Smith: ‘I think this is the last year we see Jimmie Johnson race’
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – FOX NASCAR analysts Larry McReynolds, Andy Petree, Regan Smith and Michael Waltrip joined NASCAR RACE HUB co-hosts Adam Alexander and Shannon Spake Thursday for a War Room special in which they made predictions and analyzed the upcoming 2018 NASCAR season. Below are quotes from the episode. NASCAR RACE HUB airs Monday through Thursdays at 6:00 PM ET on FS1.
What is your bold prediction for 2018?
“Young William Byron will win a race in his first season and be a force in the sport. Look at what he has already done by winning so many Truck and Xfinity races. He will carry it on in the Cup Series.”
“Erik Jones will win multiple races. His first win will be at Atlanta, and he will win four races in 2018.”
“We’ve been waiting on Chase Elliott to find Victory Lane. Not only will he get that first win, but I think he will win at least three races in 2018. He will be the first Hendrick driver to win this year.”
“I think this is the last year we see Jimmie Johnson race. I think he’s going to retire after this year. I don’t have any inside information, but something tells me he has to be getting to that point in his career.”
Which four MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES drivers will compete for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November? Who wins the title?
“My final four look pretty similar to last year – the 78, 11, 18 and 9. Chase (Elliott) ran really well at the end of the 2017 season. All we have to go on is how these guys did last year. My champ is Kyle Busch. He’ll get his second championship. He has been that consistently good. But I have some questions about Ford.”
“It will be the 78, 18, 9 and 4. It’s so hard to keep a guy like Kevin Harvick out of the championship race. Truex will win more races than last year and Chase Elliott will have a breakout year. I’m going with Harvick for the championship because that team has had an entire year to keep working on their cars. They started picking things up just a little bit at the end of last year. Although they don’t have a new Ford body, Harvick still will get it done.”
“My bet is the 78, 48, 42 and 4 at Homestead. Jimmie Johnson will be back this year and you better not take your eye off of Kevin Harvick. Kyle Larson will rebound from what happened at the end of rounds 2 and 3 last year. If you just get Larson to Homestead, he has a great chance. That group will be back and be back with a vengeance.”
Which drivers should we be watching in 2018?
“I’ve watched William Byron since he came into the Truck Series. When he got to the Truck Series, he won the most races a rookie ever had, had the title in his sights, blew an engine at Phoenix and lost. He went to the Xfinity Series and did the same thing but won the championship. Plus, the new Chevrolet could help him this year.”
“I think we’ll be talking about all the young drivers a lot this season, but Erik Jones in particular. Once they get to the point in the schedule when he’s been to most of the tracks, given how he ran last summer and fall with a run of four consecutive top-five finishes and almost won the Bristol race, we’ll be talking about Erik Jones a lot.”
“Chase Elliott will have a breakout year. You could say last year was a breakout year, but he didn’t win. He’ll get that win and do special things this season. It all goes back to what happened at Martinsville last year. He’s a different driver since that incident and it toughened him up a bit.”
What is the biggest question mark for the season ahead?
“We saw Joey Logano come out of the box extremely hot last season – they were fast. Then they had the encumbered win at Richmond and didn’t look the same from that point on. I want to see what they did in the off season to get him comfortable, because even when he was struggling, the rest of Team Penske looked like they were figuring things out.”
“What has Team Penske changed to get the speed back? There’s nothing really changing with the Ford this year, so I think they’re a little behind in that area. Brad Keselowski made the Championship 4 last year, but the organization as a whole is a big question mark for me this year.”
“What will Hendrick Motorsports do in 2018? Jimmie Johnson is the only driver there who has won a race, and he hasn’t won since June last year. That’s a long dry streak for him with only one top-five finish in the last 23 races. They do have the new Camaro, so it could take a little time to adjust to that. But we just didn’t see speed out of that camp last season.”
How much pressure is on Jimmie Johnson given the inexperience in the Hendrick Motorsports driver lineup?
“There is a ton of pressure on Jimmie this year. When you look at how they will develop the new car and improve with it, they have two drivers learning everything they will on the race track when they go out there for the first time. So you can almost scratch them off and let them make mistakes for a little while. So, the burden falls on Jimmie and Chase Elliott as the only experienced drivers in that camp.”