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Why the Four Title Contenders Will or Will Not Win the Sprint Cup

Why the Four Title Contenders Will or Will Not Win the Sprint Cup

by November 11, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — The final round of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is upon us as this year’s championship comes down to Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman are all set to contend for their first Sprint Cup Series championship on Sunday afternoon as they’re the four drivers to advance through the Challenger Round, Contender Round, and Eliminator Round to the championship round at Homestead.

Who has the advantage heading into Homestead? It depends on what you’re going off of.

Each driver brings plenty to the table for the final race of the year, yet each also have their own unique differences working against them. Here is an insight into what each driver has going for them – and against them – heading into the championship race.

KEVIN HARVICK

Why He’ll Win: Out of the four drivers remaining for the title, Harvick possesses the lowest average finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a figure of 8.1, making him the only championship contender with a figure in the single digits.

Harvick’s been red-hot on the mile-and-a-halves in the Chase schedule. The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet opened his Challenger Round with a fifth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway and opened his Contender Round with a 12th-place result at Kansas Speedway. Harvick then closed out his Contender Round with a win at Charlotte Motor Speedway and went on to run second at Texas Motor Speedway in the Eliminator Round.

Coming off a win at Phoenix International Raceway – his second consecutive top-two finish – Harvick has plenty of momentum on his side that may very well propel him to the Sprint Cup.

Why He Won’t: If you were to compare this year’s Stewart-Haas Racing effort to any literary figure(s), it’d have to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When SHR and Harvick are on their game, they’re the best team in the garage. When they’re not, they’re pitiful. Whether they’re hit with issues on pit road or with mechanical issues, the No. 4 Stewart-Haas crew have had a noticeable lack of consistency this year.

Harvick has finished 30th-or-worse on seven different occasions this year, a total higher than his total of 30th-or-worse finishes from 2011-2013. The number of occasions Harvick has recorded finishes that poorly is his most since his 2009 season.

If anything is going to beat the No. 4 team at Homestead on Sunday, it will be the No. 4 team themselves.

DENNY HAMLIN

Why He’ll Win: Hamlin is the only driver left contending for the championship that is a former winner at Homestead, having won at the mile-and-a-half circuit in 2009 and 2013.

It is Hamlin’s Homestead win from last season that I believe is most telling of a potential strong run for him on Sunday. After sitting out of four races following a back injury suffered at Auto Club Speedway in March, Hamlin returned to his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to complete the remaining 27 races on the schedule with a noticeable lack of speed. In his return to his car, Hamlin recorded only six top-10 finishes complemented by nine finishes of 30th-or-worse.

Entering Homestead out of the Chase last year, nobody expected Hamlin to pull out a victory, and yet the then 32-year-old went on to put in a strong, consistent performance in last year’s running of the Ford Ecoboost 400.

Hamlin’s on a roll entering this year’s Homestead race with six top-10 finishes in the last 10 races. If Hamlin and the No. 11 team are able to replicate their performance in southern Florida from last year, the championship is theirs.

Why He Won’t: There is, however, a visible Achilles heel for the No. 11 crew – and it comes from underneath the hood.

As a manufacturer, Toyota have only managed to rack up two wins this year with the last one coming with Hamlin at Talladega in early May. Cars with Toyota Racing Development engines under the hood have been able to finish in the top-five at the mile-and-a-halves this season, but for Homestead-Miami, a top-five alone won’t cut it in a remaining Chase field with two multi-race winners on intermediate tracks in it.

JOEY LOGANO

Why He’ll Win: This season, there has been no pair better at winning on the mile-and-a-halves than the Team Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Logano has contributed two wins to Penske’s total of five wins on the mile-and-a-halves this season with the driver of the No. 22 Ford’s contributions coming at Texas in April and at Kansas in October. In the four races held at a mile-and-a-half track in the Chase thus far, Logano has only finished outside of the top-10 once, coming home with a 12th-place finish at Texas two weeks ago.

Of the drivers remaining in the Chase, Logano has been the most consistent driver across all nine races of the Chase with no finish worse than 12th for the seventh-year driver. While Harvick and Hamlin enter Homestead red-hot, Logano’s doing so as white-hot.

Why He Won’t: Logano’s history at Homestead-Miami Speedway may doom the 24-year-old as it’s not quite as bright as his overall 2014 performance has been.

In five starts at Homestead, Logano has a lone top-10 finish that came last year with an eighth-place finish in his first year with Team Penske. Logano’s average finish at the track is a figure of 20.8 – the worst of the final four in the Chase. Statistically, the two tracks that Logano has performed worse at in his Sprint Cup career on average are Atlanta Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway – two non-Chase tracks.

This season, Logano turned in respective 14th and 35th-place results at Atlanta and Darlington. If he’s going to leave Homestead as the 2014 champion, he’s going to have to buck the trend of finishing poorly at his least-productive tracks to do so.

RYAN NEWMAN

Why He’ll Win: Newman’s been floating around in the top-10 in points throughout the year, not making much noise yet proving that he does have the ability to hang around near the front of the field. The driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet has been consistent throughout the regular season and within the Chase, posting no finish worse than 18th in each Chase race.

Newman tied his best result of the year at Martinsville three weeks ago with a third-place result. A replication of that result may be enough for Newman to claim this year’s championship, but, of course, a win would be the preferable way of wrapping up this year’s title.

Why He Won’t: That’s just the thing, he hasn’t been making much noise. If winning is the way to grab this championship, Newman’s going to have to show that he can do just that on Sunday.

The issue with that is that Newman and Richard Childress Racing have not shown any flashes of brilliance throughout this season. The No. 31 RCR Chevrolet has only spend 41 laps of 10,271 completed in the lead this year and has only four top-five finishes credited to it.

Yes, Newman was able to ‘break the Chase’, so to speak, by getting to the championship round based off of consistency, however, with the title coming down to one race with the points being completely reset, consistency means jack squat now.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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