a solid driver and a guy who typically wins at least one race a year, which if done during the first 26 races of the season locks you into the playoffs. I do believe his numbers will decline a bit this season moving from the hot Stewart-Haas Racing to Ganassi Racing, but I believe he’ll still be good enough to point his way into the playoffs even if he fails to win a race.
15. Daniel Suarez
Daniel Suarez kind of got the short stick at Joe Gibbs Racing when Furniture Row Racing shutdown at the end of last season leaving 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. without a job and an obvious place at Gibbs. Suarez was the odd man out. But he got lucky being able to replace Kurt Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing. I fully expect Suarez to have the type of year Aric Almirola did for SHR last season and make his first playoff appearance and maybe even win his first Cup race.
14. William Byron
After winning seven races in his rookie truck series season and four races in his rookie Xfinity Series season, in which he won the championship, William Byron’s winless rookie season in Cup last year with only four top 10s had to have been a disappointment. But Byron has teamed up with Chad Knauss, arguably the greatest crew chief in NASCAR history, for 2019 and I think the pairing will provide huge dividends for Byron.
13. Aric Almirola
Aric Almirola had a career year for Stewart-Haas Racing last season making the playoffs and winning the first full race of his career (his previous win was a rain-shortened event). I don’t really see things falling off for Almirola in 2019.
12. Denny Hamlin
Last year was the first season in Denny Hamlin’s 13-year career in which he failed to enter Victory Lane. I just can’t see that happening two years in a row, especially racing for Joe Gibbs. But, even if he does, he should easily point his way into the playoffs.
11. Erik Jones
Erik Jones got his first career NASCAR Cup Series win last season at Daytona in July, but his first two full-time seasons at the Cup level have been a bit less than I expected. I think Jones will break out a bit more this year. Expect at least multiple wins out of him.
10. Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer proved last season, his second with Stewart-Haas Racing, that he just needed to get back with a top flight team and settled in with that team. Bowyer, who hadn’t won a Cup race since 2012, entered Victory Lane twice. Bowyer also had his most top 5s and top 10s since 2013. There’s no reason to believe his production will fall off in 2019.
9. Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney’s biggest mark in his inaugural season in the Cup Series for Penske Racing last year was being the lucky guy at the end of the first ever Charlotte roval race and winning when Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. made contact racing for the win and took each other out. I expect Blaney to take another step up this year in the Cup Series and be a threat to win more often.
8. Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson’s 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season was pretty disappointing going winless after recording four wins the previous year. I believe Larson will have a bounce back season in 2019 and record multiple victories and be a real threat for the championship come the playoffs.
7. Jimmie Johnson
There were many wondering if Jimmie Johnson was finished last season with his first winless season of his Hall of Fame career, but this is something we’ve seen from other NASCAR legends before. I don’t believe for one second that Johnson is done as one of the sport’s best competitors and believe we’ll see him back in Victory Lane in 2019 with a rejuvenated No. 48 team with new crew chief Kevin Meendering.
6. Brad Keselowski
5. Joey Logano
Penske Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are always great picks to be in the championship hunt and both are now previous Cup Series champions with Logano surprising the so-called “Big Three” of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., who dominated the sport last year, at Miami winning the championship. I think both Keselowski and Logano are going to have good seasons with multiple wins apiece.
4. Chase Elliott
Chase Elliott finally broke out last season with his first Cup victory at Watkins Glen and then won twice more at Dover and Kansas. I believe Elliott, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, is only going to continue to get better from here. I think we’ll see him compete in his first championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway come November.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
2. Kevin Harvick
1. Kyle Busch
I think the “Big Three” from last year are all going to be the championship favorites of 2019, as well. I would be shocked if there isn’t multiple to a handful of wins by Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. The only real change for either of these drivers is Martin Truex Jr. moving to Joe Gibbs Racing after his championship winning team of 2017 Furniture Row Racing shutdown after last season due to funding issues. But, Truex will continue his partnership with crew chief Cole Pearn, the best crew chief in NASCAR in my opinion, and shouldn’t miss a step.
Kevin Harvick has been the most consistent driver In NASCAR over the last half decade or so and I don’t see him going backward anytime soon.
I believe that Kyle Busch is the most talented driver in all of NASCAR and that’s why he’s my overall favorite to win the 2019 Monster Energy Cup Series championship, which would be the second of his career if he can accomplish it.
This should be an incredibly interesting season for NASCAR’s Cup Series as they will debut a completely new intermediate track package starting with the second race of the year at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which the sport hopes will mix up competition and lead to closer and more exciting racing for the sport. Because of that though we don’t quite know what we’re going to get from the sport this season and these predictions could wind up way off base. That also kind of makes the 2019 season the most exciting one for the sport in some time.