NASCAR.com reporters make national series predictions
RELATED: Key changes in NASCAR " Fast facts on race enhancements NASCAR.com's Kenny Bruce, Holly Cain , Zack Albert and Jonathan Merryman make their predictions for the 2017 NASCAR season: KENNY BRUCE NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Timothy Peters . Rebounds from winless '16 to ride the Red Horse to the title. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler . So close a year ago; his JRM team is rock solid. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Daniel Suarez . Stepping into a title-contending car; just needs seat time to become a challenger. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Daniel Suarez . There will be hurdles for last year's XFINITY Series champ, but he's proven to be a quick study. Daytona 500 pick: Kyle Busch . It's one of the few accomplishments left for one of NASCAR's best. Championship 4: Kevin Harvick : Switch to Ford proves to be a non-issue for 2014 champion. Joey Logano : Simple game plan: Get to the front and stay there. Kyle Busch : Bad-fast car. Extremely talented driver and team. Martin Truex Jr .: Team makes silly speed; gotta be there at the end, though. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Joey Logano . Can win a slew of races or be crazy consistent. This year he could do both. HOLLY CAIN NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: John Hunter Nemechek . My repeat pick from 2016, but hoping the right (generous) sponsor sees this young talent and he gets the backing to match his potential. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler -- The veteran has been oh-so-close and this is the year it all comes together for him. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Erik Jones . The Furniture Row Racing 's newest team member is super-talented, highly motivated and knows how to shine even among such fantastic first-year talent. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Kasey Kahne . This will be a resurgent year for the talented 17-time Cup winner who is ready to remind people of his place in the sport. Out front. Daytona 500 pick: Denny Hamlin . Daytona has been Hamlin's playground and he's poised to be the first back-to-back 500 winner since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95. Championship 4: Jimmie Johnson , Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch and Joey Logano will decide the Cup after hugely competitive playoffs that ends in a history-making moment. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Jimmie Johnson . Reigning champ makes history with his eighth title. ZACK ALBERT NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Christopher Bell . The 22-year-old standout bookends a season that started with a Chili Bowl victory with his first national series crown. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: William Byron . A hotshot rookie for the title? Gobs of talent and JR Motorsports resources go a long way. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Daniel Suarez . First-year driver steps into a well-established team that contends for victories. Surprise playoffs qualifier: AJ Allmendinger . Planets align for the No. 47 team at one of the series' two road-course visits. Daytona 500 pick: Brad Keselowski. Team Penske 's strength shows, with one of the best in the restrictor-plate biz leading the charge in the "Great American Race." Championship 4: Kevin Harvick , Denny Hamlin , Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski . The cream rises, with four organizations and all three manufacturers represented in the final bracket. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Denny Hamlin. He's been on the podium three times before. In 2017, Hamlin should make it to the top step. JONATHAN MERRYMAN NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Matt Crafton . Great, consistent racer. That style will fit the new format. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler . Coming off of a solid 2016, the No. 1 JRM team should be in position to win it all. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup NASCAR Series Rookie of the Year: Erik Jones . Seat time in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car in 2015 should help the rookie seal the deal. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Erik Jones . I think the rookie wins a race in 2017 clinching a playoff berth. Daytona 500 pick: Brad Keselowski , with four wins at Talladega and one win at Daytona in the summer of 2016, Keselowski has quickly become one of the best plate-racers in NASCAR. Championship 4: Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch . All four consistently finish races and have multiple win seasons. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Kevin Harvick . Mr. "Where did he come from?" has turned in to Mr. Consistency over the past few seasons. Consistency combined with the new points format should complement Harvick well.
NASCAR.com's Holly Cain wins NMPA Spirit Award
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Veteran motorsports writer Holly Cain has been chosen as the recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s annual Spirit Award for 2015. A resident of Lakeland, Fla., Cain has covered motorsports for more than 25 years during which time she has worked for numerous publications, including the Tampa Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer as well as AOL.com and FOXSports.com. Currently a senior writer for NASCAR.com, she has been recognized for her reporting on multiple occasions, earning awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) as well as the NMPA. Diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2014, Cain has shown tremendous courage and an incredibly positive attitude while engaged in her difficult battle. She has been a long-time supporter of the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and continues to participate in fundraising and other efforts to bring awareness to the fight against breast cancer. The NMPA Spirit Award is designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports. Each year, the NMPA membership selects four quarterly winners, with an overall winner chosen from the four candidates. Cain was the second quarter recipient of the award. Others recognized with quarterly awards this past year were NASCAR television broadcaster Steve Byrnes (first quarter), IndyCar driver Justin Wilson (third quarter) and four-time premier series champion Jeff Gordon . Cain was presented the award Jan. 17 during the NMPA’s annual convention and awards dinner in Concord, N.C. Overall winners of the NMPA Spirit Award: Year – Recipient 2015 – Holly Cain 2014 – Lynda Petty 2013 – Marcy Scott 2012 – Andy Hillenburg 2011 – Jeff Gordon 2010 – Jim Hunter 2009 – David Poole 2008 – T. Taylor Warren 2007 – Bill France Jr. 2006 – Benny Parsons 2005 – Morgan Shepherd 2004 – Kyle and Pattie Petty 2003 – Bob Latford 2002 – Larry Hicks 2001 – Ricky Craven 2000 – Kyle Petty 1999 – Clay Earles 1998 – Mark Martin 1997 – Dave Marcis 1996 – Dale Earnhardt 1995 – Ernie Irvan 1994 – Ernie Irvan 1993 – Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki 1992 – Davey Allison Family
NASCAR's Holly Cain wins second quarter NMPA Spirit Award
NASCAR.com reporter Holly Cain has been voted as the National Motorsports Press Association's Spirit Award winner for the second quarter of 2015. Cain , whose career covering motorsports spans more than 25 years, was named on 66 percent of the ballots cast by NMPA membership. The award is "designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports," according to the NMPA's news release. RELATED: Steve Byrnes honored with first quarter NMPS Spirit Award Cain was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2014. Her courage and determination while battling multiple surgeries, her ability to write with passion and purpose, and -- most importantly -- her role as a loving mother of two have inspired others throughout the NASCAR industry. Cain has been a longstanding supporter of the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and its "Race for a Cure" running events. Her column documenting her personal fight won first place in the NMPA's column writing category in 2014. Cain worked for numerous media outlets -- The Tampa Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, AOL and FOXSports.com -- before joining NASCAR.com in August 2012.
Holly Cain rides along with Jimmie Johnson
Watch as NASCAR.com writer Holly Cain rides along with Jimmie Johnson through Las Vegas on the NASCAR Victory Lap.
Bruce, Cain reveal NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots
RELATED: Photos of Voting Day, inductees NASCAR.com was privileged to have two ballots cast as part of NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day on Wednesday. Senior writers Kenny Bruce and Holly Cain each submitted their five nominations for induction in the Class of 2017 and a vote for the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. A spirited discussion and voting process created one of the most intriguing classes in the stock-car shrine's history with Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons selected as Hall of Fame members. Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles received the Landmark Award. Here are Holly's and Kenny's ballots cast Wednesday with their choices for induction: Kenny Bruce Ron Hornaday Jr. No one dominated NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series like Hornaday, the only four-time series champ. He remains the leader in career wins, top-five and top-10 finishes in Truck Series history. Mark Martin. The working man's racer; Martin finished second in the premier series points battle five times and earned 40 wins in 882 career starts. His XFINITY Series record wasn't too shabby, either. Benny Parsons. Folks who knew Benny the Broadcaster might not know just how talented Parsons was behind the wheel of a race car. The 1973 premier series champion, Parsons won 21 times, including victories in the Daytona 500 (1975) and World 600 ('80). Raymond Parks. The Atlanta-based businessman not only provided much-needed financial assistance as the newly formed NASCAR governing body got up and running, but Parks was a successful car owner as well. His career as an owner peaked in 1949 when driver Red Byron won NASCAR's first Strictly Stock crown. A year earlier, Byron had won the group's first Modified title in a Parks-backed entry. Robert Yates. As an engine builder, Yates helped power Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough to 77 victories. As a car owner, his drivers won three Daytona 500 titles, 57 races and 48 poles. Landmark Award H. Clay Earles. His Martinsville Speedway was there from the beginning (actually before NASCAR was formed) and it remains a popular stop today as one of three short tracks on the premier series schedule. Keeping up with the changing landscape of the sport wasn't easy, and no one did it better than Mr. Earles. Holly Cain These are the Hall of Fame votes I considered the most worthy and timely, considering a ballot of 20 of the sport's most deserving people. I tried to decide on a well-balanced group of drivers, owners and technical people and considered time on the ballot, too. Some I did not vote for this year I feel like will be definite choices in the upcoming Hall of Fame votes. Red Byron. NASCAR's first champion should be in its Hall of Fame for historic reasons. He won NASCAR's very first race on Daytona Beach in 1948, won NASCAR's first "season" championship and then its first Strictly Stock title, which is the modern era Sprint Cup crown. Raymond Parks . He owned the first championship car driven by Red Byron and for many of the same reasons Bryon needs to be in the Hall, so does Parks. Even after the two early titles he fielded cars for greats such as Bob and Fonty Flock. He is the sport's heritage, its beginning. Benny Parsons . Many current NASCAR fans know Benny from his ease and skill behind the television microphone and camera once he retired from driving a race car, but he was an amazing competitor, too, winning NASCAR's two biggest trophies -- the 1973 Cup championship and the 1975 Daytona 500 . Perhaps most amazingly, he finished among the top 10 in 54 percent of the races he ran. Waddell Wilson. It is impressive Wilson was so successful both as an engine builder and a crew chief. He built the motors that David Pearson and Benny Parsons drove to titles and as a crew chief led Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough (twice) to Daytona 500 wins. He built the first engine that broke 200 mph -- driven by Parsons in qualifying for the 1982 Winston 500. Robert Yates. This is another example of the ultimate in successful multi-tasking. Similar to Wilson, he built championship-quality engines (1983 with Bobby Allison) and then Yates owned a championship team, fielding the car with which Dale Jarrett won a title in 1999. He owns three Daytona 500 wins as part of a 57-win legacy as a team owner and won 77 races as an engine builder. Landmark Award Ralph Seagraves. This was a tough category. My selection was based on his contribution really being a turning point for the entire sport. Under Seagraves' leadership, RJ Reynolds provided top-dollar, high-promotion sponsorship of the sport that lasted for more than 30 years. It thrust NASCAR into another stratosphere as far as the American sports landscape was concerned and absolutely created a foundation that is still enjoyed today.
Holly Cain's in-car view of Victory Lap
NASCAR.com writer Holly Cain's in-car video of her Victory Lap ride with Jimmie Johnson.
Daytona rises even higher from beach sand
Editor's Note: This story was published on February 12, 2016 as Daytona completed work on the Daytona Rising project ahead of the 2016 season. NASCAR.com's Holly Cain has the story of the track's evolution to the first motorsports stadium of its kind. RELATED: Daytona through the years " Full Speedweeks schedule DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Lesa France Kennedy and her uncle Jim France clutched a giant pair of scissors and officially cut the ribbon inside the new-look, re-imagined Daytona International Speedway last month, flashing wide smiles and knowing eyes. When these same International Speedway Corporation executives first broke ground on the $400 million Daytona Rising project more than two years ago, Kennedy promised, "We are truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor." So even as she and France took their positions and prepared for the ceremonial dedication, the pair couldn't contain their excitement -- it was palpable as they continually stole glimpses across the vast new open-air concourse, out to the track below and even toward the famous beach in the distance where Jim's father and Lesa's grandfather Bill France Sr.'s stock car racing idea first flourished 60 years ago. It was ironic that the actual ribbon cutting on the facility occurred on a rare breezy, rainy, chilly day in Daytona Beach, because the people who attended were joyful and oblivious to the weather. Huge crowds line the dunes to watch Daytona racing in 1949 There was history to make. The Daytona Rising project has been touted as a "re-imagining," and its finished look is nothing short of transformative. Even the new nomenclature of the speedway sounds impressive -- from its "injectors" outside to its "neighborhoods" inside. Previous modifications to the track have been for the thrill of competition and the safety of the racers. This massive investment is foremost for the comfort and pleasure of the loyal fans, and it will be evident this week as people begin arriving for NASCAR's season-opening events at Daytona Speedweeks, which culminate with the Feb. 21 Daytona 500 . Evolution from race track to racing's first sporting stadium is not unlike moving the course from its origins at the beach to a sprawling remarkable speedway. It is the third version of high-end Daytona stock car racing. "I don't know of another speedway in the world that's this nice and this beautiful," racing legend A.J. Foyt declared at the track's Rolex 24 debut the last week of January. And that's high praise for a structure that is simultaneously imposing and inspiring from a racer known and appreciated for his grit and honesty. The Chevrolet Injector at Daytona International Speedway NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi was in complete agreement with Foyt. "When you first hear they spent $400 million, and you go see the work that's been done, stand on pit lane and look at the grandstand, it looks like $800 million," Ganassi said. "It's really, really something really first class and I think it's going to take our sport to a new level for what fans expect. "This is going to be the Ritz-Carlton of race tracks, there are so many amenities. I couldn't be happier for our fans and what it's going to do for our sport." WATCH: Daytona rises in time lapse video The smiles, the wide-eyes, the enthusiasm that has been brimming under the surface has been notable since this project began more than two years ago. Everyone from the car manufacturers to longtime racing sponsors have gladly joined in the effort. Chevrolet, one of the original and primary corporate sponsors of the new-look speedway, has been eager to support modernization of the facility, recognizing the benefits of balancing modern updates with historic importance. "Chevrolet's commitment to racing originated more than a century ago with Louis Chevrolet and remains strong today as we solidify our presence at the 'World Center of Racing,' " President of General Motors North America Alan Batey said when announcing the company's partnership with Daytona. And for all the attention paid to historic detail, fans will also undoubtedly notice the refined façade outside and appreciate the refinements inside, from larger, more comfortable seating to high-tech huge screens and WiFi availability to the most escalators (40) and newly refurbished restrooms (1,891) of any sports stadium in the country. Artwork in the Sunoco Injector at Daytona International Speedway WATCH: Joie Chitwood III excited to unveil speedway additions Toyota joins Chevrolet as an "injector" sponsor and was actually the first to formally announce its partnership with the new Daytona project more than two years ago. The two manufacturers' efforts at creating welcoming, interesting and exciting interactive elements at the track offer a glimpse of how a far-reaching a corporate plan can be. Creativity is the theme throughout the facility with each of the corporate-sponsored injector entrances from Toyota to Chervolet and from Sunoco to Florida Hospital providing an extensive and interactive "experience" for fans. "Philosophically, I think it demonstrates our commitment to motorsports in general and NASCAR in particular, and like anyone else, we're always looking for a way to engage the fans in a meaningful way," said Toyota's Keith Dahl, general manager for motorsports and asset management for Toyota Motor Sales USA. The Toyota Injector at Daytona International Speedway The bigger-than-life Toyota logo that greets Daytona fans at its injector entrance is the largest commercial logo in the United States, according to Dahl. And the company's historic relationship with NASCAR is immediately evident feet away with five full-size Toyota race car replicas representing the Sprint Cup Series' Camrys fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing , and this year's new addition, Furniture Row Racing . Take the escalator up 35 feet to the main concourse and fans are greeted by the reigning Sprint Cup Series championship No. 18 Toyota similar to the one driven by champion Kyle Busch -- a replica so precise it's adorned with both celebratory confetti and bumper-rubbing scrapes. A Sprint Cup trophy sits encased alongside. The massive concourse called a "neighborhood" is 100,000 square feet and there is a common and connecting theme along the Toyota area -- photos and stories of the company's workers -- from car sales associates to manufacturing plant workers to race shop mechanics. A massive "touchscreen wall" made of eight big screens features humble stories and real-life profiles from the company's employees. The headline "From American Factories to American Roads" greets fans and reminds them of the company's commitment to the ultimate of American sports, stock car racing. And vice versa. "Obviously, as time went by more and more effort got put into this," Dahl said. "We literally would have meetings and throw some ideas out there. I know it's cliché to say it's a 'blank canvas,' but it really is. There are a lot of ideas we wanted to try. "This was a chance to try some things. And what you see today, I would hope is not what you would see in perpetuity. We want to keep things vibrant and relative. We'll have different things going on." For example, the refreshment area in each injector is similar but uniquely decorated. In Toyota's version, there are seats refurbished and retained from the speedway's former grandstands. Toyota Tundra truck tailgates were made into benches for many of the tables. As you walk along the massive concourse, Toyota has an area featuring its latest passenger cars and trucks. Take an elevator up to the next level and you are immediately greeted with a replica of the nose cone of the Space Shuttle Endeavor -- the real spacecraft that a Toyota Tundra famously gave a lift to a museum in downtown Los Angeles in 2012. And winning Toyota race cars and race trucks hang from the ceiling. The Florida Hospital Injector at Daytona International Speedway Stand on a level high atop the grandstands, alongside the luxury corporate suites looking outward from the speedway and you can feel the breeze and see what's coming next. Across the street, tractors and bulldozers are working to build a massive mall and eatery, "One Daytona" for the next phase of the facility's modernization. It will include popular restaurants, a Bass Pro Shops store and famous hotels, plus – importantly -- ease of passage from sidetrack to race track. "As you walk through the stadium, you see the potential for anything," Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said proudly, glancing across the street. "For us the goal is to continue to push the envelope. Yes, we're the world center of racing, but also the world center of entertainment is very doable." But what is most important to both the executives and definitely the fans is a one-of-a-kind, top-shelf experience at Daytona from thrilling racing on track to thrilling ways to watch the racing on track. The speedway is not only keeping up with the times, it's setting fast time. "Probably what makes me most proud is that the France family entrusted me with their most valuable property," Chitwood said. "Being around Lesa and Jim France and seeing the legacy that Bill France created in the 1950s, we have to live up to that. "This is the Daytona International Speedway and Big Bill built this place and we are not going to misstep. It has to be right. And I'm proud to say, I think we nailed it." WATCH: 'Untold Stories: Daytona'
Holly Cain rides shotgun for Johnson's burnout
Six-time champ says it never gets old during "Victory Lap" burnout
H2H: Debating Johnson's place in NASCAR history
RELATED: Champion's Week preview " Streaming schedule When Jimmie Johnson made history at Homestead-Miami Speedway with his record-tying seventh championship, it gave the sport of stock-car racing a moment to reflect on the accomplishment and to debate Johnson's place in its history. With just more than a week's worth of a cool-down lap of their own to let the moment sink in, our Holly Cain and Kenny Bruce offer their perspectives on the newly crowned "Seven-Time" in this week's head-to-head: 1. With a seventh championship tying Jimmie Johnson with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, how do you rank the three considering the eras in which they competed? Cain : Accessing seven-time champions is ironically a no-win situation. Each driver earned the big trophy in markedly different eras under far different circumstances. Petty's team had to be as tough as it was good. Earnhardt's team was tested against future Hall of Famers under a new and increasingly bright spotlight. And Johnson had to earn his titles under multiple championship scenarios against a field of competition representing the deepest talent level in the sport's history. Bruce: I agree with Holly to a point. You can't fairly compare the three drivers because their success came in such different times. The sport was so different when Petty won his seven titles, with teams racing as many as 62 times a season. It was a test of endurance as much as anything. Earnhardt won his titles when attrition was still a concern, but the cars were better and depth of talent within the teams greater. Johnson's success has come under various points formats, various rules packages and against some of the best talent the sport has ever seen. But … if you're ranking the three purely on a "most talented" level, then it's a no-brainer. The answer is … 2. Would an eighth championship in Johnson’s column change your view? Cain : Should Johnson win an eighth -- and I believe he will -- there should be no lingering doubts about his toughness, tenacity and talent -- the latter something this seven-time champ is never given enough credit for. Bruce: It depends on the circumstances. I already believe he's one of the best to ever compete in the sport, so one more title won't really change how I view him there. But if he continues to compete at such a high level and can still be successful, I'll be even more impressed with any future accomplishments. 3. How do you assess the chances of Johnson and the No. 48 team achieving title No. 8? Cain : For Johnson to have earned seven trophies under a revolving door of championship competition and format changes is a triumph in and of itself. At only 41 years old -- two years younger than Earnhardt when he won his seventh and the same age as Petty when he hoisted his seventh -- there is reason to believe Johnson has an incredibly favorable shot to make more NASCAR history. The pressure is off. Petty ranked in the championship top five only three more times after winning his seventh title. Earnhardt was runner-up two more times (in 1995 and 2000). Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus really only have more history to aspire to, and lots of time to attain it. It's "all good" was never more apropos. Bruce: The current championship-determining format doesn't lend itself to repeat champions -- witness three different winners in the three years of the elimination format. No driver has made the final four all three times either. And there's a very good chance that once you make it to the final, you have to win the race to win the title. It took the No. 48 team three years to make it to the final round and I don't think it’s a given that they'll be back next year. Under other formats, I'd rate their chances as great. Now, though, I’m less willing to be so positive. They've got time, but that's what we said about Jeff Gordon , too, when he began pursuing title No. 5 -- in 2002.
H2H: Sizing up the first Chase cutoff at Dover
RELATED: Chase Grid " Bubble Watch Story lines abound, NASCAR.com's Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle three pressing topics before the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason makes its first elimination at Dover International Speedway . 1. Which driver currently below the Chase cutoff line is most likely to advance to the Round of 12? Cain : I realize this is a long-shot and a sentimental pick, but I'm not counting Tony Stewart out of his final Chase run quite yet. I remember watching him win five of the 10 Chase races -- including the 2011 season finale -- to grab his third title from Carl Edwards ' clutches. Stewart is 11 points from the transfer position heading into the weekend, but he also is a three-time winner at Dover. Albert : Jamie McMurray , primarily based on the performance increase that Chip Ganassi Racing has enjoyed in recent weeks. While his teammate Kyle Larson has more regularly competed for wins, McMurray has been a tick more consistent. In the opening round, staying steady and avoiding the Monster Mile's pitfalls may be enough. 2. Which driver currently above the Chase cutoff line is most likely to be eliminated at Dover? Cain : Kurt Busch has only one top-10 finish in his last nine starts at Dover. Similarly, Carl Edwards has only a single top 10 in his last eight starts at the Monster Mile. They are 16 and 15 points, respectively, above the cutoff line. While that's some cushion to the good, they will need to perform well Sunday as this is a place where crazy things have happened. Ask Jimmie Johnson . Albert : The provisional top 12 is a pretty stout list. While Chase Elliott has righted the ship to a degree from his dreadful July and August stretch, he'll need to conjure up the positive mojo from his third-place finish at Dover in May and avoid the mistakes that he tends to lament so bitterly. 3. Of the two, who is more likely to win the championship: Martin Truex Jr . or Kevin Harvick ? Cain : This is the $10 million question. In the preseason and again before the Chase I picked Jimmie Johnson to hoist the trophy. But clearly Truex and Harvick have proven themselves -- again -- as the drivers to be dealt with. Truex drives a Toyota, which has shown itself the power of the field, and his Furniture Row Racing team is exactly the kind of "all-in," underdog, feel-good story that would make anyone smile. But as Harvick showed this past weekend, he should never, ever be underestimated. He's as motivated, focused and ready as he's ever been for a title and is the only driver in the series that has been in the Championship 4 each year of the new elimination format. Albert : Truex and Harvick have certainly made a case for their championship credentials in the opening two races of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason. No weak links, regardless of the venue, for either of these two, save for Truex's early season tendencies to have odd occurrences make victories somehow slip away. Still, it's hard to anoint either one with eight races left in the 10-race playoffs with plenty of opportunity for mess-ups, especially at wild-card tracks Talladega and Martinsville. Forced to pick one of the two, I'll call the coin toss in the air for Harvick.
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