With the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series season just around the corner there is a long list of questions awaiting answers. We have a new car prepped and ready for its first full season, new ethanol fuel as well as a new way of fueling, a change to the number of pit crew men over the wall because of that new way of fueling, and of course we can not overlook the headliner 43 to 1 points system.
As big a splash as the points system change made, however, the Nationwide series may possibly ride an even larger wave of change in 2011. With Sprint Cup drivers now limited to earning points only in their respective series, courtesy of the newly implemented "Check One" rule, the Nationwide Championship will once again be awarded to a Nationwide Series regular come the end of the year. So now the question is, who?
Take a scan through last year's final standings—overlooking all of those Sprint Cup drivers —and one can get a fairly clear picture of how the 2011 final standings may look.
Justin Allgaier finished atop the series regular class in 2010, finishing fourth in the standings and scoring the only non-Sprint Cup driver win of the season. Allgaier will return to the title hunt in 2011 with a new team in Turner Motorsports and is sure to be a strong candidate throughout the year.
Behind Allgaier by 638 points was Trevor Bayne who, sponsorship pending, should also be a challenger all season for his Roush Racing team while also running part-time for the Wood Brothers on Sundays. Not far behind Bayne was Steven Wallace, who began showing signs of improvement near the end of 2010. If Wallace continues to improve he could very well be in the mix in the latter stages of this year's title campaign.
The 2010 statistics alone would show that former Sprint Cup driver and ex-Nationwide star Reed Sorenson could be the leading contender in 2011. Last season Sorenson led all of the aforementioned drivers in top 10s (21) despite only starting 28 of the 35 races. If that consistency carries over to 2011, Sorenson could very well exit Homestead with his first series title.
A kink in Sorenson's championship hopes, however, could be the four races he is currently scheduled to miss when Mark Martin takes the wheel of the Turner Motorsports ride.
The final, and sentimental favorite, of the likely contenders for the title only ran five races in 2010—four for JR Motorsports and the other for Kevin Harvick Inc. That of course is another Sprint Cup series veteran, Elliott Sadler.
After several years of being less than competitive in the floundering Evernham-Gillette-Petty Enterprises cup series team Sadler has stated he is taking a step down to take a step forward in his career, starting full time in the Kevin Harvick Inc. No. 2 in 2011.
With Sadler's newfound optimism and confidence, paired with the powerhouse equipment from the Harvick shop we could see him in victory lane a number of times this season, and quite possibly hoisting the ultimate prize come November.