NASCAR Cup Series

Expectations Rising for Three Underrated Drivers in 2019

The new year is finally here and we are a couple months away from getting back to racing with the Daytona 500 just around the corner.

A new season means that we will be seeing some drivers change, as well as shifts in personal within organizations. The upcoming campaign will be unique since the sanctioning body is introducing a new rules package for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars. 

Here are a three drivers that can surprise in 2019 and can take a step forward from 2018.

1. Aric Almirola

The veteran driver from Tampa, Florida debuted for Stewart-Haas Racing last season driving the No. 10 car that Danica Patrick drove for six years. There was always potential with that ride and Almirola showed how good they can be. With an average finish of 12.8 Almirola finished fifth in the playoffs, just one spot away from being part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A win late in the season at Talladega Superspeedway gave Almirola a boost that he needed to finish the year strong. However, some can argue that he could have had a few more in the bag. For example, at Chicagoland Speedway, he led 70 laps but going through tire issues twice during the race stopped him from getting the victory.

“Our car was super-fast, especially out in clean air. It was incredibly fast. We just have to execute; we have to put a whole race together. That’s the difference between being good and being great,” Almirola said after that race.

This upcoming season making the Championship 4 is what should be expected from this team after breaking out in 2018.

2. William Byron

This one might be surprise for some people. Byron is going to enter his second season as a full-time driver in the Cup Series and we have seen how much talent he has as he moved up the ranks. In 2018, you can tell that Byron went through rookie struggles, but at the end of it he has grown from it.

“I mean, a lot, I guess I mean we had a lot of up and downs and its good, you know I’m excited for whatever is to come,” Byron told POPULAR SPEED shortly after finishing the Ford EcoBoost 400 in November.

This upcoming season, there will be a switch in crew chiefs as Chad Knaus will be taking the helm for the No. 24 team. This should really help the young driver develop and gain more experience. In 2018, his best finish was sixth at Pocono where he led 10 laps; with the proper resources and tools that are coming for Byron in 2019, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t expect to make the playoffs.

A debut in the playoffs would be impressive but getting passed the Round of 16 would be even bigger.

3. Ryan Blaney

His name is becoming more known as his popularity grew massively with fans in 2018. After scoring a last lap win at the ROVAL in Charlotte in October, Blaney showed that he needed to be taken serious for title consideration. He fell short of the Championship 4, but he did show us that he is a rising star in the Cup Series.

With an average finish of 9.4, Blaney was able to impress by running consistently up front. The competition within his team had some suggesting that he was behind his two other teammates when it comes to who is better; that shows the strength that Team Penske has. His move to the Captain’s Ship in 2018 is helping him grow especially since he is learning from a pair of veterans.

Blaney is going to enter the 2019 season with more expectations on the line, as people will look for him to score more victories and take the next step in the playoffs. An appearance in the Championship 4 is one goal that should be on the docket. The upcoming campaign may be the year that Blaney takes the next step in becoming an actual championship contender.

A new chapter in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history begins February 17 at Daytona International Speedway and these are three guys that can make a major improvement from 2018.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

By Bryan Rivero

Bryan Rivero is a senior at Florida International University school of Communications and Journalism with a focus in Broadcast Media. He currently resides in Miami, FL where he has lived his whole life. In addition to POPULAR SPEED, Rivero is a marketing intern for the Florida Panther’s Hockey Club.