Friday, February 20, 2015

Paula Thompson’s 2015 Champions Picks

2014 was one of the most storied seasons in recent NASCAR history: a new champion (Kevin Harvick) was crowned in a new Chase for the Sprint Cup format, a second-generation driver (Chase Elliott) became a rookie champ in the final season under the Nationwide Series banner, and a consistent veteran (Matt Crafton) became the first-ever back-to-back titlist in the Camping World Truck Series.

Will 2015 see new drivers come to the forefront, or will the veterans show the kids that they’re still boss? Here are my championship picks for the 2015 NASCAR season.

Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts & Scuffs
Sprint Cup Series – Kevin Harvick

After coming close to success with Richard Childress Racing -- three third-place finishes in points from 2010 to 2013 -- Harvick made the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and cashed in on a change of atmosphere with his first Sprint Cup Series title. He did it amidst some turmoil, with co-owner Tony Stewart’s sprint car racing woes and the late-season domestic issues following teammate Kurt Busch. Harvick has proven he can overcome diversity, and this season’s diversity will be successfully defending his championship. Plus, who doesn’t want to see more of Keelan Harvick?

Credit: Charlotte Bray
for Skirts & Scuffs
Xfinity Series – Chase Elliott

Last year, I suspected that Elliott’s presence on the JR Motorsports team would make Regan Smith a strong contender for the title – and Smith was, but he couldn’t get past that rookie in front of him. Elliott, a second-generation driver who is just as smooth a driver as his father – 1988 Cup Series champ and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott – won the final championship under the Nationwide banner as an 18-year-old rookie. This season, as he prepares for his 2016 ride in the Hendrick Motorsports car being vacated by Jeff Gordon at the end of 2015, Elliott has a better-than-good chance of becoming a two-time champ, and the first to win in the Xfinity Series.

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Camping World Truck Series – Erik Jones

Jones will compete in his first full-time season for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2015, but he’s hardly a rookie. In 17 Truck Series races over the last two years, he has four wins and 13 top-10 finishes. Jones, who will also be racing part-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2015, is a driver much like his team owner Kyle Busch – put him in the seat of anything and he’ll get you a good finish, if not a win. Jones is consistent, and sometimes that, even more than wins, is what makes a driver a championship contender.