Martin Truex Jr. embraces longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex for first time after winning first NASCAR title

Martin Truex Jr. embraces his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, whose reoccurring battle with ovarian cancer has been well-documented, after winning his first NASCAR championship in November.
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Martin Truex Jr. embraces his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, whose reoccurring battle with ovarian cancer has been well-documented, after winning his first NASCAR championship in November.
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NASCAR & Auto Racing

A way, way too early prediction: Which 16 drivers make the NASCAR playoffs in 2018?

December 13, 2017 04:03 PM

Think about those stores that are unnecessarily early with their holiday decorations. The ones that put out Christmas trees in October and Halloween candy in August? Well, consider this the NASCAR version of those stores.

The thing about those shops – and this piece – is that they do what they do for a reason. In the premature-decoration realm, that’s to drum up business from people who get excited about the holidays. Here, it’s to drum up attention from people excited for the 2018 NASCAR season – specifically, the 2018 NASCAR playoff push.

Which drivers will get in again next season? Which ones will miss out, and which ones will take their places? Happy (way, way too early) holidays:

Definitely In

Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson

None of these guys is missing out. It’s just that clear. Truex, Busch and Larson were dominant all season, and even in what he considered an off year, Johnson won three races. Keselowski, Harvick and Hamlin all came on strong at the end of the season and through the playoffs, and each of them had a reasonable shot at a championship. There’s no way any of these seven finish outside the top 16 and they’re all capable of multiple wins before the postseason.

Denny Hamlin, above, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick all came on strong at the end of the season and through the playoffs, and each of them had a reasonable shot at a championship.
LM Otero AP

Probably In

Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott

The surprising name here is Chase Elliott, who finished fifth in the final standings this season and was on the cusp of qualifying for the championship race at Homestead. Problem is, he didn’t, and he still hasn’t won a race (despite coming in second seven times). He’ll almost certainly get his first win next year, but then again, people said that about the season that just ended. As for the other three, they don’t figure to dominate in 2018, but they’re competitive enough that they should either steal a win or get in on points.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won two restrictor-plate races in 2017, remains too irregular to be counted on.
John Raoux AP

Miss the Cut

Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Kenseth and Kahne don’t have rides for next year, so that’s an easy two. The hardest one to count out was Stenhouse Jr., who won two restrictor-plate races in 2017. He’s too irregular to be counted on, and while he’s a solid driver, there are others who barely missed out in 2017 that figure to hop him. As for Kurt Busch and McMurray, neither was ever a real threat in the playoffs, and it’s just as likely different fringe drivers will make it in ahead of them.

William Byron is making the jump to the NASCAR Cup Series after winning the Xfinity Series championship in 2017, his lone season at that level.
Matias J. Ocner TNS

Replacements

William Byron, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Daniel Suárez, Erik Jones

Bowyer and Logano were both good in 2017, but not quite good enough to get into the postseason. That’ll change this year, and Logano could even figure to make a deep run, potentially even to Homestead. Suárez and Jones, two rookies in 2017, improved steadily throughout the season, and they should be able to convert those strong finishes into at least a win each in 2018. The wild card is Charlotte native William Byron, who is making the jump to the Cup Series after winning the Xfinity Series championship in 2017, his lone season at that level. Byron has shown a ton of potential in his two seasons in NASCAR, and he’s found immediate success at every level. It may be a gamble, but that should continue at NASCAR’shighest level.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks