Who will take the 2013 crown?

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The first race for the NASCAR Nationwide Series is just around the corner and already bets are being taken on which driver will take the 2013 championship.

Auditions for the next “Stenhouse” under the "declare a series rule” era is slated to start in February as the NASCAR Nationwide Series takes on their season opener at the Daytona International Speedway.

In the Nationwide series, another face will be required to step up to fill Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s seat upon the Nationwide Series throne, and several drivers are lining up to throw their hats into the ring. A couple of them gave Stenhouse a tough battle in 2012, and another one is a previous series champion from another era. But all are worthy candidates.

Elliott Sadler
Elliott Sadler

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

The former teammates at Richard Childress Racing, Austin Dillon and Elliott Sadler, are among those who hope to take Stenhouse's place atop the standings come 2013. Dillon returns to the No. 3 Chevrolet seat at RCR, the same seat from which he finished third in the standings in 2012, but Sadler has moved on. Dillon, as a result, has familiarity on his side. But any possible unknowns for Sadler may very well be to his benefit once those unknowns become knowns.

Sadler finished second in 2012 in the car that matched his points finish -- the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. But he's heading over to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.

"Elliott is, obviously, a great talent, and his experience will be an asset to our entire Nationwide Series program," JGR President J.D. Gibbs said.

Sadler will have a teammate in 2003 series champion Brian Vickers. Vickers' championship came back in the days when the circuit was known as the Busch Series and anyone racing was eligible for title.

"This opportunity (to return to the Nationwide Series with JGR) came up as a surprise, and trying to figure out what was next and where I was going to head going into this season and, subsequently, same kind of philosophy going into next season -- wherever I ended up," Vickers said near the end of the 2012 season.

As far as Nationwide Series competition is concerned, Vickers probably couldn't have "ended up" in a better place.

Brian Vickers
Brian Vickers

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Sadler and Vickers may have the best opportunity to follow in Stenhouse's footsteps, and not just because Sadler finished second in points to Stenhouse this past season and Vickers has won a championship in the series before. Of course, that doesn't hurt, but their place of employment may very well be their biggest advantage. Both Sadler and Vickers will be behind the wheels of JGR entries, and the Gibbs organization has dominated the series the past few years. Yes, a Roush Fenway driver may have won the two most recent driver championships, but the fact the JGR has used rosters of multiple drivers to fill the seats in two of its series entries may have had a little to do with that. After all, JGR did claim the series owner's title in 2012 with its No. 18 team on the strength of nine series wins with Joey Logano behind the wheel.

One added bonus for these two may also be the reintroduction of Kyle Busch to the JGR Nationwide Series stable. Busch left the organization's Nationwide program in 2012 to drive part-time in the series for his own team. While he's still keeping his Kyle Busch Motorsports efforts going in the series, Busch previously announced that as far as driving in the series goes, he'll be returning to a Joe Gibbs Racing entry. Having the Nationwide Series' all-time winningest driver should give Sadler and Vickers a good source of information to turn to, as if they didn't already have the benefit of the best resources possible.

"Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota have been a dominant combination in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and I'm elated to have an opportunity to join them as well," Sadler said.

Like his new teammate, Vickers also feels good about a championship shot with JGR.

Victory lane: race winner Austin Dillon
Victory lane: race winner Austin Dillon

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

"They have -- no one can argue that the JGR Toyota group have one of the best Nationwide programs on the circuit and the chance to race for another championship I thought would be a lot of fun," Vickers said.

Other drivers will likely stage valiant efforts to claim the Nationwide Series crown, drivers like the aforementioned Dillon; Stenhouse's replacement in Roush Fenway's No. 6 Ford, Trevor Bayne; Sam Hornish Jr., who'll be returning to Penske Racing to drive the No. 12 Ford; and several others. But these guys may have a tough time contending with the new JGR duo. Vickers has visited the series "glory land" before and Sadler has come close. Joining what is arguably the best organization in the series should only help any championship efforts in the season to come.

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Series NASCAR-NS
Article type Analysis
Tags bayne, chevrolet, dillon, ford, hornish, kyle busch, nascar-ns, nationwide, sadler, stenhouse, toyota, vickers