8 Double-Duty NASCAR Drivers Who Will Make the 2013 Chase
Here's an interesting fact: Only four drivers—Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne—who run significant Nationwide schedules made it into this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
That's down from five last year, when Carl Edwards nearly parlayed running both full schedules into his first Sprint Cup title, tying Tony Stewart in points, but losing the tiebreaker by virtue of victories. Both Edwards and Kyle Busch missed this year's Chase after decreasing their Nationwide schedules this season, with Edwards almost entirely pulling out of the series.
Perhaps they're onto something when they run both schedules; extra track time, especially given the similarities of the two schedules these days, comes at a premium for many of Cup's best. And many drivers who run both series and missed the Chase, such as Edwards and Busch, were still in wild-card contention until the very end.
For the following drivers, strong performances in a decent-sized slate of Nationwide races could be the key to either repeating their Chase appearance from this year or breaking in—perhaps for the first time—in 2013.
Logano's torrid pace in a Nationwide car this year has been an excellent confidence-builder for him and definitely contributed to a career-saving win at Pocono, not to mention a new deal with Penske Racing in 2013.
With Penske, there's no doubt that Logano still will run a substantial amount of Nationwide races with one of the series' best teams, and a fresh environment may be just what he needs to finally break out as a Cup driver.
Keselowski is doing exactly what Kyle Busch did with so much success for years—using a significant Nationwide schedule as a way to build momentum for the Cup races on Sundays.
It will be interesting to see how fellow Nationwide star Joey Logano's addition to Penske Racing will affect Keselowski's schedule, but given the talent of both drivers, it shouldn't be a shock if the team runs them both in plenty of races—and returns both of its Cup cars to the Chase.
It seems inevitable that Busch will increase his Nationwide schedule any way that he can next season after only running a handful of races for his own team this year.
With a year under his belt as a Nationwide owner and many of the first-year kinks ironed out, Busch can take that team to the next level while using more seat time to pick up more tricks for Sundays.
Don't be shocked if Edwards makes a push to return to more frequent Nationwide competition in 2013 after a subpar 2012, his first year not running the series full-time since 2004.
Edwards' only win of the season came in his lone Nationwide start at Watkins Glen, and his Chase chances were impossibly slim coming into Richmond. Perhaps more time in the car—plus a year removed from the "curse of second place" in Cup—will help him turn things around next year.
Kahne has expanded his Nationwide schedule each of the past three seasons, currently competing for Turner Motorsports as he has since 2011.
Sharing the car with Brad Sweet, who races for Kahne in World of Outlaws, the program does exactly what most Busch Series programs did in the 1990s: helping the Cup driver improve by giving him valuable track time, while providing the young development driver with a mentor.
In fact, Kahne's average Cup finish of 14.3 through 26 starts would be a career-best if the season ended now.
Hamlin doesn't race in Nationwide as much as he used to, but with Joey Logano gone, don't be shocked if he steps into the series for Joe Gibbs Racing a few more times next year.
In nine 2012 starts, he's scored five top-five finishes, while posting an average finish of 12.6 (second-best of his career) through 26 Sprint Cup races. Hamlin also posted a strong third-place finish in the 2006 Cup standings while also running the full Nationwide schedule that year.
Harvick divested himself of his Nationwide team before this season to focus on both his Cup racing and newborn son Keelan.
The result, combined with a temporary change (since reverted) of crew chiefs, has actually been Harvick's worst season in three years and his first winless season in both Cup and Nationwide (so far) since 2008, until he took home the Nationwide checkers in Richmond on Friday.
Harvick won't run the full Nationwide schedule next year, but maybe he should; the last time he did (2006) he posted a record-setting championship season with nine wins and 32 top-10s in 35 starts while also scoring a career-high five wins in Cup.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Here's your surprise pick on this list.
The 2011 Nationwide Series champion is challenging for this year's title as well and will inherit Matt Kenseth's prestigious ride at Roush Fenway Racing in a Rookie of the Year bid next season.
Stenhouse is consistently strong enough in Nationwide to be ready for the big time by now, and with a pair of Nationwide champion teammates in Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, they'll be able to show him the ropes as he transitions into full-time Cup racing.