Let’s assume that the NASCAR Nationwide Series points battle has narrowed to only five contenders: Sam Hornish Jr., Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith, Austin Dillon and Brian Vickers. With only 18 points separating them, all five drivers have a very realistic shot at capturing the title.
The determining factor in this year’s championship battle could come down to one thing – championship-hunt experience.
As the series heads to Bristol for Friday night’s Food City 250, four of the five drivers in the top five have some type of championship battle experience.
The odd man out is Smith, currently tied for third (-15), who returned to the series fulltime after six years of giving it a go in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In seven years in the top series, seven previous years in the NNS (of which only one was fulltime before this season) and five years in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he had never been in the title conversation. His best points finish in one of NASCAR’s three national series was 20th in 2006.
Although Hornish, the current points leader, has never really been embroiled in a battle for the points lead during his tenure in NASCAR (he finished fourth in 2012, but never made it higher than third in points during the season), he won the IZOD IndyCar Series title three times – 2001, 2002 and 2006.
Sadler gained a lot of experience dueling for the title the last two seasons. Unfortunately, his efforts fell short both years, finishing runner-up to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the final standings.
Dillon was in the thick of the NNS championship hunt last season up until the very end, ultimately finishing third. The year before, he held off a hard-charging Johnny Sauter to capture the 2011 NCWTS title.
Vickers, who will be pulling double-duty for most of the remaining weekends, won the NNS championship in 2003. This could be his last chance at another NNS crown since he’ll be returning to the NSCS fulltime in 2014.
The points battle is so close that one poor performance could shake things up among those in contention, as evident by Dillon dropping from first to fourth at Mid-Ohio. With two shorts tracks (Bristol and Richmond) remaining on the schedule, no lead is safe.
Penske Racing’s No. 22 claims top spot
For most of the summer only one team has held the top spot in the NASCAR Nationwide Series owners’ championship points standings – the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. That was until last Saturday at Mid-Ohio when the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford claimed the position with a 22-point cushion.
The No. 54 JGR team took its first owners’ lead after the season’s sixth race at Texas, which Kyle Busch won. The point margin reached its zenith of 51 points in mid-July at New Hampshire.
Since then, the drivers of the No. 22 Ford have gradually chipped away at the No. 54’s lead knocking it down to five points entering Mid-Ohio’s road race. AJ Allmendinger’s win in the inaugural NNS event at the Lexington, Ohio, road course, propelled the No. 22 into the top spot in the owners’ points standings.
When the series travels to Bristol for Saturday’s Food City 250, Penske Racing and the No. 22 will arrive on a hot streak having won four of the last five events. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jr. have combined for eight wins in 2013, seven of them coming in the No. 22.
Tryson to man the pit box for Piquet
Veteran crew chief Pat Tryson returns to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this weekend at Bristol to call the shots for the No. 30 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Nelson Piquet Jr. Piquet won last year’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at the .533-mile track.
In 11 previous races atop the pit box in the series (2005 and 2007), Tryson’s cars have visited Victory Lane twice – both with Mark Martin in 2005. He spent 17 years as a crew chief in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, winning eight times with three different drivers – Elliott Sadler, Martin and Kurt Busch. His first national series win came at Bristol with Sadler in 2001.
Tryson was the crew chief for David Reutimann’s No. 83 BK Racing Toyota in the NSCS for the first 19 races of 2013 before leaving the team.
Chris Carrier, Piquet’s former crew chief, will serve as the crew chief this weekend in the NCWTS for the No. 96 Chevrolet driven by Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
Ty Dillon announced he will move to the NASCAR Nationwide Series fulltime in 2014. He will compete in both the NCWTS and NNS races at Bristol Motor Speedway for Richard Childress Racing. … NASCAR Canadian Tire Series driver Martin Roy of Napierville, Quebec, will attempt to make his first national series start this weekend in the Food City 250.