Kevin Rutherford · Thursday February 21, 2013
In part two of the 2013 Nationwide Series preview, let’s take a look at the drivers I expect to finish in the top 10 of the overall points standings. Check out part one of the preview here!
10. Brian Scott
After a tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing, Scott moves over to Richard Childress Racing, effectively switching rides with Elliott Sadler. I’ve seen some improvement from the Idaho native over the years, culminating thus far with two top-5 finishes and 11 top 10s in 2012. But I want to see more. A change of pace may be what he needs, and now, he’s paired with a team that nearly won the championship two years in a row. I’d rank him higher, as a result but there’s still a lot of unknowns with Scott, who has yet to win in the series.
9. Kyle Larson
Not only will Kyle Larson win Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year award; he’ll end the year in the top 10 in points. In fact, the reason he’s not higher up in my preseason ranking is because of his relative inexperience. Hell, racing in this weekend’s Daytona season opener will be his debut in the series, after four races in the Camping World Trucks. There’s a lot of unknowns, even for a kid who has shown exceptional promise. Plus, if his racing earlier this week was any indication (see: Late Model controversy) he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch, if anything.
8. Michael Annett
It may be hard to believe, but 2013 marks Annett’s fifth full season in NASCAR’s second-tier series. He’s flown relatively under the radar most years, breaking out in 2012 with his first-ever top-five finishes (six total) and a fifth-place result in the final standings. While I don’t think he’ll top that ranking due to sheer talent trickling in, this will be the year we finally see Annett in Victory Lane. With the same team behind him, as in 2012, I doubt he’ll do much worse than eighth.
7. Justin Allgaier
Last week, I said Kyle Larson would be the class of the Turner Scott Motorsports team. But the more I thought about it, I realized that I feel better about Allgaier’s chances. It’s also Allgaier’s fifth season in Nationwide, and he still hasn’t broken out in a way that makes him a prime contender for a Cup gig. That said, if he can string together some wins against a fairly potent field, 2013 may actually be his best year to excel. He’ll win at least one.
6. Trevor Bayne
FINALLY! After years of being stuck in part-time purgatory, Trevor Bayne is apparently getting a full-time ride in a NASCAR series, this time the Roush No. 6 Ford vacated by the promoted Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. As the top dog at the organization (let’s be real, Travis Pastrana isn’t going to set the racing world on fire [or set it on fire and jump a car through it]), he’ll have quite a bit of resources at his disposal. Bayne’ll be good for a win or two, but his inexperience with an entire schedule is what causes concern.
5. Regan Smith
If one driver has momentum left over from 2012, it might be Smith, who won the season finale at Homestead last November with his new team, JR Motorsports. In terms of 2013: I will never doubt Smith’s talent. That said, I will doubt JR Motorsports, which has not been as strong in recent seasons as it had been in the past. That could have been an issue of hiring Cole Whitt and Danica Patrick, two drivers with less stock car experience, as its drivers in 2012, but it’s still tough to say whether Smith will be able to compete at the level that, say, Brian Vickers will. JR Motorsports will learn something from him, though.
4. Sam Hornish Jr.
I firmly believe this will be Sam Hornish, Jr.‘s last season in Nationwide if he puts together another solid season; after that, it’ll be back to Cup, sponsorship permitting. He has to get through 2013 performing even better than he did in 2012 (see: 10 top-fives, 22 top-10s), adding a few wins to his resume. I think he’ll be good for a few wins, and will be battling hard with his fellow former Cup full-timers.
3. Elliott Sadler
Sadler lost his biggest competition for the title in Stenhouse, but gained a few more competitors, so this championship is by no means his automatically. He’ll need to get past his former Childress teammate and his current Gibbs teammate to do so. Speaking of, his move to Gibbs will work out for the better; I honestly believe he was going to take a back seat at the organization in favor of Austin Dillon. At Gibbs, he’s at least on the same ground as Brian Vickers. If he can continue to perform as he has in the past without faltering at season’s end, this prediction might be too conservative.
2. Brian Vickers
Of all the former Cuppers coming down to the lower series to run for a championship, Vickers has the best chance at a title by virtue of sheer talent. Just a few years ago, he was in the Chase, and he hasn’t gotten much worse as a driver since. An inability to find a formidable Cup ride is what puts him in Nationwide, which is a much better decision than starting and parking for a Cup team. He’ll not only stay relevant in 2013, he’ll also win quite a few races for an organization that knows a thing or two about doing so. It’s good to see him back full-time.
1. Austin Dillon
The man that will keep Vickers and Sadler from redemption is a future NASCAR star, but you already knew that. When the dust settles, Dillon will emerge victorious because he’s the best driver of all of them in this moment. With Sadler gone from Childress, Dillon takes up the mantle of top dog, and he’ll no doubt be looking to make a great statement before inevitably moving to Cup. He’ll win not necessarily by sheer amount of wins but from consistency, in that he’ll very rarely finish outside the top five or 10. Already a Truck Series champion, he’ll add a Nationwide trophy to his repertoire in 2013.
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