The Frontstretch: Nuts for Nationwide: A NASCAR Journeyman's (Comparably) Hot Start by Kevin Rutherford -- Friday March 22, 2013

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If you’re looking for a feel-good story four races into the Nationwide Series season, look no further than Mike Harmon.

Harmon, a longtime journeyman contender in multiple NASCAR series and ARCA, published an article with Catchfence last October decrying the change from 43- to 40-car Nationwide fields, writing that he “just [didn’t] think NASCAR has really thought this thing out” and that he was “just about finished with NASCAR.”

Months later, Harmon, 55, has slotted his No. 74 Chevrolet within the top 30 in owners points, ensuring him a guaranteed spot in the Nationwide field.

Mike Harmon has had a long if not particularly distinguished NASCAR career but this year Harmon and his underfunded 74 car have locked in a spot in the Nationwide Top 30 for the time being.

It’s a rare bright spot in what has been a fairly unspectacular NASCAR career for Harmon. In almost 200 Nationwide and Truck races, he’s never finished in the top 10 in an event in either series and only attempted the full season once — 2003, in the Nationwide Series.

Being able to even run an entire race is a task for Harmon, let alone finishing in the top 20 or even top 30. His finish of 17th in the season-opening race at Daytona tied his best finish of all time in the series, the other time coming in 2008 at Talladega.

But 2013 has been different. Harmon has raced the No. 74 in three races this season, never finishing lower than 28th. Kevin Lepage drove the car at Las Vegas, retiring 47 laps from the finish and coming in 36th.

Finishes of 17th, 27th, 28th and 36th may seem incredibly unspectacular to many, but for an underfunded team that has struggled to find speed in the past, a slot in the top 30 has to bring great vibes.

What’s the difference this year? It could be the addition of Dave Novak, formerly a partner with Jennifer Jo Cobb, to the team (the No. 74 has been billed under Dave Novak Racing a few times this year). It could be sponsorship; the team had funding at Bristol, for instance, from local company, JD Squared. It could be mere luck.

But will it last? Hard to say; there’s no indication, after all, he’ll run the full season and continue to do so without parking every so often. Many teams on the outside looking in, such as Jamie Dick’s No. 55 and Mike Wallace’s No. 01, have struggled to open the year but have the speed to make it into the top 30 eventually. What Harmon will need is a continuation of the circumstances thus far, especially when it comes to the restrictor plate events.

Until then, after years of struggle, it’s good to see him able to lock himself in at the races — for now.

Quick Hits

-In other underfunded team news, Morgan Shepherd is scaling back his schedule for 2013, citing sponsorship woes. According to a Facebook post from Shepherd, he doesn’t know “if or when” the No. 89 will be back at the track. He failed to qualify in the two races he entered so far in 2013.

-Mid-Ohio is sure to bring quite a few road course ringers a-calling, and it looks like Graham Rahal wants to be one of them. Rahal, an Ohioan who competes in the IndyCar Series, is currently searching for a ride in the August race, saying that he “[wants] to do it really bad,” and noting that the IndyCar schedule “certainly has the time.” He also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of other one-offs in the series, but is not considering a move to NASCAR.

-As per a tweet on his personal Twitter, Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) will make a return to the Nationwide Series starting at Richmond, driving the No. 37 Keller Williams Realty/Accelerate Credit Repair Dodge (!) for Vision Racing, owned by Adrian Berryhill. DiBenedetto is a former development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Looking forward: California

Stats (entered drivers)

Most wins: Kyle Busch (5)

Top average finish: Austin Dillon (5.0, 1 race), Brad Sweet (6.0, 1), Kyle Busch (7.2, 14), Brian Vickers (10.9, 7), Trevor Bayne (12.2, 5)

California Nationwide Debuts: Jason White, Juan Carlos Blum, Nelson Piquet Jr., Kyle Larson, Dakoda Armstrong, Hal Martin, Jamie Dick, Travis Pastrana, Paulie Harraka, Dexter Stacey, Kevin Swindell, Alex Bowman

Season Debuts: Dakoda Armstrong, Paulie Harraka

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