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Head2Head: Will there be a first-time champ in the Cup Series?

September 06, 2011, ,

Thanks in part to the new points system, it appears likely that the Truck Series and Nationwide Series will each crown a champion that has yet to win a title in their respective series. But will that happen in the Sprint Cup Series?

Will there be a first-time Cup Series champion this season?


Every year there is a glut of drivers in the Chase looking for a first Sprint Cup Series title. For the past five years, they have fallen short of Jimmie Johnson's run for the title. But with Johnson's retreat back to the field (so far) and the hottest drivers in the series being trophy-less, I think this year we will have three first-time series winners in NASCAR.

There's no one out there hotter than Brad Keselowski. He's a reigning series champ, but that came in Nationwide. He moved his crew chief from that title with him to Cup, and he and Paul Wolfe have been putting it on the field for a month now. He's won three times, one off the series-leading total of Kyle Busch, and hasn't finished worse than third since the Brickyard.

Speaking of Kyle, he's got four victories, 13 top-fives and a share of the points lead. If you want to get technical, he has the points lead since he has more victories than Johnson. Busch has shown a willingness to drive to the level of the race and to not push his car past the threshold it can handle.

All of that is to say nothing for Carl Edwards, probably the other most likely first-time-title contender. He has just one victory, but 10 top-fives and still doesn't look like he's hit his stride.

I've gone on the record many times as saying it's ridiculous to state definitively that Johnson has no shot at a sixth consecutive title. But it's getting more and more realistic as the season continues, and there are plenty of hungry guys ready to take over the throne.

Jill Erwin, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

We may see some new champions in the Nationwide and Truck Series due to the new points system, but I don't see that translating to the Cup Series, where experience is crucial to winning the championship.

Granted, there is no clear cut favorite this year in the Cup Series, and it really feels like all 12 drivers have a legitimate chance at the crown. However, I'm going to put my money on drivers who have won a Cup title before.

First off, nearly half the Chase field will be past Cup champions. Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart have 13 championships among them and have won the past 10 championships.

There is no way I'm counting out five-time champion Johnson until someone knocks him off his pedestal. Johnson has had his quietest season to date with just one victory, 10 top-fives and 16 top-10s. Yet, Johnson is tied for points lead and appears to be peaking at the right time.

Kenseth is having his best season in a while and looks like he is back into championship form. Busch won the first Chase in 2004 and his No. 22 team appears ready to compete for the crown. Gordon is having his best season since 2007 and has a cool confidence as he heads to the Chase. Stewart is a concern, but can never be counted out.

The strongest hopefuls for a first time Cup champion are Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. Nothing against those four, but I'll take my five and watch one of them add to his trophy collection.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Jimmie Johnson has taken the past five titles, but Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski all look like they are ready for their first Cup championship. But counting out past champions Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth could be a mistake. So, will we see someone hoist the Cup trophy for the first time or will someone add it to their collection? Bill Kimm and Jill Erwin have their thoughts -- read theirs and weigh in with yours in the comments below. And don't forget to vote in the poll at the right.