Many places often celebrate Friday at 5 where the weekend begins. Although there’s no NASCAR Cup action this weekend, fans can still enjoy Friday 5 with a (fun) look at the upcoming season with these five questions.
1. What is the new driver/crew chief combination that is most intriguing?
Among the new driver/crew chief combinations this year:
Billy Scott with Kurt Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing
John Klausmeier with Aric Almirola at SHR
Matt Borland with Ty Dillon at Germain Racing
Greg Erwin with Paul Menard at the Wood Brothers
Travis Mack with Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing
Greg Ives with Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports
Darian Grubb with William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports
The one that intrigues the most is the Grubb/Byron pairing. Grubb won a championship with Tony Stewart in 2011, led Denny Hamlin to the title race in Homestead in 2014, worked with Carl Edwards in 2015 and won the 2006 Daytona 500 with Jimmie Johnson while serving as interim crew chief with Chad Knaus suspended.
Grubb has never worked with a rookie.
Byron is more than a rookie. The 20-year-old is viewed by many to be the future of Hendrick Motorsports. Grubb will play a key role in molding Byron and that’s an important responsibility. How Byron handles the highs and lows of the season will rest with Grubb. This will be worth watching closely.
2. How will Fords compete with the other manufacturers this season?
Chevrolet brings out the Camaro ZL1 this season. Toyota won 16 races with the updated Toyota Camry last year. Ford will have the oldest model among the three.
Brad Keselowski raised issues about Toyota’s success last year and NASCAR not keeping the manufactures closer. He sounded a warning about the 2018 season moments after the 2017 season finished in Homestead.
“When that (Toyota) car rolled out at Daytona, and I think we all got to see it for the first time, I think there (were) two reactions: One, we couldn’t believe NASCAR approved it; and two, we were impressed by the design team over there,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think anyone ever had a shot this year the second that thing got put on the racetrack and approved. It kind of felt like Formula 1, where you had one car that made it through the gates heads and tails above everyone, and your hands are tied because you’re not allowed to do anything to the cars in those categories that NASCAR approves to really catch up.
“As to what will happen for 2018, you know, I don’t know. I would assume that Chevrolet will be allowed to design a car the same way that Toyota was for this one, but Ford doesn’t have any current plans for that. If that’s the case, we’re going to take a drubbing next year, so we’ll have to see.”
That’s the challenge Fords could face this season. Ford won 10 races last year, but only two of the final 19 races last year. Will that trend continue this season?
3. There were three first-time Cup winners in 2017. Will that number be equaled this season?
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon each scored their first career Cup victory last season.
Among the drivers seeking their first career Cup win this season: Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Ty Dillon and Darrell Wallace Jr. Those drivers represent Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Germain Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports.
It would seem a good bet that Elliott and at least one other driver on that list scores their first career Cup win this year. It’s possible there could be three first-time winners again.
4. For fun, who is your way-too-early final four picks at Homestead?
Let’s go with Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.
5. For fun, in the way-too-early category, how many drivers who didn’t make the playoffs last year make it this year?
Let’s go with three. Thinking Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.