Nuts for Nationwide · Bryan Davis Keith · Friday November 16, 2012
One race. Three hundred miles. Three contenders left. Let’s handicap the 2013 Nationwide Series championship race as it ends in Homestead:
Austin Dillon, No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
3rd in points (-25)
2 wins, 26 top 10s
Season Recap: The defending Truck Series champion took to the Nationwide Series like a fish to water, sweeping the season’s events at Kentucky while leading the series in top 10 finishes. Dillon, who obviously benefited from his No. 3 team moving with him from Trucks to Nationwide, has been a contender on every type of race track in 2012, and has firmly established himself among the favorites for 2013 even as he enters Homestead with a mathematical shot at the 2012 crown.
Why He’ll Win
Though it was asked in jest, Dillon’s response to a media day question regarding Saturday’s race and his ability to win the championship had some merit; Dillon remarked ““I hope they door slam each other off of Turn 4 and I make it through the smoke.”
“I’m actually waiting for Elliott to get back Ricky, which he owes him from Richmond and Bristol this year. I’m still trying to figure out when that’s going to happen.”
The takeaway there? Dillon’s the only driver of the three at the front of the Nationwide field that doesn’t have an active feud festering under the surface 32 races into the 2012 campaign. Dillon also has championship experience to fall back on…he delivered a top 10 finish at Homestead a year ago to clinch the Truck Series title. In his NASCAR career, Dillon has never qualified outside the top 5 at Homestead, an indicator that track position won’t be an issue at this track for the No. 3 team.
Why He Won’t
Dillon’s been the third wheel in this rematch from 2011 all season long. He’s won fewer races, he’s got two drivers to make the jump over this weekend, and he’s racing two competitors that have championship experience not just at this track, but in these race cars. Dillon’s margin of error with regard to points is also narrow; at least four and as many as nine start-and-parkers will take the green on Saturday, all positions that Dillon will not have to work with while praying Sadler and Stenhouse find trouble.
Elliott Sadler, No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2nd in points (-20)
4 wins, 23 top 10s
Season Recap: It only took Sadler two races to do what he failed to for all of 2011; return to victory lane in a Nationwide Series car. Unlike his slow start to last season, Sadler started 2012 red-hot and was the championship favorite for the vast majority of 2012.
Why He’ll Win
There isn’t a driver in this field hungrier than Sadler to bring this championship home. A driver who’s both on his way out at RCR and outspoken still in his desire to get back to Cup racing, Sadler is in dire need to shake off an unfortunate late season slump and to prove he can close the deal. Sadler has far more experience on the Homestead-Miami Speedway than Dillon and Stenhouse combined (20 starts across the three national touring series), including a top 10 result in this race one year ago.
Sadler also has an ace up his sleeve should he need to use it…he can put the chrome horn to Stenhouse guilt-free.
Why He Won’t
Just about every obstacle facing Sadler’s RCR teammate Dillon faces the No. 2 team as well. Sadler and team it must be remembered have not been playing catch up all year, but rather slumped at just the wrong time in the season. The vast majority of their current points deficit also came just a week ago at Phoenix, a product entirely of the driver getting in over his head late. The No. 2 team is the only one of the three title contenders entering Saturday’s race on a cold streak.
One other point…between Sadler and Dillon, which team is getting first pick at equipment this weekend? Blood is thicker…
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Points leader (+20)
6 wins, 25 top 10s
Season Recap: Stenhouse would have run away with title defense in the Nationwide Series this year had it not been for an ugly stretch in the late spring, including an engine failure at Charlotte and an unassisted wreck at Dover. Stenhouse’s strong second half and series leading six wins ended up landing him a full-time Cup Series ride for 2013.
Why He’ll Win
Stenhouse clinches the championship by finishing 16th or better. He and the No. 6 team are the defending Nationwide Series champions, meaning Saturday should feel very familiar and comfortable to the team. Furthermore, they finished second in this race a year ago.
The No. 6 team has an average finish of 2.6 the last three events, and has led double digit laps in five of the last six races on intermediate ovals.
Why He Won’t
Stenhouse for all his strength in 2012 has also made a number of self-induced mistakes on-track this year, including scrubbing the wall on numerous occasions on the same intermediate ovals he’s run so well on. Stenhouse has proven harder than any of the three title contenders to reign in on track; i.e., he’s very aggressive regardless of the big picture. Stenhouse will not have a teammate to lean on during the Homestead race weekend.
Writer’s Choice: Stenhouse’s 2011 trophy gets a new playmate.
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