MotorSportsTalk’s Sprint Cup champ picks: Logano vs. Harvick

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Exceptional youth vs. veteran experience.

That’s what it comes down to in MotorSportsTalk’s staff predictions of who will emerge as the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.

Here’s a hint of our respective mindsets: Even though whoever wins will be a first-time champ, could it be Stewart-Haas Racing’s second Sprint Cup championship in four seasons or Penske Racing’s second title in three seasons?

My MST colleagues Tony DiZinno and Chris Estrada are going with youth in their picks for who will claim the championship, while yours truly is going old school, choosing experience and freaky fastness, so to speak.

Who will ultimately be right – or will all three of us wind up being wrong? We’ll know when the checkered flag falls around 6:30 pm ET.

Here’s how the MST team expects Sunday’s championship-deciding race will play out:

Tony DiZinno — Champion: Joey Logano

Reasoning: Kevin Harvick can play his mind games, Denny Hamlin can draw on how to improve from his 2010 title miss and Ryan Newman can rely on his underdog status to give themselves a shot. But they all have their flaws.

Harvick’s pit crew has been an issue all season and although the swapped crew has been better in the Chase, can we feel secure on SHR fielding perfect pit stops all day when it matters most?

Does either Hamlin or Newman have the pace or tenacity to overcome sluggish, under-the-radar Chases?

So it’s Logano, who together with Team Penske and crew chief Todd Gordon, have been fantastic on 1.5-mile tracks, and who seems poised to be the driver who clinches his first Cup title on Sunday.

It’s been a dream season and a consistently strong season for the driver of the 22 car. I think he brings it home.

Christopher Estrada – Champion: Joey Logano

Chris counts down the four finalists to the eventual champ.

4th – Ryan Newman: The clock strikes midnight for the Cinderella team of the Chase. Newman and the No. 31 team deserve all the credit in the world for leaving the “winning is everything” hype in tatters during this Chase, but I’m expecting all of the Championship 4 to be toward the front on Sunday – and I can’t see Newman leading the pack.

3rd – Denny Hamlin: Unlike his first championship encounter in 2010, Hamlin’s going into Sunday much more loose and at ease. That’s certainly a good sign in a pressure-packed situation like this one, but like Newman, I can’t trust him to win on speed over the 22 and the 4. He’s going to need one of them to stumble to have a shot at the crown.

2nd – Kevin Harvick: The guy carrying the most pressure is Harvick, who has been lights-out fast in 2014. So far in the Chase, his team has largely avoided the mechanical failures and pit road gaffes that plagued them in the regular season. Everything seems primed for Harvick to finally nail down his first Cup title, but with Logano in the 22, he’s met his match. As a veteran, Harvick’s surely got some tricks up his sleeve. … But will he have to use them all?

1st – Joey Logano: For Logano, it’s time to show the world — and in particular, Harvick, a guy that gave Logano some grief during his early days — that he can be a champion. There have been some down times, but the man nicknamed “Sliced Bread” is now tougher, smarter, and faster than he’s ever been. There will surely be more than a few moments that completely change the race on Sunday, but the new Logano can take them in stride — and I believe that will be a key reason why he’ll lift the Cup.

Jerry Bonkowski – Champion: Kevin Harvick

To me, there is no tougher a competitor in this winner-take-all race than Harvick.

He’s been chasing the dream of a Sprint Cup championship for 14 seasons. It took guts for him to leave his home for the first 13 seasons, Richard Childress Racing, and move to another organization that he felt would give him a better chance at a title, namely, Stewart-Haas Racing.

Now that he has his best shot to date for the championship, Harvick’s not going to let it slip through his hands.

For Harvick, the strategy is simple: Get to the front as quick as he can and hold on the rest of the way, much like he did last week en route to victory at Phoenix and a resulting automatic berth in the Chase finale.

If Harvick falls short, I’d like to see Newman win in Cinderella-like fashion, maybe even win his first race of the season to clinch the championship. As for Logano and Hamlin, they’ll be formidable competitors, but unless something happens to Harvick or Newman in the race, I just don’t see the two young drivers doing it.

This one goes to one of the old guys, who will take the championship in the old school way.

Follow me at @Jerry Bonkowski

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”