Highlighting the 10 Most Exciting Talents in NASCAR's Nationwide Series
As the NASCAR Nationwide Series nears the halfway point of the season, we the fans have been treated to quite the show of talent from a rather eclectic cast of characters.
We have seen utter dominance from Kyle Busch, but we have also seen some pretty interesting names at the front.
No matter if they're former Cup drivers or up-and-coming leadfoots, the guys you are about to see have been doing their part to make the Nationwide Series an interesting place to race.
10. Travis Pastrana
At press time, Travis Pastrana sits 14th in points with three top-10s this season. That wouldn't seem too shabby, until you look at the fact that in 14 starts this season he has only finished on the lead lap six times.
It's not due to lack of effort, though. In the Nationwide paddock, the No. 60 Roush Fenway bunch is known for being a successful, driven bunch. They have gone to Victory Lane on several occasions, and the 2007 season championship only solidifies that claim.
Meanwhile, looking at Pastrana's history as an X Games staple, it is easy to see that he too is a fearless individual driven for success. In this year's season opener at Daytona he claimed a 10th-place finish at the line mostly due to Kyle Larson's spectacular accident.
However, he had started near the front, ran near the front and narrowly avoided Michael Annett's accident late in the going. With that being said, he has had a run of bad luck this season, but all the good drivers wreck them before they really get good.
At Richmond his tenacity paid off, as he finished ninth after starting 17th. He had one of the best cars late in the race, as he was able to pass cars with ease. All he needs is a few more races like that to restore his confidence.
Once that happens, we'll be seeing Pastrana in the highlights for all the right reasons.
9. Elliott Sadler
You couldn't help but wish the best for Elliott Sadler when he declared that he was going back to the Nationwide Series back in 2010. After several seasons of being nothing but a footnote, many felt that this move would rejuvenate the Virginian's career.
He hasn't disappointed.
Two consecutive runner-up finishes in the points standings (2011, 2012) have left many feeling that Sadler is due for a title sooner than later. He wasn't able to get it done with Kevin Harvick Incorporated and Richard Childress Racing, but considering he is with Nationwide powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing, this could be his best shot.
Sadler's consistency can be largely attributed to the fact that he feels that he has something to prove, and he does. He is largely considered as a perennial favorite, but that isn't what he wants.
So, with the success and consistency he has found in the Nationwide Series, he wants to be a contender.
8. Brian Scott
Despite being winless in the Nationwide Series, Scott has maintained his status as a consistent finisher. With that being said, his pairing with Richard Childress Racing can and will prove fruitful before too long.
Scott is a lot like a young Tony Stewart behind the wheel. He's a bit rough around the edges, yet he knows what he can get out of his equipment. Given the fact that he's in a Childress Chevrolet, that says a lot. Already, he's on par to eclipse his previous best points finish of eighth in 2011.
Granted, that year he had only had seven top-10 finishes, four less than his 2012 total. But in 2013 after 14 starts, he has posted seven top-10s. There is plenty of time this year for him to prove that he is better than a pair of sixth-place finishes.
7. Brian Vickers
It is kind of strange to see someone like Brian Vickers racing full-time in the Nationwide Series this early in his career, especially considering that he is a Sprint Cup veteran. Yet he is making the making the most of it behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Considering Kyle Busch's dominance of the Nationwide Series in Gibbs equipment, there is no better place for Vickers to be than in a JGR Toyota. However, it hasn't been all it could be, considering he sits ninth in points after 14 races.
Vickers is a NASCAR veteran and a former Nationwide champion, so with all things considered he should be back in Victory Lane at some point this season. With five top-fives and seven top-10s, it is a likelihood.
Vickers is tough as nails behind the wheel, with a no-nonsense approach to competition. His dust-up with Tony Stewart at Sonoma in 2011 and his issue with Busch at Michigan in 2009 only serve to prove that point. He takes no grief from other drivers. Rather, he demands respect.
So don't be surprised if he wins a race soon.
6. Justin Allgaier
The 2009 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year is quite possibly one of the most underrated drivers in the series today. Since coming to the Nationwide Series from ARCA, he has finished no worse than sixth in points.
He has won on a short track (Bristol), a mile-and-a-half (Chicagoland), and a road course (Montreal). He has also posted strong finishes at restrictor plate tracks, such as his fifth-place run at Talladega this year.
In his first year in a Turner Motorsports Chevy, he finished third in the 2011 season standings. Had Penske kept him in his cars, he may have won a title by now. He's a capable driver who almost won at Road America this past weekend, so if he wants to win a title, maybe a top-tier ride could help him accomplish just that.
5. Trevor Bayne
Despite winning only twice in the Nationwide Series, Trevor Bayne is one of the most popular drivers in the series. He embodies the youth needed to excel in this sport. He's got the talent, the drive and the backing. He's a face, and he's a former Daytona 500 winner in what was arguably one of NASCAR's biggest Cinderella moments.
In 2011, despite missing several races, he placed 11th in the final point standings with one win, five top-fives and 14 top-10s. He only ran six races in 2012, but finished on the lead lap in all of them and earned one top-five and three top-10s.
Yet after 14 starts this year he's only 10th in the standings.
Bayne's proven himself repeatedly as a driver and proved that he belongs in the sport. Unfortunately he doesn't seem to have that fabled momentum on his side this year like he did in 2011. That seems to be the story of the Roush Fenway Nationwide program this year.
Still, Bayne will more than likely turn things around this year and make a go of it. Expect at least a couple of more wins this year much in the fashion of his Iowa win.
4. Austin Dillon
Austin Dillon is my pick to win the 2013 Nationwide Series championship. If history repeats itself and he adapts as quickly as he has, I definitely see it happening.
Looking past everything, the kid can drive, and with the type of money that Grandpa has, Dillon is in the best possible position to pop a cork off a bottle of bubbly at Homestead during the champion's celebration.
He's a tenacious driver with a truck series championship sandwiched between a couple of Rookie of the Year awards. He's coming into his own quite nicely, and look for him to add to his trophy collection before too long.
3. Regan Smith
It wasn't too long ago that Regan Smith was poised to remain at the back of the pack for the remainder of his career. A win in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington was the sole consolation for what was otherwise a tumultuous Sprint Cup career.
Smith earned a second chance by subbing for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in late 2012, and with a seventh at Kansas he solidified his chances for a ride at JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series.
Smith would repay the favor by winning at Homestead in his first race for the new team. He has added to that win total by winning at Talladega and Michigan so far this year.
It's been excellent seeing Smith succeed and run up front in the Nationwide Series this year, as he has embodied a true underdog spirit throughout his career. He has gone through some serious lows in NASCAR, so to be contending for a Nationwide championship is perfect redemption for the driver of the No. 7 Camaro.
2. Sam Hornish Jr.
It finally seems that Sam Hornish Jr. has become a NASCAR star. It's been a long time coming, but his perseverance has finally paid off.
Hornish was an IndyCar star, winning multiple titles and the 2006 Indy 500. Yet his transition to stock cars did not go as well as hoped, as the poor results came pouring through mostly due to trashed Penske Racing Dodges.
His Sprint Cup tenure didn't go over well either, as he only lasted a few short seasons before going back to the Nationwide series. But his results began to get better, and following a win at Phoenix in the fall of 2011, Hornish began to be taken seriously by those around him.
He earned 10 top-fives and 22 top-10s en route to a fourth-place finish in points in 2012, and currently sits third in points this season after 14 races, the highlight of which was a win at Las Vegas in the third race of the season.
It seems as though Hornish has finally reached the level of confidence that he had in the IndyCar series, and despite falling from first to third in points this year, he has the experience and the momentum needed to challenge for the Nationwide Series championship this year.
He will win again before the year is up.
1. Kyle Larson
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Kyle Larson is scary good.
He made waves in the Camping World Truck Series at the end of 2012, including a second-place finish to Brian Scott at the Fall Phoenix race. His success has transitioned to the Nationwide Series, where he has had two runner-up finishes in 14 starts, one of which was at Bristol and the other being at Michigan.
Bristol was an absolute heartbreaker, as Larson came within inches of derailing Kyle Busch on the last lap. But now that he is due for a win, it will happen soon.
Larson can be compared to a young Jeff Gordon. Both were Sprint Car standouts, both were brought into NASCAR with top-notch equipment and both are the most natural talents behind the wheel. Sure, they both had their bad days in rather spectacular fashion, but both proved that they could be winners in the sport.
Larson sits seventh in points, one spot behind fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Parker Kligerman, but he'll be in Victory Lane a few times this year, and as a result he'll be in the top-five in points at year's end.