Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Cup interlopers face more-competitive Nationwide regulars
After a weekend in the spotlight at Iowa Speedway for last Sunday’s Pioneer Hi-Bred 250, the NASCAR Nationwide Series heads for a hometown showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the History 300 to be held at the track on Saturday afternoon as a companion event to the Sprint Cup Series running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on Sunday evening.
With the Nationwide Series back to running companion events to the Sprint Cup Series, Kyle Busch returns to the seat of his No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. Busch won the 2010 installment of this weekend’s race, then behind the wheel of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
As far as being back with the No. 54 guys, I look forward to having some fun trying to get that first win.
But the competition provided by series regulars seems to have stiffened up, if the win column so far in 2012 is any indication. Unlike in years past, when Sprint Cup drivers dominated Nationwide victory lanes, Nationwide Series championship contenders have broken through this year. As a matter- of-fact, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch have been the only Cup regulars to claim Nationwide victories so far
Granted, Logano has visited Victory Lane in Nationwide competition three times, only 10 races into the season, giving Sprint Cup regulars a four-win total after 10 events, but that looks a lot better for the Nationwide guys than stats from seasons past.
Busch has a good shot of claiming a win Saturday night. After all, he has six Nationwide wins at Charlotte, and he’ll be behind the wheel of the No 54 his brother, Kurt Busch, drove to victory lane earlier this season.
Charlotte will mark Busch’s return to his No. 54 after his brother assumed driving duties for a few races.
“As far as being back with the No. 54 guys, I look forward to having some fun trying to get that first win,” Busch said.
First win? What about the six he already has? Those came with other organizations, mostly Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch has yet to visit a Nationwide victory lane as an owner/driver. His older brother claimed the honors of giving KBM its first win in the series.
Other notable Sprint Cup Series drivers who will take the green flag for Nationwide competition on Saturday include Brad Keselowski in the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge and Denny Hamlin in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Both of those drivers have a good shot, too. Logano has been driving the No. 18 at times in 2012, and he’s taken it to victory lane. Keselowski will be in the No. 22 he claimed the series title in 2010, the final year he was championship eligible.
But Series regulars have collectively stepped up their game, and it won’t be a given that a Cup regular will be the first to cross the line when the checkers wave on Saturday, especially if the top-two drivers in the championship points standings have anything to say about it.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has driven the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford to victory lane three times already this year, and Elliott Sadler has won twice from behind the wheel of the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
In addition to being the series points leader, Stenhouse is riding a wave of momentum, coming off a win last weekend in Iowa.
“We are coming off a big win at Iowa, so we will carry that momentum with us into Charlotte,” Stenhouse said. “Every driver wants to win at Charlotte in front of their family and friends. Last year, we sat on the pole and finished fourth, so we are looking to improve that finish. We are going to try to go for back-to-back wins.”