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Your one-stop guide to the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season

Chase Elliott is in the No. 9 car while Ryan Blaney drives the No. 12 instead of No. 21 in 2018. (Getty)

With the start of the 2018 Cup Series season just days away, it’s time to review and preview all of the changes that have happened from 2017 to 2018. If you need a brief primer before you settle in and watch racing this weekend, you’re in the right spot. Here’s a guide to get you up to speed before the grueling 36-race Cup season officially kicks off. 

DRIVER CHANGES

• Erik Jones moves from the No. 77 at Furniture Row Racing to the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing in place of Matt Kenseth, who is unofficially retired. The No. 77 at Furniture Row has been shuttered and the team is only running the No. 78 for Martin Truex Jr.

• Alex Bowman is in the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will serve as an analyst for NBC in 2018.

• Chase Elliott hasn’t gone anywhere, but he’s driving the No. 9 instead of the No. 24.

• The No. 24 belongs to Xfinity Series champion William Byron, who inherits the seat at Hendrick Motorsports that was occupied by Kasey Kahne a year ago. Byron has Kahne’s No. 5 crew while Elliott has his No. 24 team from a year ago. But rebranded as the No. 9.

• Kahne is in the No. 95 for Levine Family Racing. He replaces Michael McDowell.

• McDowell is in the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports replacing Landon Cassill, who doesn’t have a ride for 2018.

• Paul Menard is in the No. 21 for the Wood Brothers after Ryan Blaney’s departure to a third Team Penske Team. Blaney will drive the No. 12 for Team Penske.

• Menard’s old No. 27 team at Richard Childress Racing is no more. That charter has been leased to StarCom Racing, which will attempt the full season with Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Aric Almirola moves from the No. 43 car at Richard Petty Motorsports to the No. 10 at Stewart-Haas Racing in place of Danica Patrick, who will make her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500. Patrick will drive that race for Premium Motorsports.

• Taking Almirola’s place in the No. 43 car is Bubba Wallace, who subbed for Almirola in 2017 after Almirola broke his back in a crash at Kansas Speedway in May.

Click here for the full Daytona 500 entry list and weekend schedule. 

SCHEDULE CHANGES

• Chicagoland Speedway no longer hosts the first race of the playoffs. Instead, its annual race is on July 1. The first playoff race is now at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

• The final race of the regular season will now take place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the Brickyard 400 moves to Sep. 8. Richmond International Raceway’s second date is now the second race of the playoffs. The short track has served as the final race in the regular season since the institution of NASCAR’s playoff system in 2004. Richmond’s spring date, which had been moved to Sunday afternoon, is back on Saturday night.

• Charlotte’s second race, and the third race of the playoffs, will be contested on a hybrid track consisting of the 1.5-mile oval and infield road course. It’s the first time that type of configuration has been used in Cup Series history.

Click here for the full 2018 schedule.


CAR CHANGES

• Chevrolet has dropped the SS, which was the team’s car of choice since NASCAR moved to the current generation of Cup Series cars in 2013. In its place is the Camaro, which has a far different nose than the SS did. Ideally for Chevy teams, it’ll be on par with the Camry that Toyota introduced in 2017.

• Ford is sticking with its Fusion model but will have a new model in 2019.

CONFUSING QUOTE OF THE OFFSEASON

• Courtesy of Ty Dillon. From NASCAR.com:

“I want to race for Germain Racing and GEICO my whole career and win races and championships and build my own brand like Kobe Bryant and the (Los Angeles) Lakers.”

This doesn’t make much sense, especially in the prism of Dillon driving for one-car team Germain Racing. Bryant won all of his NBA Finals with Shaquille O’Neal as his sidekick and the Lakers were a worldwide brand long before Bryant joined the team thanks to the Showtime-era Lakers of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and others.

Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress and brother of Austin Dillon, also had an interesting quote in the same article about Dale Earnhardt. We certainly appreciate his self-confidence, even if his comparisons make us look like the thinking emoji.

“I have such a platform and I don’t think a lot of people realize what we have,” Dillon said. “… Something that has bothered me about our sport in the ‘90s and 2000s everybody said they could relate so well to Dale Earnhardt. That’s why they loved him. He’s obviously the top level of fandom in our sport. Everybody could relate to him so well and he did such a great job of making people feel they are just like Dale Earnhardt, even though he’s a race car driver. I feel like I can do that.”

CHAMPIONS GOING FOR ANOTHER TITLE

• An eighth championship for Jimmie Johnson would make him the most prolific driver in NASCAR history. Johnson is currently tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven championships. How crazy would it be if Johnson, 42, won title No. 8 and retired at the end of the 2018 season?

• No other active driver has more than one title. Martin Truex Jr. is going for back-to-back titles after winning his first in 2017. Kyle Busch (2015), Kevin Harvick (2014), Brad Keselowski (2012) and Kurt Busch (2004) are all looking for championship No. 2 as well.

RIVALRY OF THE SEASON (AGAIN)

• This is a no-brainer. Keselowski and Busch are two of the best drivers in the sport and aren’t fans of each other. Their rivalry is the best NASCAR has had since Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt and was only heightened in 2017, when they had a couple run-ins on the track and both raced for the championship. If you think NASCAR is lacking in rivalries, how are you missing Busch v. Keselowski?

OTHER STORYLINES TO WATCH

• Austin Dillon remarked in January that Richard Childress Racing was “leaner and meaner” as a two-car team in 2018. Is that really going to be true? Roush Fenway Racing improved its performance from 2016 to 2017 when going from three cars to two, though it’s imperative to note that its three-car team in 2016 wasn’t fully-funded. RCR’s drop from three cars to two is because Paul Menard’s sponsored ride went to the Wood Brothers. Not only has RCR lost a car, it’s lost millions and millions of sponsor dollars too. The situations are not comparable.

• How does Toyota keep the advantage it had in 2017? We can quibble with what the word “advantage” actually means, but it’s clear that Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing were far superior to the competition in 2017. Can they carry that over to 2018? Or will Chevy’s Camaro catch up? Will Ford find speed?

• What are pit stops going to look like with one fewer crew member allowed over the wall to service cars in 2018? It’s a curious decision by NASCAR to cut the sizes of pit crews, especially with the spin that the move puts more emphasis on pit stops. 

• Which young driver wins a race first? Elliott’s the odds-on favorite after he came close a couple of times in 2017. Jones’ No. 20 car will be fast and Byron and Bowman will also get a lot of love from their presence at Hendrick Motorsports. Don’t count out Daniel Suarez either, who finished in the top 20 in the points standings after being thrust into the Cup Series in 2017.

Will Monster decide this spring to return for 2019 and 2020 as the title sponsor of the Cup Series? Will the company get another extension for more time to decide? Will Monster bail?

• Will fewer teams miss qualifying in 2018 because of NASCAR’s new inspection system?


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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!