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2014 Sprint Cup Predictions: Our Staff Tells All

2014 Sprint Cup Predictions: Our Staff Tells All

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Let’s not waste any time. Here’s a look at some of our columnists’ predictions for 2014, along with a peek at where you’ll be able to find them all season long.

Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief
Twitter: NASCARBowles
His Columns Run: Mondays & Wednesdays

Jimmie Johnson heads into 2014 with the confidence he can secure Sprint Cup title number seven.

Champion: Jimmie Johnson. Lame pick? Yes. But like it or not, Johnson remains at the top of his game with crew chief Chad Knaus one of the sport’s best at managing big transitions. New qualifying system? New playoff format? Expect this team to be on top of it all with flying colors.
The Final Four: Johnson, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon should win this one going away; he’s got the best equipment, the best record on paper and the push from granddaddy Richard Childress to live up to high expectations. But expect Kyle Larson to make an impact, perhaps winning late in the season for Chip Ganassi Racing. Oh, and that Parker Kligerman guy? He’ll put Swan Racing on the map, to the point people will actually know they exist come 2015.
First driver fired: Reed Sorenson. I have an odd feeling Tommy Baldwin’s going to regret making major changes, ditching Dave Blaney and J.J. Yeley when the team was making painstakingly slow but steady progress.
Big Name to Miss Chase: Greg Biffle. His contract’s up, along with Carl Edwards at Roush Fenway Racing. That provides the opportunity for major distractions. A new deal is supposedly imminent yet, you wonder at age 44 whether Biffle truly is a part of Roush’s long-term plans for success.

Amy Henderson, Managing Editor (Content, Photography)
Twitter: Writer_Amy
Her Columns Run: Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays

Champion: Kevin Harvick. Harvick is as determined as ever and he’s now driving for a team that has a Cup title within the last 20 years. That tiny step up in equipment could be all it takes to make Happy happy indeed.
The Final Four: Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon
Rookie of the Year: I really, really want to say Kyle Larson, because I believe he’s easily the best driver in the group. Unfortunately, it also takes equipment to win, and Austin Dillon has an advantage in that department and will likely come out on top because of that.
First driver fired: Greg Biffle. It’s not so much that Biffle will be fired, as he’s in the last year of his contract. But don’t be surprised if he’s not in Roush Fenway Racing’s 2015 plans
Big Name to Miss Chase: Tony Stewart. Stewart’s best time of year is Fall – after the Chase has begun. If he doesn’t grab a win somewhere this spring (and he wasn’t having a great 2013 before he got hurt), Smoke may find himself watching his teammates and employees duke it out.

Toni Montgomery, Open-Wheel Editor
Twitter: ToniLMontgomery
Her Columns Run: Wednesdays

2014 Champion: Matt Kenseth. He has the tendency to get “hot” at the right times and the new system could favor that.
Final Four: Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. RCR edges EGR to start with and grandpa will be giving him the best they’ve got.
First Driver Fired: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. unless he finds that magic switch like he did in Nationwide.
Big Name To Miss Chase: Kurt Busch. Gene Haas wants him there. Tony Stewart doesn’t. Pretty tense environment in which to try and thrive.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Editor
Twitter: VitoPugliese
His Columns Run: Thursdays

Champion: Matt Kenseth. Considering what he did his first season with JGR, and with Jason Ratcliff in his first year as a crew chief at the Cup level, I’m pretty sure the No. 20 will pick up where they left off last year. While the common consensus is that winning is now more important than ever, it’s still consistency that is going to pave the way to his second Sprint Cup in the Chase — particularly in the final few races.
Final Four: Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. He already has a pole in the Daytona 500, plus he’s in the 3 – which was the 29 that won four races last year and finished third in points. The grandson of team owner Richard Childress should have no worries as to which team will be commanding the most attention this season. Kyle Larson will run well, but Ganassi Racing, outside of plate tracks and road courses has been out to lunch the last couple of years.
First Driver Fired: Travis Kvapil. Partly for performance. Mostly for beating up his wife. Sponsors tend to not like that sort of thing.
Big Name To Miss Chase: Brian Vickers. Not due to talent… just have a feeling that the recurrent blood clot issue may return out of the blue, as it did last year. I sincerely hope I miss this one by a mile.

Summer Bedgood, Senior Editor
Twitter: summerbedgood
Her Columns Run: Wednesdays

Happy Harvick will surely be smiling this November if he ends the season with a Sprint Cup title.

2014 Champion: Kevin Harvick. New team or not, Harvick is poised to win a Sprint Cup Series championshp. Harvick has finished in the top five in points four of the last six races and is one of the most consistent drivers on the circuit. Expect Harvick to give Jimmie Johnson a run for his money.
Final Four: Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. He’s in great equipment with an experienced race team. Plus, he’s already experienced a ton of success in both the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series.
First Driver Fired: Greg Biffle. With Roush Fenway Racing struggling so much, the Biff might be in need of a ride at season’s end. His contract is up at the end of this season.
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. With the new system emphasizing wins, Earnhardt will likely find himself on the outside looking in.

Kevin Rutherford, Senior Editor
Twitter: surfwax83
His Columns Run: Thursdays

2014 Sprint Cup Champion: Jimmie Johnson. He’s driving for the best team in the sport and has showed no signs of slowing pace. There’s no reason to believe he couldn’t pull off a seventh championship and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t.
Final Four: Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon has the lion’s share when it comes to experience and sheer prestige of his respective organization. That’ll be the deciding factor over Kyle Larson in 2014.
First Driver Fired: Swan Racing gave two rookies — Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt — a full-season shot in the Cup Series, but all this comes as the team expands from one car to two. A team that lacks the funding of the big guns will have little patience for poor runs, and of the two, Whitt might struggle more, potentially sealing his fate.
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: It’s tough to determine because Oprah France is going to be handing out Chase berths left and right this year. But if one has to pick someone at all, it’s a Roush Fenway driver — try Greg Biffle, for instance. He doesn’t exactly have a high frequency of victories, and that could be the nail in his coffin this season.

Matt Stallknecht, Senior Editor
Twitter: MStall41
His Columns Run: Weekends

2014 Sprint Cup Champion: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I think this year is the one he finally puts it all together. Junior finally seems to have shaken off the confidence issues that forever prevented him from reaching his full potential, as evidenced by a sterling performance in the 2013 Chase. Earnhardt’s hungry, he’s talented, and he has all the pieces in place to pull it off. Junior will be your 2014 champion.
Final Four: Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. As much as I’m impressed by Kyle Larson, Dillon has more stock car experience and better resources to work off. Not only that, but he’s a damn-talented race car driver. Dillon could very easily get ROTY and make the Chase in his maiden Sprint Cup season.
First Driver Fired: I’m going to go with Ryan Truex. I just feel like he’s going to be in over his head at the Sprint Cup level seeing as he still has yet to put a full season together in Nationwide. His more experienced teammate Alex Bowman will likely outrun him early in the going, and BK Racing’s financial issues will ultimately torpedo Truex’s rookie season before he really gets a chance to settle in.
Big name driver who will miss the Chase: Greg Biffle. I think 2014 will be the beginning of the end for Biffle’s career. His age is doing him no favors, and I just can’t help but feel that he’s reached his ceiling in this sport in terms of achievement. Look for him to have a similar year to what Jeff Burton had in 2013.

Huston Ladner, Senior Editor
Twitter: turtlewords
His Columns Run: Fridays

2014 Sprint Cup Champion: My Mom. Seriously, she’s got a fast Ford and with the way that half of the drivers are practically invited to the Chase anyway, I think she’s got a good shot. Oh wait, she didn’t enter? Bummer. I guess Jimmie Johnson adds another big trophy to his case.
Final Four: Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano
Rookie of the Year: The money is behind Austin Dillon, but Kyle Larson is going to show that moving up to Cup was a good move.
First Driver Fired: Hm. I think Carl Edwards might fire Roush Fenway Racing, but that doesn’t count. Um. Just don’t see anything surprising happening here.
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: Carl Edwards. Contract year. Frustration with the organization. Seems like the right combination for a mess.

Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor
Twitter: Critic84
His Columns Run: Tuesdays

2014 Champion: Matt Kenseth. Since moving over to Joe Gibbs Racing from Roush Fenway Racing, Kenseth has been extremely strong on intermediate tracks. Even with all the offseason changes, the one Chase constant is that it is still intermediate heavy. That will benefit Kenseth and the No. 20 team.
Final Four: Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. Honestly, Dillon has inherited one of the strongest teams in all of Sprint Cup for his rookie season. It might be one of the two or three best efforts of the Modern Era for a rook. Of course, winning the pole for the Daytona 500 is a good start. While Dillon’s Cup performances up to this point have been just OK (best finish – 11th, Michigan), all the signs point to a very competitive season and a chance to get into the Chase. I can’t see any of Dillon’s rookie competitors pulling anything like that off this year.
First Driver Fired: Reed Sorenson. Driver firings and/or changes in the middle of the season are incredibly rare these days. Most everyone on the grid in Daytona is very secure in their rides, either because they have a good rapport with their team, or that they brought money to the table. Sorenson has neither of these things. He’s a new guy in a team that is only so-so. If Sorenson doesn’t do well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tommy Baldwin dumped him in favor of another shoe at some point.
Big Name That Fails To Make Chase: Kurt Busch. An easy choice for me to make, even though he made the Chase last season with Furniture Row. There’s just too many unknowns here. A brand-new team with a crew chief (Daniel Knost) who’s never crew chiefed before. Pressure to produce early. Busch will keep a good attitude during the season, but he might come up a little bit short in Richmond.

Carl Edwards has had a disappointing last few seasons at Roush Fenway Racing. Could this year be the last one with him driving the No. 99?

Justin Tucker, Newsletter Contributor
Twitter: Tucker48Justin
His Columns Run: Mondays In Our Newsletter

2014 Sprint Cup Champion: Jimmie Johnson. The 48 Express is back on track and full steam ahead. Look for a massive year from Six-Time.
Final Four: Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Larson. Off the wall talent with maturity beyond his years. Won’t be surprised to see him win multiple races in 2014.
First Driver Fired: Surprised I would ever say this, but Carl Edwards, especially if Roush Fenway doesn’t return to being competitive on a week in and week out basis.
Big Name Missing Chase: Carl Edwards. I just see a train wreck coming at RFR this year which will result in a massive overhaul of the team for 2015.

Mike Neff, Senior Writer & Short Track Editor
Twitter: MNeffShortTrack
His Columns Run: Mondays & Thursdays

2014 Sprint Cup Champion: Jimmie Johnson. He’s won six of the last eight titles, under three different points scenarios. Need I say more?
Final Four: Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Larson. He’s the most versatile driver to enter the Sprint Cup level since Tony Stewart. Expect great things.
First Driver Fired: Jamie McMurray. Has underperformed for so long, there’s nobody left on the team to actually fire.
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: Kevin Harvick. SHR going to four teams is going to put too much strain on their resources. Kurt Busch can perform better in that environment; Harvick has never had to truly deal with it.

Danny Peters, Senior Editor
Twitter: Dannypeters
His Columns Run: Tuesdays

2014 Champion: Jimmie Johnson. Format changes aside, I think it’s business as usual as Johnson finds a way to get his record equaling seventh championship.
Final Four: Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. This one should be fun to watch, unlike in the last couple seasons and I think Dillon edges this one from Kyle Larson.
First Driver Fired: No one. 2014 will be exceptionally stable.
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: Greg Biffle. Last year at Roush?

Brett Poirier, Senior Editor
Twitter: bpoirierNB
His Columns Run: Tuesdays

2014 Champion: Jimmie Johnson. He’s bound to be in contention at Homestead with the lineup of races in the round before it (Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix). And in a one-race playoff, he’s as good a bet as any to win the title.
Final Four: Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. Kyle Larson is really his only competition and Dillon is in a much more competitive ride. I’d be surprised if he won a race, but not at all if he wins Rookie of the Year.
First Driver Fired: Ryan Truex. I’m not sure he is ready for Sprint Cup.
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: Greg Biffle. Biffle didn’t contend for many wins last year, and won only once. Roush Fenway has become a second-tier team and Biffle may be searching for a way out by the end of the year.

Brad Morgan, Senior Writer
Twitter: None
His Columns Run: Tuesdays

2014 Champion: Jimmie Johnson. The six-timer found championship form in 2013, and is the driver to beat this season.
Final Four: Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. Dillon’s situation at RCR is the most stable of the 2014 rookie class. He has been paired with RCR equipment for much of his development – that chemistry will pay off.
First Driver Fired: Cole Whitt. Swan Racing has split its resources in two between teams led by Whitt and fellow ROTY candidate Parker Kligerman. Whitt has failed to make a serious impact in prior NSCS experience, and will not last long with an organization that is looking for a quick rise to prominence.
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: Kurt Busch. Wins are more important than ever, and Busch has not won in over two years. He has struggled to handle his emotions on the big stage before; it could happen again.

S.D. Grady, Senior Writer
Twitter: laregna
Her Columns Run: Tuesdays in the Newsletter

2014 Champion: Kyle Busch. I figure at some point he’s got to add a Cup to his trophy case. Why not 2014?
Final Four: Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. While Kyle Larson may actually be the more talented of the two top runners for the award, Dillon’s got the team that knows how to get things done. Ganassi is just too inconsistent for my money to go on the No. 42.
First Driver Fired: Marcos Ambrose. It may not be so much “fired” as simply leaves. The No. 9 had a lukewarm 2013, finishing 22nd in the points – something that both RPM and Ambrose were not overly pleased with. In the offseason, there has been talk of Ambrose returning to his native country instead of pursuing contract extensions beyond 2014. While Petty Motorsports has said that they expect business to run as status quo, you simply can’t compete in NASCAR with that mantra. Something has got to give, and if your driver is already looking over the horizon, why not help him pack?
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: Clint Bowyer. At some point, karma will rise up and kick his ass.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer
His Columns Run: Wednesdays (Newsletter)

2014 Champion: Jimmie Johnson. The runaway locomotive continues to cannonball down the tracks. This year will be more of last year.
Final Four: Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Larson.* He’s bringing serious driving talent to a team that’s starving for success. This combination will reap benefits during 2014…
First Driver Fired: Kurt Busch. I hate to say it, but I can’t help but think that a poor run (or two) will bring Old Kurt out of the shadows. One messy media dust-up and Tony just may drop him. The first who likely should be fired is Danica Patrick; she achieves a lot of attention, but that’s not the same thing as achieving solid and consistent performances on race day….
Big Name Missing Chase: A rough year for Penske Racing — neither Brad Keselowski nor Joey Logano will make the Chase in 2014.

Ryan Newman’s got high expectations heading into Richard Childress Racing this season. Will he wind up achieving them?

Jeff Wolfe, Fantasy Writer
Twitter: jeffjwolfe206
His Columns Run: Thursdays

2014 Champion: Tony Stewart. Just when it seems Smoke’s got too many things to overcome, or too many people think he’s not capable of winning again, he does. Stewart could also be the only driver to win the title under four different scoring formulas. You know he wasn’t satisfied with the overall performance of Stewart-Haas Racing last year, as a whole, so expect Stewart to lead a team that will perform much better.
Final Four: Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Rookie of the Year: The two top contenders here are obvious in Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson. I’ll have to go with Dillon here as he’s been in the Richard Childress Racing organization for his entire career and has had success. That means Dillon believes he can win now and that’s as important of a step as any.
First Driver Fired: Alex Bowman in the BK Racing No. 23. It’s not that he doesn’t have some talent, it’s just that at age 20, entering the season he’ll need a little more experience.
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: Ryan Newman will get some first-hand experience on why Kevin Harvick left the team.

Tony Lumbis, Marketing Director
Twitter: tonylumbis

2014 Champion: Matt Kenseth. Despite the focus on winning in 2014, consistency cannot be completely ignored. Matt Kenseth has always mastered consistency. He seemed to figure out the winning part last year. That combination plus having lessons learned from last year’s runner-up finish will make the No. 20 team one to watch this season.
Final Four: Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards
Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. Kyle Larson will have some good moments in 2014 while Justin Allgaier and even Micheal Annett will make their presence known. However, nobody will have anything for Dillon, who should take home the award fairly easily.
First Driver Fired: Alex Bowman. This sport needs new young talent; fans and participants alike will want to see the likes of Bowman do well. However, he has such limited experience and is stepping into a team that is still struggling to gain its footing in the sport. That’s a combination that usually doesn’t end well and it probably will not for Bowman and BK Racing.
Big Name Driver Missing Chase: Paul Menard. Not a “big name”? That is probably a correct assumption. However, the new Chase format makes it nearly impossible for all of the top drivers in the sport not to make it. So Paul Menard was chosen here since he is in the category of drivers that is expected to take the next step and make the Chase. While the No. 27 team has had some very strong runs, they have not been in contention to win and probably will not be consistent enough to fill out a field of 16 should there be less than a full Chase field of winners after the regular season.

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