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Motorsports 101 Debate: Who Will Win the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship?

February 19th, 2014 at 10:30 AM
By Mark Eddinger

The green flag will drop on the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season in four days when the cars hit the track for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, February 23nd. Motorsports 101's writers make their picks on who they think will win the championship come November after the 36 race schedule is complete including the first knock out Chase.

Denny Hamlin – By Clayton Caldwell

The new rules in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have made picking the Sprint Cup Series champion like picking the winning lottery ticket. However, I am going to go with the best driver that I think would win the championship if the best team could in fact still win the championship which is a question in the new Chase format.

'Denny Hamlin' photo (c) 2011, Parker Anderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

There are several drivers that could win the championship this year. However, there are only four organizations that can win the championship. Mark my words, the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will come out of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske or Stewart-Haas Racing. Those four teams I believe have the best shot at having a driver from one of their teams win the championship.

When you look at Hendrick Motorsports, obviously Jimmie Johnson stands out as one of the best candidates to win it all. He and his crew chief Chad Knaus are determined to win a seventh championship. Out of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars Johnson has the best shot at a championship. 
 
At Joe Gibbs Racing there are three drivers who have a chance at winning a championship. Here’s where my pick will come from. I believe that Denny Hamlin will win the championship. Hamlin is coming off a season where he had a broken back and his season suffered immensely from it. He is a much better driver than he was in 2013 and his back injury plagued him all season long. I think Hamlin is now 100 percent healthy and we will see a Denny Hamlin who is determined to go out and win races and compete for a championship in 2014. 
 
Out of the Joe Gibbs Racing team I think Hamlin has the best upside. Kyle Busch is focused on other things in his career besides winning a Sprint Cup Series championship and Matt Kenseth is the other obvious candidate. Other potential candidates I believe that have a chance are Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick out of Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing respectively. While both of those drivers are determined to win a championship for different reasons in 2014 I truly believe that Hamlin will be the guy to come back and show everyone that he can be one of the best drivers in NASCAR for the next 10 seasons.
 
Matt Kenseth – By Mark Eddinger
 
Picking the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is certainly not as easy as it used to be. Under the new Chase Grid format basically you need to pick the four drivers you feel will advance through the first nine races of the Chase and be in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Race. From there your pick will have to be on his game and finish the highest of the four championship eligible drivers.
 
'' photo (c) 2013, Parker Anderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
 
For me that man is Matt Kenseth. I picked him to win the championship last season which was his first with Joe Gibbs Racing. He had an amazing season winning seven times but wound up finishing second to Jimmie Johnson. I think he will only get better in his second go around with JGR equipment under him. While I think Johnson will make the final four I feel like he will not capture his seventh title to tie Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty on his first try. Down the road he will but not this season.
 
Joining Kenseth and Johnson in the final four for me are Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Busch has not been a good performer come Chase time in the past but with the new focus on only needing to win one of the three races in each round to advance I feel like that is a scenario that plays in Busch's favor. I also expect really big things from Kevin Harvick in his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing much like Kenseth did in 2013 with JGR. I expect multiple wins for Harvick and a strong showing that will make him a huge title threat.
 
There are a lot of other contenders who have a good chance of being in the final four. Denny Hamlin looks to be back in pre Auto Club Speedway crash form. His average finish of 21st in 2013 was just mind boggling. Jeff Gordon will be dangerous in this type of Chase as will Tony Stewart. Both veteran champions know how to win races and Gordon is determined to win a fifth title and Stewart is itching to get back to what he loves to do after his terrible broken leg. Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski could be in the mix as well as Kurt Busch over at Stewart-Haas Racing now. Dale Earnhardt Jr and Steve Latarte are a great driver and crew chief combo and in their last season together could do something very special. The big question for them though is can they win races?
 
There are longer shots that do have the capability to win a championship like Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, and Martin Truex Jr because they have recently won races which would get them in the door of the Chase. Could rookies Austin Dillon or Kyle Larson shock the world?
 
The championship picture is wide open coming into the season and it will stay that way even as the laps click away at Homestead. So why not stick with Matt Kenseth to earn his second career championship.
Tags: Brad Keselowski, Chase Grid, Clayton Caldwell, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Mark Eddinger, Motorsports, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship

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