Newburgh native Ricky Craven, former Sprint Cup driver who is currently in his 10th season as a NASCAR analyst at ESPN, said he is picking Martin Truex Jr. to win the Sprint Cup points championship this season.
Truex has pretty much locked up a spot in the 10-race Chase for the Cup by winning a race and posting three top-five finishes and eight top-10s through 18 races, which leaves him in seventh place in the points standings entering the New Hampshire 301 Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
If Craven is right, Truex’s Furniture Row Racing would become the first one-car team to win the Sprint Cup points championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992 and it would be the fifth different team to win in five years.
Furniture Row Racing is based in Denver, Colorado.
Truex was one of four competing for the championship in the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida a year ago but Kyle Busch won the race and the title.
Truex, who has never won the Sprint Cup points championship, finished 12th and was fourth among the finalists as Kevin Harvick was second and Jeff Gordon wound up sixth.
“Everything about him is right, right now,” said Craven on Tuesday. “He has the confidence and the composure and he’s in the sweet spot of his career.”
Craven said he had picked Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards at the outset of the season and felt Joe Gibbs Racing would be the premier organization.
That has come to fruition as JGR drivers Edwards, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin have all won races, a total of seven between them, and are sitting comfortably in the top 11 in points so they will be among the 16 drivers who will qualify for the Chase.
But the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, have managed just two wins and both have been by six-time points champion Johnson.
Former Hendrick driver and four-time champ Jeff Gordon retired after last season and is a NASCAR analyst for Fox.
Craven feels the first half of the season has been “entertaining” and the quality of the finishes has been “outstanding.
“And there have been a number of winners which is always good. It brings more flavor to the sport,” said the 50-year-old Craven, who expects interest to elevate even more when the Chase begins on Sept. 18 with race 27 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Eleven different drivers have won at least one race.
Craven, who won two races during his 278-race Sprint Cup career, is enjoying his ESPN gig.
“I couldn’t be any happier. I work for a phenomenal company, I love the people I work with and I get to spend considerable time in Maine. I was there 14 days in June,” said Craven who spends most of his time with his family at his home in the Greenville area.
On the weekends, he’s at the ESPN studios in Bristol, Connecticut, although he will go to the site of a race approximately 10 times a year including this weekend.
“Racing at Loudon was the highlight during my driving career because I was coming home,” said Craven, who will host the annual Ricky Craven One for the Kids golf tournament to benefit the New Hampshire chapter of the Speedway Children’s Charities on Thursday at the Canterbury (N.H.) Woods Country Club.