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NASCAR Countdown: 7 Drivers That Can Realistically Win The Title

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NBC Sports

NASCAR Countdown: 7 Drivers That Can Realistically Win The Title

NBC Sports Washington is counting down big NASCAR moments leading up to the Daytona 500. Be sure to check out our other coverage below.

As we continue our countdown to the season-opening Daytona 500, let’s take a look at seven drivers that have a realistic shot at winning the championship in 2020.

7. Brad Keselowski

The 2012 champion had an up-and-down 2019, scoring three victories but failing to qualify for the Championship 4. Being paired with new crew chief Jeremy Bullins, there’ll certainly be some growing pains over at Team Penske and on the No. 2 team specifically.

But Bad Brad has proven his aggressiveness and talent always put him in the mix. No matter the track or competition surrounding him. 2020 will be no different.

6. Chase Elliott

Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team remains completely intact from 2019. In fact, HMS is the only major team to not have a driver or crew chief change this off-season.

Fresh off a three-win season and 15 top 10s, the Dawsonville, Georgia native is looking to get past the Round of 12 and shake off the demons he experienced in a brutal three-race stretch last season. Elliott is the Hendrick and Chevrolet’s current best shot at a Championship 4 berth.

5. Martin Truex Jr.

A major storyline that dominated the off-season was the surprise retirement of championship-winning crew chief Cole Pearn. That left Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota without a man atop the box, before James Small answered the call for 2020.

MTJ is coming off his second-best year statistics wise, garnering a series-high seven wins. If it weren’t for a rare tire change mishap at Homestead-Miami Speedway, we may be talking about a defending and two-time champion MTJ.

2017 was a dream year for him, though, as Pearn helped guide the ship to victory. Seeing how Truex and the team gel without the Canadian’s guidance will be a big storyline to watch.

4. Joey Logano

2019 marked just the third time since 2014 that Joey Logano wasn’t a part of the Championship 4. With new crew chief Paul Wolfe, Logano will look to mesh quickly with his new shot caller and rack up the playoff points heading into the playoffs.

Much like his Team Penske counterpart in Keselowski, Logano’s aggressiveness and willingness to ruffle feathers have served him well historically. Heck, look at Martinsville in 2018. That win vaulted him into Homestead, and we remember what happened from there.

3. Kevin Harvick

A perennial title contender, Harvick is a threat to win it all every year. No matter the schedule, competition, team, etc. He’s only missed the Championship 4 once since his title-winning campaign in 2014 and has finished third each of the last three seasons.

Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers are about the only constant at Stewart-Haas Racing, as crew chiefs swapped on Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola and Cole Custer were promoted to drive the No. 41, replacing Daniel Suarez.

Although SHR is a slight step behind Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, Harvick is usually a step ahead mentally, and from all accounts, they were beginning to peak at the end of 2019.

2. Denny Hamlin

Only rivaled by his eight-win 2010 campaign, last season was a banner year for Hamlin. The pairing of Chris Gabehart, his new crew chief, proved to pay dividends, as the two racked up playoff points and rode the wave all the way to Homestead.

Unfortunately, a piece of tape on the grille hindered Hamlin’s chances of a win and title. But he was fine with the risk. Just like he said the week prior that he was fine with his legacy if he never ended up winning a title. He’s at peace with himself...which makes him even more dangerous.

He’s also now 39-years-old, a NASCAR driver's statistical peak age. Driving for the best organization in the sport, having a second year with a crew chief who seems to be the perfect fit for him and ending the year where he won last year (Phoenix) seems like a dream scenario.

1. Kyle Busch

What else is there to say about this guy? He is the KB Show. Put him in a super late model, truck, Xfinity car, Cup car, heck, even the Rolex 24, and he’ll wheel the living snot out of it.

He did it all last year on his way to his second championship and did so with an unorthodox 10-race playoff. Zero wins in the first nine races (and a winless streak that stretched back to June), but he and crew chief Adam Stevens won when it counted the most, literally.

Kyle Busch is the best driver in the sport right now and is one of the best to ever strap behind the wheel in the sport of all-time. He enters this season as the favorite to repeat for his third career championship for good reason--and he may just get it too.

MORE NASAR NEWS:

In the Loop: Peyton Manning crashes an online class, the Tebows get three new puppies

In the Loop: Peyton Manning crashes an online class, the Tebows get three new puppies

First up, most college classes have been converted to online group lectures and this University of Tennessee communications class had an extra student jump on their call. Proud Volunteer alum Peyton Manning shared some words of encouragement! The students were stunned and one girl even threw her professor under the bus for not warning them to put on makeup and look more presentable for this class.  

Next up, Tim Tebow and his wife Demi welcome not just one, not two, but three puppies to their family. Meet the Tebow Pack! I would love to be a fly on the wall in that household with all those puppies.  

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Happy family. Meet @thetebowpack

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...But Paris needed a brother. Meet Kobe!

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Finally, the sports world fell in love with the Still family years ago when former NFL defensive end Devon Still shared the story of his precious daughter, Leah, battling cancer. Leah is now five years cancer-free and celebrated with a steakhouse dinner at home. That spread looks delicious and she deserves every bit of that. Leah is an inspiration and the true definition of strength! 

What happened in Netflix's Tiger King, Episode One

What happened in Netflix's Tiger King, Episode One

Netflix's seven-episode documentary, Tiger King, follows the life of a man who calls himself Joe Exotic. Not only does he own over 200 big cats on his private zoo in Oklahoma, but he is also accused of being involved in a murder-for-hire plot. The series has animal rights activists, a true-crime plot and some wild characters (pun intended). Lucky for you, we are recapping each episode.  

Episode 1: Not Your Average Joe

"Monkey people are a little different... big cat people are backstabbing pieces of [expletive]." 

We are introduced to Joe Screibvogel aka Joe Exotic via a phone call from The Grady County Jail. Accused of involvement in a murder-for-hire plot against a well-known animal rights activist, he is being threatened with the 79-year sentence. 

No story ever starts with a man in jail. This story spans years and years of feuding, way before Netflix decided to ask, "what is going on with people keeping big cats in this country?" back in 2014.

A man with a mullet, eyebrow ring and a baby tiger in hand appears on the screen. This is Joe Exotic. 

He began building Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (G.W. Zoo)  in 1999 and is now home to almost 200 big cats and other exotic animals. His staff, described as a family of misfits, is introduced to us one by one. 

There is Erik, John aka "Rink", and Kelci aka "Saff". Each member of this "family" seems to have two things in common: They came to G.W. Zoo in need of a place to belong and unwavering love for these cats. 

Note: It is illegal to keep big cats and other exotic animals as pets in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. So, don't get any ideas. 

The love Joe Exotic has for these cats is very apparent. He believes that people will protect what directly affects them. So, if you hold a baby tiger and look it in the eyes, how could you not feel the need to save the rainforest? 

He hosts a live stream each night on Joe Exotic TV to talk about two things, his love for his cats and his hatred for Carole Baskin. 

Baskin, a flower-crown wearing animal rights activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, has a mission to save animals that are bred to be kept in cages, like the ones at the G.W. Zoo. 

Their feud began in 2006, we learn. Joe Exotic was traveling around to shopping malls showing off his animals. Carole would email (and encourage others) to reach out to the owners of the malls to refuse his traveling show. The malls would become overwhelmed with emails that Joe and is show would get banned. And thus, the cycle continued. 

This feud, however, involved more than just the two of them. PETA was on Carol's side and a man named Doc Antle, a fellow private zoo owner was on Joe's.

Doc Antle owns and operates a private exotic zoo in Myrtle Beach, SC. His animals have been featured in movies such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dr. Doolittle, and The Jungle Book. 

Like Joe, he too just loves his cats and wants to keep his zoo out of the hands of people like Carole. And it seems, Joe will do it by any means necessary. 

"This is my little town," he says of the zoo. "I'm the mayor, the prosecutor, the cop and the executioner."

Joe and Doc seem to believe that Carole is worse than them. She is profiting off of her cats while "brainwashing" others to believe that they are hurting their cats. 

"People who really love animals are rarely ruthless," Doc explained that is exactly what Carole is, ruthless. 

Note: I don't want to give anything away... but in future episodes, we really get a definition of the word ruthless. 

Episode one ends with a flash-forward to the phone call from Grady County Jail. "Before this is over... I will shut everybody down," Joe Exotic warns. Even after one episode, it's clear that Joe Exotic is not messing around.