Brad Morgan · Tuesday July 23, 2013
The Sprint Cup Series took a backseat to the Nationwide Series this weekend while the biggest stars of stock car racing prepare for the 20th annual Brickyard 400 at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, meaning it is again time for Who’s Hot and Who’s Not to examine the contenders in NASCAR’s other major divisions.
Sam Hornish Jr. topped Part 1 of the Nationwide and Camping World edition and continues to lead the standings, while new faces have gained momentum behind the STP 300 runner-up. Meanwhile, the trucks are set to make history at Eldora Speedway in the first ever CarCash Mudsummer Classic – a 75-mile, multi-segment affair to be played out at the Rossburg, Ohio based clay oval.
This edition of Hot or Not shows that a number of veterans in the Nationwide and Truck Series’ will need to bring their “A” game during the remainder of the NASCAR calendar to keep up with a vast amount of young talent.
Rumors and speculation continue to mount as to the replacement for Kevin Harvick as he prepares to depart from Richard Childress Racing after the 2013 Sprint Cup season. Austin Dillon’s name has often surfaced as a major contender to fill the vacancy left by Harvick, but his chance of beating out free agent Cup regulars like Ryan Newman will somewhat hinge on the current Nationwide Series campaign.
Judging by his recent form, Dillon could indeed put the No. 3 back into Cup competition next year. However, after what could be considered a slow start compared to last season, Dillon has closed the gap on points leaders Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith by recording seven top-10 finishes over the past eight races, including top 5s in the last three events. Over the last two months Childress’ nephew has also won six pole awards.
Dillon’s next stop is the Mudsummer Classic, where he’ll compete in the No. 39 RSS Racing Chevrolet. But when the Nationwide Series resumes for the second half of its season, Dillon will be a player in the championship hunt, if 2012 was any indication.
Matt Crafton will also compete for a historic win at Eldora, where he arrives as the Camping World Truck Series points leader. Having already compiled top 10s in the first nine scheduled races, success on the dirt would continue what has been Crafton’s most successful season to date.
With a truck win at Kansas Speedway earlier this season and top 10s in his first two career Nationwide Series races, Crafton appears better than ever in his 14th year in NASCAR.
Timothy Peters was the subject of criticism in the first Nationwide and Truck Series Hot or Not because of his struggles at Daytona driving for Red Horse Racing, but Peters has returned to form over the past four races – a stretch capped by his win at Iowa Speedway Saturday.
The 32-year-old driver moves up to eighth in driver’s points as a result. He sits in the company of several young guns who are quickly leaving their marks in NASCAR.
Sons of current NASCAR drivers, Jeb Burton and Ryan Blaney, are proving their worth over the long haul, recording solid finishes on a regular basis. While another such driver, Chase Elliott, has no finish worse than sixth in his first four truck series starts.
Burton won in his 12th career start at Texas Motor Speedway, beating Ty Dillon a late-race restart and then held him off to strengthen a hold to second in the standings. He currently sits ahead of Blaney, Elliott, and others, as the series moves towards the second half of its schedule.
Regan Smith is making the most of his opportunity to drive for JR Motorsports full-time in the Nationwide Series. So far, Smith has already won twice and led the points over a 10-race stretch from Talladega through Loudon. He has also experienced a prolonged streak of top-10 finishes that didn’t end until Road America in June. Since that race, Smith hasn’t posted the same consistently good finishes, but he remains in contention for the Nationwide Series championship.
Nationwide driver Michael Annett was knocked out of competition for roughly three months after suffering a fractured and dislocated sternum during a multi-car wreck at Daytona on Feb. 23. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver required surgery to repair his injuries immediately after they were discovered.
Annett finished 17th in his return to action at Charlotte Motor Speedway and didn’t record a top-10 finish until a fifth-place effort in New Hampshire. Over that span he also had two crash-related DNFs and appeared to have accumulated some rust during his time off that is keeping him from performing at his 2012 level.
It’s unfortunate that Annett was forced out of the car for so long, especially with other young drivers being cast into the spotlight and placed into consideration for Cup Series rides. Still, the 27-year-old has recently shown flashes of his ’12 form and finished 16th, on the lead lap at Chicagoland Speedway.
After leading only 28 laps for the entirety 2012 season, Ron Hornaday Jr. has led for 21 circuits through nine races this season. That could be considered good if not compared to virtually all of his 14 previous years in the Camping World Truck Series.
The lack of laps led is just one precursor of another down year for the four-time series champion. Currently he occupies the 12th position in points, behind drivers that he had no problems beating regularly in years past.
Travis Pastrana kicked off his Nationwide Series career with a surprising seventh-place finish at Daytona, but since then things haven’t been as easy for the talented off-road racer. Overall, Pastrana has only three top 10s in 18 races with each coming during his first seven starts.
A lack of top 10s hasn’t been the only problem for the Roush Fenway driver. He has also posted four DNFs, two of which have come in restrictor plate races, after dodging multi-car wrecks in his debut. Those DNFs combined with an overall lack of consistency and inabilities to remain on the lead lap on many occasions have all contributed to his 14th-place position in driver’s points.
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