After the 2010 Nationwide season, NASCAR decided that Sprint Cup regulars would not be able to win points when they moved down to Nationwide. The reason was because Nationwide regulars didn’t have a chance against the better experienced and more well-funded teams with Cup drivers, who in-turn were dominating the races and series championships. As a result, for the past two years, young Nationwide regular Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who originally came from the Sprint car ranks, had taken control and won the championship twice. However, Stenhouse is now moving on to Cup, which leaves us the question: Who will be the Nationwide Series champion in 2013?
There are several drivers that jump out as favorites, including former Cup drivers who are trying to reestablish themselves. With a deeper field than has been seen in awhile for the Nationwide series, let’s take a look at the top contenders from seven to one.
7. Justin Allgaier – Always good for a win, the Nationwide veteran – if you can call a 26 year old, veteran – slipped back just a step last season after having improved every previous season. He should once again battle for a top five points position, but whether he wins the title or not is questionable.
6. Sam Hornish Jr. – He appeared at times last season that he would fight for the championship, having put together 12 Top 10s midseason. However, Hornish ended up only fourth overall and with a tougher field this year, he’ll be pushing hard for another top five in the final standings.
5. Elliott Sadler – A runner-up the past two seasons to Stenhouse after battling hard all the way, this year, Sadler hopes for a fresh start as he moves over to the Joe Gibbs stable (source: Autoweek). Sadler should still be in the hunt for the title; but, with a new team, it will be tough to finish as high as he has the last couple years.
4. Regan Smith – If he races like he did in the finale at Homestead, he should be the car to beat. Moving full-time into the Nationwide series may be just what Smith and his team, JR Motorsports, need to propel them back into the spotlight.
3. Austin Dillon – One of the most consistent drivers last season as a rookie, Dillon finished third in the points and certainly showed he’s capable of winning the championship. With a couple more wins than last season, Dillon will be once again right in the thick of it for a title.
2. Trevor Bayne – Is this the year when Bayne proves he’s the superstar-in-waiting everyone expected from him a couple years ago? Bayne will turn 22 shortly so he has quite a bit of time left; plus, given a full-time ride in Nationwide may be just what he needs to prove the expectation right and win a championship.
1. Brian Vickers – Given a chance to run full-time in Nationwide might be all it takes for the veteran driver to get back on track. Vickers won the Nationwide title 10 years ago and he undoubtedly has the talent to do it. Now that he’s driving for Joe Gibbs in Nationwide, 2013 will be his year once again to win a championship.
Also, keep an eye on a few newcomers, who could make some noise in Nationwide. Nelson Piquet Jr. proved he could win in NASCAR and now has moved over from Trucks to a full-time ride in the Nationwide series for Turner Motorsports. Travis Pastrana will finally run full-time in NASCAR for Roush Fenway and raw talent aside, he seems determined to prove himself a legitimate stock car driver. Parker Kligerman moves over from Trucks, where he was finally showing off his potential near the end of last season — he’ll be driving for Kyle Busch in the Nationwide series.