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NASCAR Power Rankings Week 23: Top 5 Drivers to Win the Nationwide Series Championship

NASCAR Vegas Power Rankings Week 23: Top 5 Drivers to Win the Nationwide Series Championship: The summer stretch of the 2012 season is coming to an end, and it is now or never for any driver hoping to make a push for the Nationwide Series title. With just 11 races remaining, one bad race finish can bring an end up a driver’s championship dreams, especially with the way the title fight has been shaping up. Four drivers have legitimate shot at winning the championship, and during the course of the year, all four have spent time as the dominant driver in the series. It will be interesting to see who ultimately comes out on top in what has been a back-and-forth affair, but for now, here is a look at how the top five drivers stack up in this installment of Power Rankings.

NASCAR Power Rankings Week 23: Top 5 Drivers to Win the Nationwide Series Championship

1.      Sam Hornish Jr.: It has been one heck of a run for Hornish. He has ripped off 10 straight top-10 finishes and is now just one shy of the series lead for the season. During the stretch, he has compiled an impressive 4.9 average finish, and Hornish has been even better recently. He has compiled a 3.6 average finish in the last five races and has finished third or better in four straight starts, including a second-place run at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve when he rallied from a pair of spins. For the year, he has yet to finish outside the top 20, and his only finish outside the top 15 came in the season opener. Hornish has surged all the way to second in the standings, and at his current scorching pace, he should continue to close the gap on the leader.

 2.      Elliott Sadler: He is 22 points clear of second place, and Sadler’s consistency and his ability to avoid mistakes going to make him to track down for top spot. His 16 top-10s and 7.5 average finish are both tops in the series for full-time drivers. Sadler also leads all series regulars with four wins, and his ability to blend consistency with victories has been the difference between this season and last year. Since finishing second for last year’s championship, he has been focused solely on winning the title in 2012. If he can continue to stay out of trouble and mix in an occasional win, he might just realize his goal. Sadler is definitely in a good spot.

 3.      Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: A three-race run of bad luck from the end of May through the middle of June has put the defending champ in a hole, but he has the ability to dig his way out. Among the series regulars, Stenhouse is the best at reeling off a bunch of elite finishes. In fact, he leads all full-time drivers with 12 top-five finishes in 2012 and ranks second with three victories. Stenhouse is currently tied for second in the standings, but even if the point leader finishes in the top 10 every race, his ability to win and finish in the top five will still make it possible for him to gain ground. Back-to-back titles are still within reach for Stenhouse, but he has no margin for error.

4.      Austin Dillon: He is having a rookie season that any driver would beg for, but after being within a few points of the top spot a month ago, Dillon is starting to slip. A tire problem at Iowa when he had the best car at the track didn’t help, but his inexperience at road courses could ultimately doom him his title hopes. Dillon has finished outside the top 15 in two of the three road courses, sliding to fourth in the standings. He is still tied for the series lead with 16 top-10s and ranks second with 11 top-five finishes, but he will have to find a way to be even better if he wants to close the 35-point gap between himself and the point leader. It might be too much to ask from a rookie.

5.      Justin Allgaier: Although he probably won’t recover from a shaky start, you can’t say Allgaier is giving up. He has reeled off eight top-10s in his last 10 starts and has a 5.4 average finish in the last four races. Allgaier is fresh off his first win of 2012, he created a huge gap between himself and the sixth-place driver in the standings. His 15 top-10s put him one shy of the series lead, and he has established himself as the fifth-best driver in the series at the very least. All he can do is take care of business and hope that the guys ahead of him all mess up. While that probably won’t happen, Allgaier is more than capable of continuing to keep pace and even pick up another spot or two.

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NASCAR Power Rankings Week 16: Top 5 Drivers to Win the Nationwide Series Championship

NASCAR Power Rankings Week 16: Top 5 Drivers to Win the Nationwide Series Championship: With the summer stretch of the season in full swing, it’s time to take a look at how the top contenders for the Nationwide Series championship are stacking up. A lot has happened the last few weeks, and three different drivers have held the top spot in the standings in the month. All the shuffling up front has allowed some other drivers to sneak into striking distance of the top three, and the title fight that seemed one sided just two months ago is suddenly a real battle. See who currently has a leg up in the battle in this installment of Power Rankings.

NASCAR Power Rankings Week 16: Top 5 Drivers to Win the Nationwide Series Championship

1.      Austin Dillon: Fresh of his first-career Nationwide victory, Dillon has nothing left to prove. The rookie has lived up to and exceeded any possible expectations this season, and a championship is within his reach. In fact, he was sitting atop the standings until a six-point penalty dropped him to four points. Still, Dillon leads all the series regulars with eight top-five finishes and is tied for the series lead with 11 top 10s. His 7.6 average finish is also the best among the title contenders. Experience may not be on his side, but talent certainly is. Dillon should be even more confident following his first win, and that could be bad news for the competition.

2.      Elliott Sadler: After picking up two wins early in the year, Elliott Sadler has settled back into to his typical consistent results. He is tied for the series lead with 11 top-10s this season, and his 7.9 average finish is the second best among the series regulars. Sadler is currently clinging to a four-point lead in the standings, and while his six top-five finishes are the fewest among the top three drivers, he has to like his chances long term. His biggest strength is his ability to stay out of trouble and deliver consistent top-10 finishes. His main competition appears to be a rookie and a driver that suddenly has a lot to think about after learning he will be moving to the Cup Series next season. Sadler could take advantage and outlast the rest of the contenders.

3.      Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse is the aforementioned driver that will be jumping to the Cup Series in 2013. Following the announcement that Matt Kenseth will leave Roush Fenway Racing, the defending Nationwide Series champ was the logical replacement in the No. 17. However, getting promoted doesn’t necessarily help Stenhouse’s Nationwide title defense. His team was already dealing with some uncharacteristic mechanical issues, and now, Stenhouse has a lot more to think about. Winning a title in any series takes focus, and it remains to be seen if Stenhouse can deal with this new distraction. He does lead all series regulars with three victories, but he has gone five races without a top-five finish and has finished 25th or worse three times during the stretch. Stenhouse isn’t trending in the right direction.

4.      Sam Hornish Jr.: He has quietly moved within 31 points of the top spot in the standings, and Hornish has been the picture of consistency in 2012. After a 20th-place finish in the season opener, he has reeled off 14 straight top-15 finishes. His 9.6 average finish is actually the third best among the series regulars, and Hornish seems to be getting stronger. He has finished sixth or better in his last three starts, leading laps in two of the races. Hornish was already piling up top-10s, and if he is going to start finishing in the top five on a regular basis, he could continue to charge up the standings.

5.      Justin Allgaier: After a rocky start to 2012, Allgaier has recaptured his championship form the last couple of months. He has finished in the top 10 in five of his last six starts, leading laps in all but one race during the stretch. Allgaier has a 12.4 average finish for the year, but he has an 8.0 average finish in his last six starts. He still has quite a hole to dig out of thanks to his stumble out of the gate, but he is doing what he can to close the gap. Ultimately, he is going to need a few wins and probably some help from the top guys in order to catch up. Still, Allgaier has established himself as the only driver other than the current top four in the standings that is capable of winning the championship.

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NASCAR Power Rankings Week 10: Top 5 Drivers to Win the Nationwide Series Championship

NASCAR Power Rankings Week 10: Top 5 Drivers to Win the Nationwide Series Championship: The Nationwide Series season is only nine races old, but the list of title contenders has already been narrowed. Unlike the Cup Series where the Chase system resets the standings in the final 10 races, the Nationwide Series uses a more traditional point system which does allow a drive or two to separate from the rest of the field. Throw in the fact that there are a very limited number of competitive teams that are eligible for the championship, and it’s not overly surprising that a handful of contenders have already emerged.

2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series Power Rankings – Week 10

1.      Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: After winning the series title last season, Stenhouse is making it very clear that he wants to make it back-to-back championships. He has built up a 23-point lead thanks to a series-leading six top-five finishes and eight top 10s. Stenhouse also has a pair of wins already, and his 5.0 average finish is tops among title-eligible drivers. One of the keys to his success has been his performance in qualifying. Stenhouse has started in the top 10 in all nine races in 2012. He is looking every bit the best driver in the Nationwide Series these days, and the only thing that might stop him from winning a handful of titles is his inevitable move to the Cup Series.

2.      Austin Dillon: Dillon isn’t sitting atop the point standings, but he has been by far the most impressive driver in 2012. The 22-year old rookie has wasted little time establishing himself as a future star. He ranks second in the series with seven top-10s and five top-five finishes, and he hasn’t finished worse than 17th all year. To top it off, he has been incredible in qualifying, starting ninth or better in every race, including seven starts from the top five. The only thing missing from Dillon’s resume is a win, and it probably won’t be long before he gets that monkey off his back, as well. The grandson of car owner Richard Childress is only going to get better as he gains experience, and in a couple of years, he will likely be driving for his grandfather at the Cup level.

3.      Elliott Sadler: He came up just short of a championship last season, and Sadler is once again in position to make a title run. He has four top-five finishes and seven top-10s through nine starts, and unlike last year when he went winless, Sadler has already made a pair of trips to Victory Lane. His two biggest strengths are his experience and his consistency. Sadler won’t make any major mistakes that kill his title chances, and he should be within striking distance all season long.

Auto Racing

4.      Sam Hornish Jr.: A couple of years ago, the Cup Series washout appeared headed back to open-wheel racing. Now, he is sitting in the top five in the Nationwide Series standings. Hornish seemed to gain a ton of confidence following his victory at Phoenix last fall, and the momentum has carried over into 2012. Since finishing 20th in the season open at Daytona, he has reeled off eight straight finishes of 13th or better. More importantly, Hornish is getting stronger as the year goes on. Both of his top-five finishes have come in his last three starts. NASCAR fans that remember Hornish’s struggles in the Cup Series will have a tough time buying into him as a legitimate contender, but at least at the Nationwide level, he has figured out stock car racing.

5.      Cole Whitt: The JR Motorsports driver has been flying under the radar, but he has climbed to fifth in points and appears to be hitting his stride. He has a pair of top-five finishes and four top-10s in nine start this season, including finishes of fourth and 10th in his last two starts. Thanks in part to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s always-top notch restrictor-plate equipment, Whitt’s two top-five finishes have come at Daytona and Talladega. How his 10th-place run at Darlington showcased his upside. Whitt started 40th at one of the toughest tracks on the schedule and methodically worked his way forward. The best is yet to come for Whitt.

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