NASCAR Roundtable: Who will be champion?

The NASCAR Roundtable returns ahead of this weekend's title-decider at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Fla.), where we make our final picks for the championship.

NASCAR Roundtable: Who will be champion?
Joey Logano, Team Penske, Ford Fusion Shell Pennzoil celebrates his Championship
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Busch Beer / Ducks Unlimited
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Busch Beer / Ducks Unlimited
Race Winner Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Ground
Race Winner Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Ground
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Freight
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Express, Christopher Gabehart and Coach Joe Gibbs at the Daytona 500 Champions breakfast and car induction
Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Bass Pro Shops
Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Bass Pro Shops
Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Auto Owners Insurance celebrates winning the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry M&M's

Along with Jim Utter and Nick DeGroot, we welcome Motorsport.com Editor-In-Chief Charles Bradley and special guest Chris Knight of Catchfence.com to this week's edition of the NASCAR Roundtable.

1. Who is your pick to become the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and why?

Jim Utter: While not who I would envisioned picking six months ago, I'm going with Kevin Harvick for a few reasons. In the past couple months, his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team has gotten a much better handle on intermediate tracks, which most recently included his win at Texas. Also, the new tire combination at Homestead this weekend was used at Chicagoland and Darlington this season where Harvick averaged a 9.0 finish - highest among the Championship 4. 

Chris Knight: This is tough. Looking at the Championship 4 this weekend, it’s a good crop of drivers. Three were in this same boat last year and Denny Hamlin propelled himself into Homestead with a dramatic win last weekend at ISM Raceway.

Before Hamlin positioned himself into Homestead, my heart was dead set on Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing. Since Phoenix though, I’ve changed my mind and I believe Denny Hamlin is the guy you’ll have to beat in the Ford EcoBoost 400.

The chemistry between Denny and Chris Gabehart is similar to that of Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers or Joey Logano and Todd Gordon. Hamlin has speed and the craftiness of Gabehart makes the No. 11 FedEx team a dangerous threat for not only the win – but the championship too. Hamlin can’t beat himself though. The pressure is on Sunday afternoon and its his championship to lose, don’t buckle under the pressure.

Charles Bradley: Before the season I had Kevin Harvick tabbed as champion, but I think I'm going to be proved wrong! It's been such a misfiring year for Stewart-Haas Racing, certainly compared to the Joe Gibbs-run Toyotas. So, unless they hit the jackpot like in Texas a few weeks ago, I'm not convinced his car is going to be in the right downforce window for Homestead, whereas Gibbs gets it right more often than not. I just have a sneaky suspicion that Denny Hamlin is going to shock us all again; if he can he as relaxed this Sunday as he was when I spoke with him on raceday morning at the Daytona 500, he can deliver like FedEx. 

Nick DeGroot: Denny Hamlin has had quite the season, from winning the Daytona 500 in February to winning his way into the Championship 4 just last weekend. He has momentum on his side and unlike the other three drivers in contention, he is going after his first title. It's slipped through his fingers before and although I think it he has a good chance to avoid another 'what if' scenario, if anyone is going to beat him it's going to be his teammate Martin Truex Jr

Truex has more wins than any driver this year and drove a solid race at Phoenix with "half a team and an old car" as he said. Truex and Cole Pearn are a combination that have done this before, winning the 2017 title and coming just one position short of going back-to-back in 2018. And that was before they joined the juggernaut that is Joe Gibbs Racing. So that is my pick -- Truex will become the first multi-time champion under this knockout playoff format on Sunday.

Read Also:

2. Who is your pick to become the 2019 Xfinity Series champion and why?

Jim Utter: It's hard to discount the dominating performance Christopher Bell has put in from start to finish this season, but I can't disregard the vast improvement Cole Custer has shown this year. Not to mention, in his last two starts at Homestead, he's finished first and second, won one pole and led a large number of laps in both races. 

Chris Knight: The Xfinity Series championship is just as solid as the Cup Championship 4. Their magnificent four is set up of four different and unique personalities and Cup-affiliated teams. One way or the other you can chose the pros and cons of the Xfinity Series championship 4, but when it comes down to winning it all, Christopher Bell seems to be the favorite.

Sure, he can be beaten, but I think it’s going to take something disastrous for that to happen. What really sealed me on Christopher Bell was his flawless performance at Texas Motor Speedway last month. As a driver, everything just seems to flow with him. Even though Bell floated into the Championship 4 last year with a must-win at ISM Raceway, he didn’t have the car in the season-finale to compete with the likes of Cole Custer and the eventual champion Tyler Reddick.

Make no mistake about it, Custer, Reddick and Justin Allgaier will give Bell a run for the trophy, but this year though, Bell’s crew chief Jason Ratcliff has had weeks if not months to prepare for Homestead. Like Denny Hamlin, likely the only thing that will stop Christopher Bell from becoming the Xfinity Series champion is beating himself.

He had nothing to lose last weekend at Phoenix and mistakes kept him from Victory Lane. This weekend, he has to be flawless, much like he’s been most of the season and odds are, he will be.

Charles Bradley: This year Tyler Reddick is going to feel much more pressure than last, so despite his inherent speed at Homestead I'm going to rule him out. I admired how Justin Allgaier really got the job done in Phoenix, but I can't see past Christopher Bell and Cole Custer for the title – and it's almost the flip of a coin between them. I'll go for Bell, but I think this will be even closer than the Cup decider!

Nick DeGroot: Tyler Reddick flew under the radar last year and some would even saw earned the championship on a fluke. Well he fooled us once and I'm not letting him fool me again. Reddick has proven this year just how much of a legitimate threat he is and on Saturday, he'll do it gain when he beats out Bell, Custer and Allgaier for his second consecutive championship. 

Read Also:

3. Who is your pick to become the 2019 Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion and why?

Jim Utter: This is my toughest pick. While I think Ross Chastain has shown the ability to come up big this season and winning his first NASCAR title would be a great story, I think Brett Moffitt experience of winning the title one year ago will pay off at the end. 

Chris Knight: It’s a good group of Truck Series Championship 4 contenders, but I expect Brett Moffitt to go back-to-back. It doesn’t seem to matter what happens, Moffitt always seems to show his cards when it counts most.

Yes, I’m sure most expected to see a little bit more from Moffitt at GMS Racing this season – but the team has done its job since aligning at the beginning of the season and that was giving Maury Gallagher another chance at a Truck Series championship. His stiffest competition will likely come from Ross Chastain – the perfect underdog story of 2019 with his Niece Motorsports team, but when it comes to high pressure situations, Brett Moffitt is the guy I want on my side.

Charles Bradley: The smart money is on Brett Moffitt with good reason. But my mother always said I was never born with any commonsense, so I'm going all-in on Ross Chastain. Let's see a watermelon smashed on Friday night!

Nick DeGroot: Brett Moffitt is the obvious choice as the reigning champion. He has enjoyed another strong year since joining GMS Racing, but there's a wildcard element here. Ross Chastain. This driver has taken a very unusual path to the Championship 4, starting out 2019 declared for the Xfinity Series before jumping into the Trucks mid-season and starting from scratch. He is a highly aggressive driver who is willing to go as far as possible and then some to capture the checkered flag. Chastain has never been in this position before but considering what he does when a win is in sight, I believe not even Moffitt will be able to deny him when he 'presses the attack' and goes for a championship Friday night.

Read Also:

4. Whether you believe a non-playoff driver will win the Cup season finale or not, who would be your most likely candidate to do so?

Jim Utter: I've felt William Byron has been ripe for his first NASCAR Cup Series victory most of the season half of this season. Not only do I think Byron could become the spoiler in the season finale but I think 2019 will become the first year under this format where the series championship doesn't win the race.

Chris Knight: Time and time again, Homestead seems to boil down to one thing, handling. You can be great in daytime but if you haven’t set your car up for night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, you won’t have a chance to win the race or the championship.

Yes, I expect at times on Sunday, we’ll see the Championship 4 contenders, first through fourth, but when push comes to shove and the checkered flag nears, a driver like Kyle Larson or Joey Logano will come knocking. Larson just can’t seem to make it to end of the race without damaging his car with wall contact, so I suspect Logano who likely is still miffed about not having the opportunity to defend his Cup title is the likely candidate to spoil the parade at the front and win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale.

Charles Bradley: Kyle Larson. If that outside lane comes in as expected, you might not see him for dust. If it doesn't come in, the dust you'll see is him hitting the wall!

Nick DeGroot: Kyle Larson is a driver constantly in the discussion at Homestead, despite never winning there before. He will be in the mix as he has been in the past, but he wouldn't be my pick. I doubt a non-title contender will win as it has not happened since the introduction of this format in 2014, but if it happens, it will be Joey Logano. He won this race in 2018 and just missed out on being part of the Championship 4 again this year. He has a statement to make and is fully capable of mixing it up with the four finalists. 


shares
comments
Cole Custer to replace Suarez at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020

Previous article

Cole Custer to replace Suarez at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020

Next article

Harvick: "It's been a grind" to reach Championship 4

Harvick: "It's been a grind" to reach Championship 4
Load comments

About this article

Series NASCAR Cup , NASCAR XFINITY , NASCAR Truck
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021
Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption Prime

Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a chance of redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Effectively replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith...

NASCAR Cup
Feb 11, 2021
Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon Prime

Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon

In this exclusive one-on-one interview, Roger Penske reveals the inner drive that has made him not only a hugely successful team owner and businessman but also the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. He spoke to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Dec 28, 2020
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Prime

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future…

NASCAR Cup
Nov 18, 2020
Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture Prime

Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture

“You can’t hear me? Hey n*****” Those fateful words uttered by Kyle Larson, spoken into his esports headset on April 12, were directed at his sim racing spotter – but instead they quickly became amplified around the world via social media, including his own Twitch stream.

NASCAR Cup
Oct 29, 2020