The Frontstretch: Nuts for Nationwide: The Series' Biggest Surprises Of 2013... So Far by Kevin Rutherford -- Friday September 13, 2013

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Nuts for Nationwide: The Series' Biggest Surprises Of 2013... So Far

Kevin Rutherford · Friday September 13, 2013

 

The news of NASCAR’s backlash to Michael Waltrip Racing’s race-fixing Chase fiasco has been the talk of the sport over the past week in that it’s been the topic. What else has there been to talk about in NASCAR this week besides the Chase, for better or for worse? Wasn’t it a major surprise when NASCAR dropped the hammer on Waltrip and Co. rather than sitting idly by and doing nothing?

But the Sprint Cup Series isn’t the only circuit to get some shock factor injected into its day-to-day operations recently. The Nationwide Series has had its share of surprises as well — though none as deafening as Cup’s Chase problem.

Still, the Nationwide Series hasn’t been without its shocking trends in 2013. Below are a few of the bigger surprises of this season so far.

No one expected Brian Vickers to be winless, just a fringe factor in the championship race at this point in the Nationwide Series season.

Brian Vickers Winless In 2013

Coming into the new season, everyone expected Vickers to be one of the series’ top competitors, a title contender driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, arguably the top team in the sport. It was going to be his ticket back to relevance in NASCAR, perhaps a portal to a full-time ride in the Cup Series. Well, he did accomplish the latter, for sure. The former? Not so much. Vickers has 12 top-5 finishes in 2013, a number beat only by Kyle Busch. Good, right? Definitely decent, but he’s also winless, taking a backseat to his Cup contemporaries like Busch and Matt Kenseth at Gibbs. Plus, a lackluster start to the year knocked him down a few pegs, culminating in a sixth-place spot in points with eight races to go — 53 points behind the lead. I guess it doesn’t matter, given his ride for 2014, but you still expected much more from him.

Travis Pastrana Is Well Outside The Top 10 In Points

To be fair, this is Pastrana’s first full-time season in NASCAR. After an aborted 2011 attempt, he ran nine races last year and was OK, scoring a best finish of 13th and an average of about 21st while suffering just one DNF. Those results aren’t exactly precursors to major success, but a ride with Roush Fenway Racing tends to be. Nonetheless, the numbers are disappointing: no wins or top 5s, with just four top 10s, three of those coming in the first seven races. Add to that four DNFs-by-crash, a score of other races ruined by accidents, plus handling problems galore and you get a season to forget. Rather than eclipsing Danica, Pastrana’s kindred spirit in terms of incoming hype, their stats in their first full Nationwide seasons are actually nearly identical — something incredibly unexpected.

AJ Allmendinger Won Two Races

I mean, damn. We knew AJ Allmendinger was a good road racer, but did we expect this kind of domination? 2-for-2? A 100 percent win percentage? Penske Racing, especially its No. 22, has been able to match Joe Gibbs Racing in many of its exploits of 2013 in the series, but Allmendinger still has that underdog feel, something he’ll undoubtedly maintain next season for JTG-Daugherty Racing. Still, given his contemporaries during many of his starts (see: Ron Fellows, Justin Allgaier, Marcos Ambrose) a two-win season for Allmendinger is crazy, especially considering where he was one year ago: on the outside looking in.

Four Drivers Still Have Major Shots at the Series Championship

Apologies to Justin Allgaier, Brian Vickers and everyone else behind them, but we’re down to a four-driver race. Instead of Vickers and Regan Smith really running away with the title, like I expected, the battle actually involves a lot of the same players as last season — Sam Hornish, Jr., Austin Dillon and Elliott Sadler — in addition to Smith. Ideally, each driver could be leading after the next race, while each could also fall way out of contention, like Allgaier, Vickers, Brian Scott and more have in recent weeks. The points battle has been a bright spot this season, and its volatile nature should continue to make it an exciting race all the way to the end.

Cole Whitt Still Doesn’t Have A Full-Time Ride

Just 11 races, and two top-10 finishes in TriStar equipment? Still salty after all these months.

What about y’all? Anything else that’s really surprised you this season in the Nationwide Series? Comments section, go!

Quick Hits

- Last week, I mentioned that the final few races of 2013 were prime opportunities to get a young, promising driver in his or her first Nationwide Series race. Well, one of my picks is getting his chance. Jeb Burton will make his series debut at Kentucky Speedway next weekend for Turner Scott Motorsports. He’ll pilot the No. 34, a car brought out this season for Danica Patrick and James Buescher on an incredibly part-time basis. He’ll get sponsorship from Arrowhead, his primary sponsor in the Camping World Truck Series, where he’s currently fourth in points with one win.

- Eric McClure is back in NASCAR. The series veteran, who has been sidelined with kidney illness for the last four races, will return to his Tristar Motorsports No. 14 at Chicagoland this weekend. McClure’s car will carry a new look for the remainder of the season, a silver-and-orange scheme for Hefty Ultimate with Arm & Hammer trash bags. Jeff Green, who has filled in for McClure during his recovery, will return to parking the team’s No. 10.

- Rumors swirled late last week that Tony Kanaan could be moving to the Nationwide Series in 2014 with Joe Gibbs Racing. According to Racer.com, Kanaan and Gibbs team officials met about a potential ride with the team, though Gibbs was quick to deny anything more than a small meeting. “There’s no deal,” Gibbs spokesperson Chris Helein said. “Just had an initial meeting. Nothing even being formally discussed.”

- Kenny Wallace will start his 900th NASCAR race at this weekend’s Dollar General 300. The part-time driver for RAB Racing and full-time TV commentator joins a group of drivers also reaching the milestone that include Richard Petty, Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte and more.

Looking Ahead: Chicagoland

Stats (entered drivers):

Most Wins: Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick (2)
Most Top Fives: Kyle Busch (5)
Most Top 10s: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Reed Sorenson, Justin Allgaier (5)
Most Poles: Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brian Scott, Sam Hornish, Jr. (1)

Entered Past Winners: Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier

Top Average Finish: Austin Dillon (4.0, 3 races), Sam Hornish, Jr. (5.2, 4), Joey Logano (6.4, 5), Justin Allgaier (8.1, 7), Parker Kligerman (8.7, 3)

Chicagoland Nationwide Debuts: Brett Butler, Maryeve Dufault, Kevin Swindell

Season Debuts: Maryeve Dufault

Series Debuts: None.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
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Lucas
09/15/2013 04:23 AM
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I laugh at all those who dismissed Logano’s talent in the NW cars driving for Gibbs. The detractors said it was the set up of the car and a monkey could do it. Well now that Logano is at Penske (and winning) the only simian able to produce anything of value is Kyle. LOL.

No suprise here.