Thanks to a strong mix of young drivers and veterans trying to fight their way back to the top, with help from the NASCAR rule limiting drivers to one series for points, we are about to see the re-emergence of the Nationwide Series in 2013.
I mean, have you seen the driver lineup? Instead of the championship battle really coming down to two or three drivers like we’ve had the past few seasons, there are maybe as many as eight or nine guys that could have a legitimate shot at the title.
The battle for the 2012 title came down to Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Elliott Sadler, and Austin Dillon. Stenhouse is moving on to Cup, but his entire championship winning team is returning to back Trevor Bayne’s run. No major changes are in store for Dillon, but you’ve got to think a year’s worth of experience only makes him stronger. And Sadler, while not with RCR anymore, has moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing, which has had one of the strongest (if not the strongest) NNS programs over the last several years.
Other key returnees include Sam Hornish Jr. (who will have veteran Greg Erwin calling the shots), an emerging Michael Annett, and Justin Allgaier who will have a revamped team (Jimmy Elledge won’t be back in 2013).
The two newcomers who will provide the stiffest competition for the established drivers are Regan Smith with JR Motorsports, and Brian Vickers in a team car to Elliott Sadler at JGR. Smith will have a first time crew chief in Greg Ives, but he did win the NNS finale at Homestead for an improved JRM. And Vickers, who already has one championship in this series, will be tough to beat with JGR behind him.
Another driver to keep an eye on next season is Parker Kligerman. He picked up his first Truck Series win last season, and he’ll be driving for a KBM team that was strong at every race last season. Also, don’t be surprised if Kyle Larson emerges in the coming weeks as a part- or full-time NNS competitor.