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2018 NASCAR predictions: Most improved, playoff favorites, Cup champion and more

Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

From a journalistic standpoint, there's a clear downside to making any sort of predictions: What if you're wrong?

The NASCAR season takes almost the entire calendar year -- trying to foretell the final outcome at the very beginning is challenging, to put it mildly. And given the internet's permanency, these predictions aren't going anywhere.

Still, there's clear value (and entertainment) from season predictions. They're fun for readers and writers alike, and they help give direction and perspective to the season as it unfolds. So without further ado, your 2018 NASCAR Cup Series predictions:

Daytona 500 champion

In hindsight, it feels like five or six different drivers had a shot at winning the 2017 Daytona 500 ... and from all of them, somehow Kurt Busch came out on top? It was Busch's only win in 2017, and he only had five other finishes in the Top 5 the rest of the season. So, the win was a bit of an anomaly. This time around, look for one of those runners-up to pull ahead.

This might be a bit of a dark-horse pick, considering how his season ended, but give me Kyle Larson. He should be motivated by his premature playoff exit, and he ran as well at Homestead as could have been imagined. Last season's breakout campaign carries over and nets him the first win of the season.

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Prediction: Kyle Larson

Rookie of the year

This one basically comes down to Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. and William Byron, and given Byron's immediate success at every level of racing, he gets the nod. Winning a race would be a huge step in his first Cup season, but Byron has the talent to do the unlikely. Wallace will be more of a wild card. Although he's talented in his own right, give Byron the edge thanks to Hendrick Motorsports' superior resources.

Prediction: William Byron

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