The end of the 2018 NASCAR Cup series season is here. Sunday’s 2:30 p.m. ET race (NBC) at Homestead-Miami Speedway marks the end of the 36-race season, and there are four contenders eligible for the title: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.
Let’s get to the ESPN experts’ picks.
Who is your pick to be the 2018 Cup series champion?
Mike Clay, ESPN: It has to be someone from the Big Three, right? Right? No! Logano made headlines with his bold move to get past Truex at Martinsville, so we know he’ll do what it takes to get the job done at Homestead. And Homestead is a racetrack where Logano has had recent success, finishing no worse than sixth during each of his past three tries. I’ll go bold and say he pulls off the upset.
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: I have Busch winning three or four titles before hanging up his helmet. It took longer to get his first title then most would have expected. He is a stronger, wiser competitor today than a few years ago and he hasn’t slowed a bit. I like Harvick, but I like him better with his own crew chief and car chief at the track. Kyle wins his second Cup championship.
Ryan McGee, ESPN senior writer: The day the final four Homestead format was announced, my immediate reaction was that it was a system built for Busch. I still believe that.
Alisha Miller, ESPN.com: With 15 top-10 finishes at Homestead and eight total wins, I’m rolling with Harvick. Don’t mess with Happy.
Scott Page, Jayski editor: It could be a coin flip between Harvick and Busch, but Harvick is a driver on a mission after the penalty at Texas, and his wins this year have been more impressive. He and his crew have been focused all season and they will try to cap it all off in dominating fashion this weekend. Plus, he’s in a Ford and that’s an additional advantage this year.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: I picked Busch at the start of the playoffs and see no reason to change now. He hasn’t had to feel much pressure in the playoffs, just getting the job done. He isn’t mentally sapped. He arguably had the strongest car last year at Homestead but just couldn’t get around Logano in time. Truex and Harvick teams have made too many mistakes this year and I’m not convinced Logano will be there in the end.
Marty Smith, ESPN: Harvick. Because NASCAR. In NASCAR, it seems like any time someone faces controversy — as Harvick did after Texas, and the illegal spoiler scenario — that individual ends up vanquishing controversy with victory. It’s weird how often it happens. So I expect Harvick will win the race and claim his second career championship. (Oh, and I picked him to win the championship back in February, so why change now?)
Scott Symmes, ESPN.com: I have to take Harvick, based on pure speed alone. He leads the series in wins (4) and laps led (867) on 1.5-mile tracks this season, making him the heavy favorite. I like Busch’s chances if the race comes down to a late restart, but he’s led only one lap in the three playoff races at 1.5-milers. I have similar concerns about Truex, who has led only 26 laps in the past six races. So both Toyota drivers will have to step it up on Sunday. Harvick wins, then the sport will hold its collective breath while the inspection process plays out.
Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Information: This whole season has felt like a looming showdown between Harvick and Busch, so I’m glad to see them both with a shot to win the championship. That being said, I’m going Harvick by a fender, hopefully with the cars door-to-door across the finish lines. Harvick has a slightly better profile at 1.5-mile tracks this season in terms of wins and laps led, and has been a little stronger at Homestead, too.
If this driver (name any) wins on Sunday at Homestead, it would be considered a huge upset.
Clay: Sunday will mark Jamie McMurray‘s final race in the No. 1 car, so why not go out on top? McMurray’s 15.4 career average finish at Homestead ranks eighth among active drivers with 10 or more starts at the track. Teammate Kyle Larson has been stellar at Homestead, which can only help Chip Ganassi Racing’s chances of generating speed. Of course, McMurray has had a disappointing season and hasn’t won a race since 2013, so I think it’s fair to say this would certainly be quite the upset as far as straight-up winners of the race goes.
Craven: It seems strange to suggest the Truex‘s No. 78 team winning a second consecutive title would be an upset, but that’s how I see it. In fact, I felt the distraction associated with closing their team would ultimately prevent them from reaching the championship round. Perhaps they are benefiting from the cause of once again defying logic, the power of proving people wrong? Regardless, I’m quietly pulling for the No. 78 on the upset.
McGee: Martin Truex Jr. Weird, right? But this isn’t just a defending champ. This is a defending champ on a team that’s about to vanish. Crew, team, everything. How they’ve managed to hold off the traditional late-season mental checkout that lame duck situations usually create, it’s truly remarkable.
Miller: I want to write Truex here, but it’s so difficult to call it an “upset” — whole defending champion and all — so I’ll go with the favorite upset pick, Logano.
Page: Logano has come on strong as the end of the season has neared, be wasn’t a big threat through much of the summer. There has been a lot of talk about the “Big Three” and he was never a part of that discussion. He has to be the underdog at Homestead, but would I be surprised if he won? Nope.
Pockrass: Logano is the biggest underdog. He is the only driver in the finals who hasn’t won at an intermediate track this year, and hasn’t won at a 1.5-mile track in more than three years (Kansas in 2015). Others might have challenges — Truex in his final race for the Furniture Row Racing organization (and how would NASCAR feel about that?) and Harvick with an interim crew chief — but Logano would be the biggest “surprise” among them.
Smith: From a competitive standpoint, none of them would be a surprise champion. Three of the four contenders are already champions. All four have been in a one-race, winner-take-all title fight before. All four race elite equipment. The only slight surprise would be if the competitors in the field who are already annoyed by — or upset at — Logano, race him cleanly all night. And that’s a big if.
Symmes: Logano would be a mild upset, only because he hasn’t won on a 1.5-mile track this season. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled it off. The No. 22 team has elevated its game in the playoffs, Logano has learned from previous experiences in the championship race, and we know he’ll do whatever it takes if he’s within striking distance of the big prize.
Willis: We don’t have a scenario like Ryan Newman in 2014 this year, a winless driver who nearly nabbed a title. The oddsmakers say Logano is the long shot, but I’ll say Truex, because of the big picture view. Truex winning would mean we’re going into 2019 without the defending championship team on the track. If you gave me that scenario at the start of the year, I would have thought it the longest of long shots.