NASCAR America: Breaking down championship chances for remaining Cup contenders
With four races left, eight drivers remain with a shot at the Cup championship.
On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, analysts Parker Kligerman, Nate Ryan and Steve Letarte gave their take on the eight still in contention.
Each driver was given a tag line that best describes their championship bid.
Check out some of what our analysts had to say, the tag line for all eight drivers.
Martin Truex Jr. – “Domination on track … adversity off track”
Letarte: “They dominate every category, but I want to know with that huge lead and the Round of 8 almost secure, the question for me is will the pressure build, knowing that Miami is four weeks away. That can be great for preparation but can also just break your nerves down.”
Ryan: “It’s just been a very tumultuous year. But I think what gets forgotten sometimes is Martin Truex Jr. is no stranger to adversity. This is a guy who, in 2013 with Michael Waltrip Racing, had his ride taken away by one of the biggest scandals in NASCAR history. He weathered that with so much class, very admirably, that I think he emerged a changed man after that … and we’ve seen that this year.”
Kyle Busch – “If you ain’t first, you’re last”
Kligerman: “This driver cares only about one thing, and that is winning. He wants to win every time he steps in a race car, whether it’s a Super Late Model, an Xfinity car or a Cup car. If he wants to go on to win his second championship, it’s about winning. … He can most definitely win at Martinsville. He told Marty Snider after Kansas, ‘I want to win Martinsville, so I don’t have to worry’ (about earning berth into the Championship 4 at Miami).”
Letarte: “For the 18 to be good in the next round, it’s very important for them to look back. They should feel reborn coming out of the Round of 12 because it was a disaster and started with the driver making a mistake from Charlotte and it just tumbled from there.”
Brad Keselowski – “Legacy”
Ryan: “He feels as if he needs a second championship to validate the first one (2012). He’s heard whispers around the Cup garage that people think his 2012 title was a fluke. Until he wins another one, he feels like he’s not going to put his doubters to rest.”
Letarte: “That’s how Brad is. If you look at him, we’re going to know very quickly. His best shot to advance to Miami starts at Martinsville this weekend. He said Talladega was a must-win and he did it. I wouldn’t say Martinsville is a must-win … but he must run well. He has to be in the top two or three at Martinsville to feel good about Miami.”
Kevin Harvick – “Relentless”
Ryan: “I think (that tag line) is very fitting. His and crew chief Rodney Childers’ goal is to win everything, and not just races, but qualifying, practice sessions, it’s lead every lap. They want to be completely dominant. If that sounds like an unrealistic goal for a team that likes challenges, that IS Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers.”
Letarte: “He has the nickname of ‘The Closer’ because he does a great job of fighting through the races and being there at the end. … I expect Kevin Harvick to be his normal self, to be relentless. He will be there inside the top two or top three. If he doesn’t have a good enough car to take the lead, he’s going to put the pressure on the leader to make sure they execute correctly.”
Jimmie Johnson – “#Chasing8”
Kligerman: “He’s chasing that record eighth championship. They need to find speed. He’s confident they can find that speed and go to Miami and compete. Remember, they went into last year’s Championship 4 and not a lot of people had them going on to win it, but they found a way to win it. They’re a clutch team and that’s what it’s going to take.”
Letarte: “Waiting for Miami or needing it to happen at Miami, the odds go against them, the probability goes down. Somehow, they have to find a moment in the next three races to give themselves a little momentum and put themselves on the radar to make other competitors concerned.”
Denny Hamlin – “Redemption”
Letarte: “He’s been waiting for that chance to kind of emerge and get back on that stage. All year long, we’ve been talking about the 78 and 18 … while Denny Hamlin has been very quietly putting together what I consider a very good season. When you look at the tracks coming up, there’s no reason why he can’t win and that’s what it will take. Denny’s my sleeper. You get him into Miami, he has a lot to prove. Thirty-one wins without a championship. This is a Hall of Fame career. The only way to silence the critics is to win the championship.”
Ryan: “A driver like him is like what it was like for NBA stars competing against Michael Jordan. Clyde Drexler, who never won an NBA championship because he faced off against Michael Jordan. Denny Hamlin doesn’t want to be that person in NASCAR. Having raced in the Jimmie Johnson era, he needs to seize the opportunity to get that first title.”
Ryan Blaney – “Win it for the Wood Brothers”
Letarte: “It’s all about the race team he drives for, win it for the Wood Brothers. They believed him, gave him the opportunity, he got them win No. 99. … He’d love to win a championship for the Wood Brothers.”
Ryan: “He has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He’s listening to what people said about him advancing out of the Round of 12 … that he wasn’t going to make the Round of 8, which makes it all the more special (that Blaney did).”
Chase Elliott – “Youngest ever”
Kligerman: “He has been great through the playoffs here. If he were to win a championship at 21 years old, he’d be the youngest Cup series champion ever, which would be incredible. But there is an elephant in the room with the 24 team, and that is they’ve not won a race. … I look at Texas for the 24 team. This could be the best chance for them to get that elusive first victory and then propel themselves to fight for a championship.”
Letarte: “Could you think of a bigger win? What would be a bigger first career win then to do a walk-off at Miami for the first championship. … When the playoffs started, this team has risen up and have raised to the level of a championship-style race team.”
And don’t forget, on Wednesday’s NASCAR America on NBCSN, we’ll have special guest Joe Gibbs join us for a full hour from the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The show airs from 5-6 p.m. ET.