2013 Nationwide Series Odds: Nationwide Series Championship Favorites, Dark Horses and Sleepers Two years ago, the Nationwide Series decided to prevent drivers from winning championships in more than one series. The move was made in order to stop Cup Series regulars from winning the Nationwide title, and the rule has produced a pair of interesting championship battles. In fact, last year’s title fight was one of the best in recent memory. Elliott Sadler was determined to avenge his second-place finish from the year before and dethrone defending champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Meanwhile, upstart rookie Austin Dillon looked to crash the party and steal the title from the two rivals. Sadler held a slim lead most of the year, but as he and Dillon both faltered slightly down the stretch. Stenhouse came on strong to win his second championship in as many years.
Of course, Stenhouse won’t be able to complete a three-peat in 2013 because he will be racing full time in the Cup Series. As a result, we know going in that a new champion will be crowned, but even with Stenhouse, the title fight is shaping up to be a good one. Former series champ Brian Vickers and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne are among the drivers returning to race full time in the Nationwide Series this season, and they will join a handful of drivers that have already been in the championship conversation the past couple of years. With that in mind, here is a look at how the frontrunners for the Nationwide Series championship stack up entering the 2013 season.
Nationwide Series Championship Favorites, Dark Horses and Sleepers
After finishing second in the standings in each of the last two seasons, Elliott Sadler could be poised to get over the hump in 2013. For one, two-time defending champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be in the Cup Series and won’t be standing in his way for a third year in a row. More importantly, Sadler will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing this year, and the organization has claimed four of the last five owners’ championships in the series. Add it all up, and the two-time runner-up has everything in place to become a first-time champ this season.
A heart condition cut Brian Vickers down in the prime of his Cup career, but after surgery and treatments, he has been back behind the wheel in a part-time role and enjoyed a strong 2012 season at the Cup level. His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, and Joe Gibbs Racing signed him to drive the No. 20 Toyota in the Nationwide Series full time in 2013. JGR won the owners’ title in the series for the fourth time in five years last season and led all teams in victories. Vickers himself won a Nationwide title back in 2003, and armed with some of the best equipment around, he could do so again this year.
The Dark Horses
The poor economy cost Trevor Bayne a full-time ride following the 2010 season, but after paying his dues, he will once again be Roush Fenway Racing’s top gun in the Nationwide Series in 2013. Bayne finished seventh in his only full-time season in the series at the age of 19, and he had added some Cup starts since then and won the Daytona 500. Throw in the fact that Bayne will be driving for the same team that has won two straight championships with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Bayne looks poised to compete for the title sooner rather than later.
It took a crazy set of circumstances that included subbing for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Cup Series, but Regan Smith landed Nationwide a ride with JR Motorsports for the final race of 2012. In his first and only start with the team, he went out and won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Well, Smith will drive for the team full time in 2013, and if his first start was a sign of things to come, he is going to be a factor for the title. Smith has always overachieved with below average equipment throughout his career, and landing with a top team like JR Motorsports could be just what he needs to reach his full potential and become a champion.
Although Austin Dillon won the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year Award last year, he didn’t exactly look like a first-year driver. Dillon finished third in the final standings, winning three races and leading the series with 27 top-10s. He is definitely on the fast track to stardom, and after nearly winning a championship as a rookie, he should only be better in 2013 with a year of experience under his belt.
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