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The season ahead: Who will win NASCAR's 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup

Updated on February 16, 2014
Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr will all have their chance at a title this season
Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr will all have their chance at a title this season | Source

With the official kickoff of the NASCAR season just days away, there's no time like the present to take a look at the upcoming season and make a few (way too early) predictions. Today, we look at the expanded Chase field of 16 who will have the chance to run for the championship come Chicago.

With his move to Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch will once again be front and center in NASCAR's media spotlight
With his move to Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch will once again be front and center in NASCAR's media spotlight | Source

Just Missing The Cut:

  • Kurt Busch

  • Marcos Ambrose

  • Martin Truex Jr.

  • Austin Dillon

  • Kyle Larson


First up are the drivers who end up just barely missing the cut. Under the new playoff system, a win virtually guarantees admission for a full time Sprint Cup team. And any one of the drivers listed above has a very real chance to take home a race win in 2014. So what places them on the outside looking in? In a word, consistency. Of the five drivers listed, only Busch is a threat to win on virtually any race weekend (and he has his own issues). The rest will have a chance to steal a race here or there; Ambrose is phenomenal on road courses and Richard Childress Racing has a great restrictor plate program. Larson's talent is undeniable.


Yet when compared to the 16 drivers ahead, these five are both less likely to win a race and less likely to pile up the points needed to qualify without a race win. If Kurt Busch can blend into environment at Stewart-Haas Racing, he's probably the biggest threat to break out of this group and win races in 2014. It's been a while; Busch's last race win came in 2011 at Dover while driving for Penske Racing.

What will next year's Chase class photo look like? Which faces in last year's group will be missing in 2014?
What will next year's Chase class photo look like? Which faces in last year's group will be missing in 2014? | Source
Has Busch learned the art of relaxation well enough to avoid the early Chase pitfalls of years past?
Has Busch learned the art of relaxation well enough to avoid the early Chase pitfalls of years past? | Source

First Four Eliminations (Chicago, New Hampshire, Dover):

  • Ryan Newman

  • Kasey Kahne

  • Kyle Busch

  • Joey Logano


Before going any further, it's worth noting that almost anyone could eventually fall into this group. With over a third of the field qualifying for the playoffs, an untimely engine failure or driver mistake could put anyone at the tail end of the field after the first three races. Speed will likely be less important than luck and consistency early on.


With that being said, both Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne are easy marks for early elimination. Both have had some of the worst luck in all of NASCAR- last year, at the hands of each other ironically enough. All too often they have been non-factors by the Chase midway point simply due to bad luck in one of the first few races. Kyle's best stretch over the last ten races of the season came in 2012, when he failed to qualify for the Chase itself and the pressure was off. The only advantage this time around is that Busch, who approaches every race with a checkers or wreckers mentality, can make up for a poor race elsewhere by winning one of others.


As for Newman and Logano, both are safe bets to qualify for the Chase itself thanks to the win provision but neither have shown the speed to be a competitive part. Newman has won a race in each of the last four years yet never finished higher than tenth. Logano also has a win in each of the last two seasons yet has finished in the top 15 only once in his career (last year's eighth place finish). Unless either gets their annual win during the Chase kickoff segment, they will likely be out before Kansas.

Vickers picked up a win in limited action for the team last year; a similar performance this year would put him in the Chase
Vickers picked up a win in limited action for the team last year; a similar performance this year would put him in the Chase | Source

Next Four Out (Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega):

  • Brian Vickers

  • Brad Keselowski

  • Clint Bowyer

  • Kevin Harvick


The second Chase segment will present perhaps the toughest challenge of any portion of NASCAR's playoffs. Only two drivers at most will enter the cutoff race at Talladega with their spot guaranteed in the Elite 8; everyone else will be at the mercy of “The Big One” that could end anyone's Chase hopes. Knowing that Dega is coming will also place an enormous amount of pressure on the teams to win at the two races prior. As noted in today's Jimmie Johnson column, this segment will be especially hard on the six time champion. The bet here is that Johnson somehow finds a way to win at one of the first two races if only because Johnson's record at Talladega is spotty at best.


The teams most at risk of falling out after NASCAR's last plate race of the season will likely be the four listed above. The MWR cars both should be fast enough to get in the Chase; Vickers won a race in a shortened 2013 season and Bowyer is unlikely to go winless for a second straight year. But consistency alone will not pull either through to the Elite 8. They will likely need a win at Kansas or Charlotte and as noted earlier, the competition will be stiff. Keselowski's team may be able to steal a win thanks to fuel economy (they've done it before) but depending on that to get your car to the final cutdown is risky. Harvick takes the final out here thanks to a new year and a new team but it would surprise no one if he were to make it into the final eight cars.

Stewart will be more mobile this season and it should carry him to an Elite 8 finish
Stewart will be more mobile this season and it should carry him to an Elite 8 finish | Source

Last Four Out (Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix):

  • Tony Stewart

  • Greg Biffle

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.

  • Jeff Gordon


Hendrick Motorsports, which has four of the final eight cars in this scenario (counting the SHR Chevy of Tony Stewart), would lose three of those four before the final cutdown. Despite being the mathematical champion under the elimination format for last year's Chase, Earnhardt cannot count on consistent finishes alone to get the #88 to Homestead. Gordon's luck has simply been too uneven to think he'll be able to make the finals. And Stewart, in his return to the track after a long layoff to end 2013, will likely hit a wall as the season draws to a close. The saving grace for any one of those three drivers is that Martinsville has been a Hendrick playground and a win by one of their cars at the half mile paper clip would surprise no one.


Biffle is the final car eliminated from the Elite 8. It's not due to any fault or failure of the veteran driver. As a series champion in both the Truck and Nationwide series, Biffle has long ago proved that he belongs at NASCAR's highest level. He's also shown a remarkable level of consistency, winning ten races over the last eight years and only two finishes outside the top 15 in year-end points. But he's been a step slower than teammate Edwards and a half step slower still than the other contenders in the garage. Under a season-long points buildup, Biffle is a model of consistency and an annual title contender. But the lack of big-time speed catches up with the Biff here.

Will Jimmie get title #7 in 2014? The best guess here is no
Will Jimmie get title #7 in 2014? The best guess here is no | Source

Homestead Final Four:

  • Jimmie Johnson

  • Matt Kenseth

  • Denny Hamlin

  • Carl Edwards


So the bet here is that four drivers- two from Joe Gibbs Racing and a single representative from the other manufacturers- will take the green flag at Homestead with a chance to win the championship. Johnson will have a chance to defend his title and take his place in history with seven titles. After an awful 2013, Denny Hamlin will be a terrific redemption story by making the finals at Homestead. In his second season with Gibbs, Matt Kenseth will show that the second place curse is a thing of the past. But the bet here is that none of those three will take home the Sprint Cup. Instead, it will be...

Carl Edwards has a real chance to be smiling even more after this season's end at Homestead
Carl Edwards has a real chance to be smiling even more after this season's end at Homestead | Source

2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion:

  • Carl Edwards


Edwards has had brushes with the Sprint Cup trophy before. In 2011, he tied Tony Stewart in final points, only to lose out on the trophy thanks to the total wins tiebreaker. He also came up just short in 2008, where he won nine races and scored 19 top ten finishes only to lose the title to Jimmie Johnson who was in year one of his five consecutive championship seasons. Without the Chase reset, it's likely that Edwards would have one (if not multiple) titles by now. So he's got the talent and he's battle-tested.


Just as important is the car he'll be driving. The updated rules package in effect for 2014 will aim to correct the competitive imbalance the Fords found themselves at last season. Jack Roush admitted that part of the imbalance came from his organization's mistake in understanding some of the aerodynamic particulars of the Gen 6 car. Yet despite playing on an uneven field, don't forget that Edwards ended the 2013 regular season in first place. The combination of past experience, changed environment, and personal talent make Carl Edwards the man to beat for the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.

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Does Carl Edwards have a realistic chance at a title in 2014?

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