NASCAR Roundtable - Previewing championship weekend at Homestead

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NASCAR Roundtable - Previewing championship weekend at Homestead
Nov 16, 2017, 2:03 AM

Who do you think will win NASCAR championships this weekend and is the Chase Elliott Denny Hamlin rivalry over or just heating up?

Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Race winner William Byron, JR Motorsports Chevrolet
William Byron, JR Motorsports Chevrolet in victory lane
Elliott Sadler, JR Motorsports Chevrolet
Elliott Sadler, JR Motorsports Chevrolet
Justin Allgaier, JR Motorsports Chevrolet
Daniel Hemric, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Johnny Sauter, GMS Racing Chevrolet
Race winner Johnny Sauter, GMS Racing Chevrolet
Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, Noah Gragson, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, restart
Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota and Matt Crafton, ThorSport Racing Toyota
Austin Cindric, Brad Keselowski Racing Ford
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, crash
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, crash
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Polesitter Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Ty Dillon, Germain Racing Chevrolet
Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Now that the Championship 4 are set in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, who do you think will win the championship and why?

Jim: Martin Truex Jr. has been waiting for this moment his entire NASCAR career and although the winner-takes-all format is very unforgiving, I don't think he and crew chief Cole Pearn have put together this dominant of a season only to throw it all away now. I do believe Kevin Harvick exposed some weakness in the No. 78 with his victory at Texas, but at the end of the day, Truex has owned the 1.5-mile tracks this season and I think they've saved their best for last. This is Truex's time.

Lee: The season numbers support Martin Truex Jr. However, Harvick’s average finish of 6.9 at Homestead is the best in Cup. In 16 starts, he’s completed every lap and has an average finish of second since the Championship 4 began. Although Truex has had the best equipment, Harvick has the experience of winning a title and a tenacity that is unmatched. 

Nick: Unless they make a misstep or something out of their control happens, this is Martin Truex Jr.'s championship to lose. The 2017 stats speak for themselves. That No. 78 has been at or near the front on a weekly basis. And he's got the momentum too. Excluding Talladega, he goes into Homestead with eight consecutive top fives.

Tim: My heart wants Martin Truex Jr. to win the title and statistically speaking he should, but when you have two of the hardest driving competitors in the final four with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, it’s going to be a challenge. Truex has dominated on 1.5-mile tracks this year and if he doesn’t win, I hope it’s because he was outraced and not some fluke mechanical issue. If Truex stays true to form from the season, he should be your champion in a great multi-year comeback story.

Now that the Championship 4 are set in NASCAR Xfinity Series, who do you think will win the championship and why?

Jim: I think this championship is the toughest to pick because the three JR Motorsports teams are all very equal. William Byron, however, has shown the best ability to reach Victory Lane this season - he got his fourth of the season last weekend at Phoenix - and I think that trait will be most important at Homestead. I see Byron pulling a repeat of what Chase Elliott did in 2014 - winning the Xfinity Series championship in his rookie year.

Lee: The sentimental favorite has to be Elliott Sadler. However, it’s been over a year since he’s won a race. Justin Allgaier has won this year, but without his regular crew chief Jason Burdett to call the shots this weekend he’ll be at the same disadvantage this weekend that Sadler was last season. Daniel Hemric has never won in the Xfinity Series nor has he found himself in a pressure-packed situation such as the Championship 4. Randall Burnett will continue on as crew chief of the No. 21 team this weekend as they build on their Phoenix success. So the odds on favorite has to be William Byron who has four wins this season—including last weekend at Phoenix. The No. 9 JR Motorsports team brings tremendous momentum to Miami-Homestead Speedway and will be hard to beat on Saturday.

Nick: I know this is going to be a good race because I really don't know. I'd have to pick between one of the three JR Motorsports drivers and I'm leaning towards the rookie William Byron. He has the most wins and comes into Homestead on the heels of his latest triumph. Let's not forget that barring an unfortunate engine failure in the penultimate event of the 2016 Truck season, he would have been crowned champion when he won the Homestead finale.

Tim: You almost can’t go wrong by picking any of the JR Motorsports drivers. Although Elliott Sadler hasn’t won in a long time, he’s been super consistent and Justin Allgaier and William Byron should also be in the mix late in the race. However, I’m picking longshot Daniel Hemric to win. He has absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by going after the title and while I feel the other three might get caught up in the team aspect of racing one another early in the race, Hemric can just go for broke.

Now that the Championship 4 are set in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, who do you think will win the championship and why?

Jim: I'm sticking with my pick of Christopher Bell to win the championship but I will say I am a little surprised he didn't win his way into the Championship 4. He has run well of late but not the dominating type of performance that I think he will need to come away with the title at Homestead. Last season's champion, Johnny Sauter, has really come on strong in the playoffs and will be hard to beat. But much like Truex, I don't think Bell and his Kyle Busch Motorsports team have worked all season to get to this point and not bring their best performance. I'm sticking with Bell.

Lee: Christopher Bell has enjoyed a stellar season, but defending champion Johnny Sauter has gotten hot just at the right time. After sweeping the last two races leading into the season finale, the No. 21 GMS Racing team has to be the favorite entering Homestead. Plus, Sauter will have his favorite truck this weekend to navigate through the title contenders. 

Nick: Although it may be foolish to beat against Christopher Bell, I am. Johnny Sauter is going to go back-to-back and defend his 2016 championship. He's hit a hot streak as of late, is one of the most experienced drivers out there and has no issues with having his back pressed against a wall.

Tim: Based on his performance over the course of the season, Christopher Bell has to be the odds on favorite to win the title. However, when he has to beat two veterans and former champions to do it – I think that will be tough. Bell has the equipment and talent to get it done but he’ll have earned it if he can hold off both of them to win it all for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

With Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin both out of the championship picture, do you think they're budding rivalry is over or just beginning?

Jim: I hope it's not over. Rivalries is what NASCAR was founded on and it's actually been a while since there has been a true rivalry in the Cup Series. I don't think either driver is a willing participant but circumstances drew them into this position and honestly it could not have worked out better for Elliott. He was already well-known to NASCAR fans, has run well but not yet earned a Cup win. He had what looked like a chance at that first victory snatched away by a series veteran, and that became an instant rallying point for his fans. The fact the battle reignited again at Phoenix only added to the rivalry. I have a feeling this one will last a while.

Lee: The score is even at this point, but I believe the two drivers will continue to race under the Golden Rule—racing each other the way they are raced. I would doubt the feud would continue this weekend Homestead in the middle of the Championship bout. Although that hasn’t stopped other riffs such as the one between Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2009. 

Nick: Racers are like elephants -- they never forget. The score may be equal right now, but it's not over. Both of those drivers cost the other a chance at the championship and neither will soon forget that. Who knows, sparks may fly once again in the finale as both of them are out of it and have nothing to lose.

Tim: Based on the ‘racer’s rule on the track,’ it should be over, but I agree with Jim in that I hope it’s not over. Rivalries and an honest dislike between drivers is what helped grow the sport and get fans heavily involved. I feel the sport needs that desperately these days. While I don’t think they should wreck each other every week, an honest and open rivalry is what NASCAR needs. I feel NASCAR quietly hopes this trend continues to develop, in not just the Cup Series, but all of its divisions.

Who has had the best rookie season, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones or Ty Dillon?

Jim: Strictly by performance, I have to go with Jones. I remember when Cup rookie seasons were considered successful if the driver simply was able to finish in the Top 20 of the standings. Now, it's almost a disappointment when the talented rookies don't register a win. Jones has done just about everything but win. I will say, however, that Suarez's performance was remarkable this season considering (1) he was thrown into the Cup series at virtually the last minute and (2) he had to change crew chiefs early in the season.

Lee: Daniel Suarez has been the most consistent. He has the best average finish (15.7) and has finished on the lead lap in 26 of 35 races. Ty Dillon has been running at the finish in 32 of 35 races but simply does not have the same caliber of equipment as the Toyotas. And then there’s Erik Jones—AKA Kyle Busch Jr. The kid has tremendous natural speed and that’s a trait that cannot be taught. In his first season, crew chief Chris Gayle has helped to direct that speed into the pole for the Bristol night race, five top fives, 14 top 10s and 310 laps led. When it comes to talent, he has the other freshman topped. 

Nick: Daniel Suarez has been the most consistent, but Erik Jones has put himself closer to Victory Lane. Ty Dillon has had a couple shining moments, but nothing beyond that. So looking at it from a performance perspective, that honor has to go with Jones.

Tim: All three drivers are very talented and while I feel all will eventually win in the Cup Series, I have to give the edge to Jones. He’s already won a pole and been in contention for a win on several occasions.

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