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Four major questions heading into the '19 season

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 10, 2019 at 12:31 AM

There are several questions for the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heading into the 2019 season. This week, we focus on four on-track questions leading with Joey Logano and his bid to repeat as NASCAR champion.

CAN LOGANO REPEAT AS CHAMPION?

Joey Logano was the surprise winner at Miami, the least likely of the final four to win the championship after the "Big 3" of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had dominated most of the season.

Logano made the playoffs by winning a restrictor-plate race at Talladega, and he advanced to the championship round by banging past Truex on the last lap at Martinsville. Despite those being his only two wins, the 28-year-old driver was unbelievably confident heading into the championship race. His No. 22 Ford didn't disappoint as Logano pulled away from Truex for the race win and the title.

As for this season, he can absolutely win the championship. He also has to be a favorite to win the Daytona 500 with Ford's recent success on the restrictor-plate tracks. Ford drivers have won seven straight races at Talladega and five of the last nine at Daytona, including Logano's win in the 2015 Daytona 500.

JOHNSON GOING FOR RECORD

As long as Jimmie Johnson is active in the series, it's a big storyline with him chasing an eighth NASCAR title to break a tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most all-time.

Before the 43-year-old driver looks ahead to the championship, he is focused on getting back to victory lane. A two-time Daytona 500 winner and the last driver to sweep Daytona races in a season, his 63-race winless streak could end in a few weeks.

There are obvious questions with Johnson and longtime crew chief Chad Knaus parting ways at the end of last season. Kevin Meendering, a former engineer in the Hendrick Motorsports organization, now takes over the crew chief role for the No. 48 Chevrolet. Coming up through the ranks, he and Johnson both have plenty to prove.

WHO WILL BE THE DOMINANT TEAM?

Stewart-Haas Racing was the best team for most of the 2018 season. Kevin Harvick won eight races, while Clint Bowyer won two and Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola won one race each. It was announced days ago that Daniel Suarez will now be taking over the No. 41 Ford ride left by Busch's departure.

Team Penske was the team to beat at the end of the season, highlighted by Logano’s championship. Also for the Penske group, Brad Keselowski won three races, all in consecutive weeks at Darlington, Indianapolis and Las Vegas, and Ryan Blaney won the inaugural race on Charlotte's oval.

For 2019, it would appear that Joe Gibbs Racing has the best overall driver lineup. Kyle Busch won eight races last season, while Erik Jones won the July race at Daytona.

Denny Hamlin didn't win for the first time in his career in 2018, so he has the same hunger as Johnson to get back in victory lane. The organization gets an upgrade in Truex taking over for Suarez and bringing along crew chief Cole Pearn for the No. 19 Toyota after Furniture Row Racing ceased operations at the end of last season.

HOW WILL FORD DO WITH THE NEW MUSTANG?

Before the start of last season, it was questioned whether Ford and its dated Fusion model could keep up with Chevrolet and Toyota.

Instead, Ford had its best season since 1994 with 19 wins, the driver's championship and the manufacturer's championship. On the other hand, Chevrolet's debut of the Camaro as a replacement for the SS Model was an utter disappointment.

Chevrolet driver Austin Dillon won the season-opening Daytona 500, but the Bowtie brand didn't win again until Chase Elliott's victory at the Watkins Glen road course in August. Elliott had two more wins, but other Chevy drivers continued to lag behind.

Now, it's Ford turn to debut a new model with the Mustang and it's interesting to see if the Blue Oval brand will have the same struggles as its longtime rival or if Ford will continue to pace the NASCAR field.

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