Stenhouse’s Departure Leaves Nationwide Championship Wide OpenAs a new season dawns, high expectations and title aspirations abound throughout the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage.
With Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s ascension to a full-time ride in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the reigning two-time series champion has left the door of opportunity open for a handful of series hopefuls.
Of the drivers looking to capitalize on the title race, Elliott Sadler is considered one of the early favorites. Sadler, who finished runner-up to Stenhouse the past two years, moves from the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. In 2012, he finished with four wins, just 23 points behind Stenhouse.
Last year, his first in the series, Austin Dillon won both events at Kentucky Speedway, finished third in the overall points standings and captured Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. This year, he returns in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet looking to celebrate more than just two victories.
Sam Hornish Jr. finds himself once again piloting the No. 12 for Penske Racing. However, this year he’ll be in a Ford instead of a Dodge. Last year he finished fourth in the points, but failed to find Victory Lane. In 2013, he could find himself more of a player in the title hunt and add more victories to his only series win, which came in 2011 at Phoenix.
After winning the championship in 2003 with Hendrick Motorsports, Brian Vickers returns to the series at the helm of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. In 11 seasons in the series, only one of those full-time, he won three times, all coming in 2003. In his time away, he competed in the premier series, where he won twice.
Other full-time drivers that could be in the conversation come November are Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Trevor Bayne and Brian Scott.
DRIVE4COPD 300 To Feature Plethora Of Star PowerWhen the green flag waves at the start of the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway this Saturday at 1:15 p.m. ET, there will be plenty of star power on hand to welcome the new NASCAR Nationwide season.
The series regulars will be joined on-track by some of NASCAR’s biggest names, including Danica Patrick, who heads to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year after one full and two partial seasons in NASCAR Nationwide. She will drive the No. 34 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999, will also suit up for the race. In 16 seasons, he’s captured 23 checkered flags, the most recent coming in the July Daytona race while driving the No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet.
The reigning 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski will also compete in the season-opening race. Keselowski brought owner Roger Penske his first NASCAR national series title in 2010, when he won the NASCAR Nationwide championship.
Other big names include former NASCAR Sprint Cup champions Tony Stewart, who has won the event six times, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch, as well as Kyle Busch, who won the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide title.
Future Looks Bright With Strong Rookie ClassAs drivers jockey from team to team or move to the premier series, full-time opportunities often open up for aspiring race car drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This season is no exception, as evidenced by the solid rookie class of drivers who have secured full-time rides.
Kyle Larson, the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion, will appear in his first Nationwide race Saturday at Daytona. He’ll drive a full season in the No. 32 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet. In four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races, he had a runner-up finish at Phoenix last year.
Parker Kligerman will drive the No. 77 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. In 18 series races, his best finish was a seventh at Chicagoland in 2012. He has one win in the truck series, coming last year at Talladega.
After only nine starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012, Travis Pastrana turns his attention to a full-time ride in the No. 60 Ford with Roush Fenway Racing. The extreme sports star’s best finish was 13th at Indianapolis.
Although only appearing in four NASCAR Nationwide events prior to 2013, Nelson Piquet Jr. already has a victory on his résumé. Last year in only his third career series start, he won by more than two seconds at Road America.