Roundtable: Pre-season title picks and Daytona 500 predictions

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Roundtable: Pre-season title picks and Daytona 500 predictions
Feb 13, 2018, 11:57 PM

The Motorsport.com NASCAR team take a look at who could prevail in this weekend's Daytona 500.

Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford Fusion
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford Fusion wins the Clash
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford Fusion
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford Fusion wins the Clash
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2017 champion Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Cole Custer, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Elliott Sadler, JR Motorsports Chevrolet reacts after losing the championship
Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, William Byron, JR Motorsports Chevrolet
Noah Gragson, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Noah Gragson, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Noah Gragson, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Matt Crafton, ThorSport Racing Toyota
Matt Crafton, ThorSport Racing Toyota

Who do you think looks the strongest and has the best chance to win the Daytona 500 after their performance in practice and qualifying from this weekend?

Jim: Brad Keselowski has been knocking on the door to Victory Lane at the Daytona 500 the past several seasons and he inched his way closer again Sunday with a victory in the Clash. He clearly has to be one of the favorites this season. However, it would not surprise me if Chase Elliott were to pick up his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in the 500. He, too, has run well in the race and looked strong again in the Clash before getting caught up in the late wreck.

Lee: The driver out front. In Sunday’s Clash, that was Brad Keselowski who held the point for the final 36 laps for the win. It would not surprise me to see the No. 2 Ford in Victory Lane again next Sunday. There appears to be a solid cross-section of fast cars from the Hendrick Chevrolets, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas and Team Penske Fords. With Jimmie Johnson’s concerns over the new Chevrolet nose, I have to wonder if that will be a factor next weekend. 

Nick: Brad Keselowski is the obvious choice. He has plenty of success at plate tracks in the past, Ford dominated these races in 2017 and he is fresh off a win in The Clash. But beyond him, I'd be looking at Chase Elliott. He drives with the aggression needed to keep the pack at bay and he's got the power under the hood.

Tim: I think a Ford will get the win this weekend in Daytona and based on his performance from last weekend, I think Brad Keselowski can break through and win his first Daytona 500 this year. Everyone knows you also have to have some luck and miss the incidents on track, so with that I also feel a young driver like Chase Elliott could also score his first win this weekend. I’m predicting an action-packed race.

Who do you think will win the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and why?

Jim: I predict the race for the Cup series championship is going to be more wide open this year than it has in several seasons. In the end, though, I see a battle shaping up between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson - something we've had a taste of in recent seasons in Cup and Xfinity series races. I'm going with Busch to take this one, for his second Cup series championship.

Lee: Kyle Busch will give fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. a run for his money in 2018. He nearly pulled off the win at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year and I don’t expect Joe Gibbs Racing to settle for second again. 

Nick: Martin Truex Jr. will go back-to-back; that's my pre-season guess. I see no reason why the No. 78 team won't be as strong, if not stronger than last season. 

Tim: While it’s way too early to accurately predict, I feel a new driver will win the championship this season. Based on talent and how I feel his team will learn from last season, I think Kyle Larson will break through and win the championship. If he falls short, we could see Chase Elliott be a contender at Homestead. However, my belief is that Larson will be a first-time champion in 2018.

Who do you think will win the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship and why?

Jim: It's difficult not to pick Christopher Bell, last season's Truck series champion, and already earned an Xfinity win last year running a partial schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing. I believe Bell will prevail but we got a glimpse of Cole Custer's potential with his impressive win last season at Homestead. I definitely think he will be a factor as well.

Lee: Christopher Bell. He’s the most talented racer to rise through the ranks since Kyle Larson and has better equipment at this stage of his career. He will be the one Xfinity Series racer who contends side-by-side with Cup drivers who compete on the tour.

Nick: My colleagues all say Bell and I'm probably foolish to pick otherwise, but I'm going to go with Elliott Sadler. The veteran driver has been so close so many times and I believe he'll finally put it all together and capture that elusive title in 2018. 

Tim: I must agree with Jim and Lee. I think Christopher Bell will continue his fast rise in NASCAR with the Xfinity Series title. He’s already shown that he has the talent to get it done and he’ll drive some of the best-prepared cars in the series from Joe Gobbs Racing.

Who do you think will win the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship and why?

Jim: Noah Gragson made great strides during the course of his rookie season last year with Kyle Busch Motorsports, finally collecting his first series win at Martinsville. A new crew chief will change things up for Gragson at KBM, but if he can continue his pace of development with the top organization in the series, there's no reason why he won't be competing for his first NASCAR national series championship at the end of the year at Homestead. 

Lee: My heart tells me to go with the veterans—either Johnny Sauter or Matt Crafton. However, with ThorSport making the switch from Toyota to Ford, there could be growing pains for the Sandusky, Ohio-based team. Sauter was absolutely solid last year and the only driver on the tour to keep pace with Bell. But I have to think that with Toyota out-spending the other two manufacturers that the champion will come out of Kyle Busch Motorsports. Give the nod to Noah Gragson in 2018.

Nick: Matt Crafton will reclaim his crown in 2018. Yes, they'll have a transition period with the late manufactuerer change, but I still believe he'll rise to the top come crunch time. He is known for his consistency and has far more experience than his younger rivals. A sleeper pick would be Brett Moffitt in the No. 16.

Tim: I think this year will be a wide open race for the championship. Although they made a late switch to Ford, I feel Thorsport Racing has the experience and talent to contend for the championship. I know the trendy pick is to go with a driver from Kyle Busch Motorsports because, quite frankly, they seem to dominate running up front and winning races, I think Matt Crafton will prove once again that he can get it done when it counts and will celebrate another title in November.

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