Favorites vs. underdogs: Breaking down the Championship 4

On paper, the four drivers who will contest the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday seem to fall into two camps: Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano are the favorites and Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman the underdogs.

Obviously, in a single race, anything can happen. That said, here’s how the four drivers and their respective seasons break down:

KEVIN HARVICK — Even before his Phoenix race victory, Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet has been the fastest car for most of the year. He has led a season-high 2,083 laps, along with four race victories, two of which came in the Chase. Harvick also has 13 top fives and 19 top 10s on the season and five top fives and six top 10s in the Chase. Harvick had a Chase average finish of 8.8.

At Homestead, Harvick has 13 starts, five top fives, 11 top 10s and an average finish of 8.1.

"Coming over here and racing this year has given me new life and a new perspective on the way that things work. Gene (Haas) and Tony (Stewart, SHR co-owners), they give us a lot of resources to draw from within our own company and from a financial standpoint they’ve made a huge commitment to make this race team right, and then you add in the Hendrick engines and support and chassis and everything that those guys do," said Harvick. 

"It’s like a dream," he said. "You lay it all out on paper and you say, this is what we want to do and we want to race for wins and championships, and all of a sudden you’re a week away from everything that you talk about and dream about and dream up and want it to be like, and here we are."

JOEY LOGANO — If Harvick is the favorite, Logano is the clear-cut No. 2, based on his breakout second season at Team Penske, a campaign that has produced five race victories, 16 top fives, 22 top 10s and 993 laps led.

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In the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Logano has two victories, six top fives and seven top 10s. He also has a Chase-best average finish of 5.3. But his track record at Homestead is dicey: five starts, one top 10 and an average finish of 20.8.

Logano said he thinks the championship winner will need to win at Homestead on Sunday.

"You’ve got to go for a win there," he said, "I think the guy who wins the championship is gonna win the race. That’s my thought. You never know, but I really do think that."

DENNY HAMLIN — The first of the two underdogs is Hamlin, who has won only one race this year, and that was more than six months ago at Talladega. On the other hand, Hamlin has two victories at Homestead, including last year’s race. 

So far this season, Hamlin has one win, seven top fives and 17 top 10s, including one top five and six top 10s in the Chase, where his average finish was 12.4. Hamlin has led 313 laps all season. At Homestead, Hamlin has nine starts, two wins, four top fives, five top 10s, and an average finish of 11.2.

"I feel pretty optimistic," said Hamlin, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing. "I thought we had a great test there (Homestead), and obviously no one saw that win coming last year in 2013.  We were a lot less competitive at the end of last year, and we popped up and won that race. 

"It’s just a track that suits me for some reason. You know, it’s wide, tires wear out, and you get to really — if your car is working well — you can make up positions there. Track position is not crazy critical like it is at this racetrack. Love it, love the opportunity. We’re on house money now, so let’s go have fun."

RYAN NEWMAN — If there’s a driver few expected to see in the final four, it’s Newman, who hasn’t won a race in his first year with Richard Childress Racing and has only led 41 laps all year long. He failed to lead even a single lap in 28 of 35 of races this year. Nevertheless, he goes to Homestead with a shot at the title.

In 2014, Newman has four top fives and 15 top 10s, with two top fives and five top 10s in the Chase, where his average finish was 9.8. At Homestead, Newman has 12 starts, one top five, four top 10s and an average finish of 17.0.

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