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

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).