The Frontstretch: Nuts for Nationwide: Five Drivers Who Need A Win To End The Year by Kevin Rutherford -- Friday October 4, 2013

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Nuts for Nationwide: Five Drivers Who Need A Win To End The Year

Kevin Rutherford · Friday October 4, 2013

 

The beginning of a NASCAR season is full of seemingly infinite possibilities. The previous season’s results and happenings are replaced by a blank slate, especially in the case of a driver joining a new team. Everyone is on the same level playing field at the start of the year: no DNFs, no top 10s and certainly no wins.

But now isn’t that time. Now, in fact, is crunch time.

When the Nationwide Series takes the track at Kansas Speedway this weekend, it’ll be the start of the final five races of 2013. That’s just five more opportunities to accomplish what hasn’t been done, to do what was to be obtained in early team meetings back in January and February…

Win.

In a season primarily dominated by Cup drivers, those victories have been hard to come by. In terms of series regulars, only Regan Smith, Trevor Bayne and Sam Hornish, Jr. have bested the racers from the higher series, while Ryan Blaney can add his name as a part-timer that has found Victory Lane. As such, the win column near the top of the standings is fairly lonely; only seven of the top 10 in points have them to their credit.

Even though the final five races of the season won’t see the Cup drivers back off, continuing to assault the regulars in their pursuits of Nationwide wins and/or owners’ championships, the last stretch of the season remains important for those they’re competing against – especially those yet to end their victory drought. In particular, here are five competitors for whom a win could work wonders as the sport heads into 2014…

Austin Dillon already has a Cup ride in place for next year, but a win in Nationwide before he moves up wouldn’t hurt his value.

Austin Dillon – Though he’s one of the favorites for the series championship as the season winds down, it’s important to note that Austin Dillon and winning haven’t been synonymous with each other. In two full Truck seasons, Richard Childress’ grandson won four races — a respectable amount, but nothing particularly head-turning. In his first full season in the Nationwide Series last year, he won twice. This year? No wins at all, despite a second-place spot in the points entering Kansas. It’s important for Dillon to visit Victory Lane this season not because of his short-term future — he already has a Cup ride set up for next season — but due to his long-term staying power. Sure, he’s shown he can compete, but can he win often, if at all, in the Cup Series? It’s time for Dillon to show that he can finish well, not just qualify (he has a combined 21 poles over the two series). If he leaves 2013 without a win and without winning the championship, I’m not sure his stock is going to rise.

Justin Allgaier – Justin Allgaier has had an interesting career. The former Penske driver moved to Turner Scott in 2011 and has fared well, winning two races over two seasons to exceed his one additional win with his former team over the same amount of time. But the guy hasn’t moved up to Cup full-time yet; in fact, he only just made his first start in the series. Clearly, he doesn’t have the major allure many Cup teams are looking for, and if he goes winless in 2013, that “prestige” is going to be impacted even further. Three straight seasons with a win? If Allgaier can’t extend that streak, who knows if he’ll ever get a Cup ride, as well as how long he’ll keep his current one.

Kyle Larson – A win for Kyle Larson would be the exclamation point on a solid season. The rookie hasn’t set the racing world on fire, but when he’s been good in his Turner Scott entry, he’s shown potential that exceeds many of today’s NASCAR stars. The kid has three runner-up finishes in 2013, the most recent coming last weekend at Dover. If he can toss in a first-career victory to go along with it, he’ll be all set for his rookie run in the Cup Series next year. Otherwise, those who believe he’s not ready for the next level will have even more fuel for their fire.

Brian Vickers – Because how in the heck has this guy not won a race? Like Dillon and Larson, Brian Vickers already has a Cup ride lined up for 2014, meaning what he does to close out this season is rendered fairly meaningless — and a Cup win earlier in the year doesn’t hurt. However, exiting the Nationwide Series after coming in not only as a title favorite, but also a surefire winner of multiple races as part of Joe Gibbs Racing, one of the best teams in the series, just doesn’t add up. If he can’t make it into Victory Lane, we might as well forget his comeback run in this series even happened at all.

Travis Pastrana – Expected Sadler, didn’t you? OK, expecting a win out of Pastrana is admittedly a major stretch; even a top 5 would do. Mostly, this guy just needs a nice break for once, and a win would get the naysayers off his back. His initial run in the Nationwide Series has been full of accidents and poor finishes, with only four top-10 results to his name. His team, Roush Fenway Racing, has been a little off overall this year anyway, but that still doesn’t excuse his general ineptitude given the quality of equipment. A win would do wonders — it might even give him a future in this sport. I’m not convinced he has one right now.

Quick Hits:

- Fare thee well, Marty Reid. The longtime play-by-play announcer on ESPN was let go last week after a history with the network that dates back to 1982. Reid had served as the announcer for the network’s Nationwide Series events this season, a role he’d filled at least in part since the TV contract went ESPN’s way in 2007. But in his final race, he prematurely announced the end of the event, awarding Ryan Blaney the victory one lap early. He will be replaced by Allen Bestwick for the remainder of the season.

- Nelson Piquet, Jr. has been fined $10,000, required to take part in sensitivity training and placed on probation for the remainder of the season following a homophobic comment he made on Parker Kligerman’s Instagram page. Piquet posted a three-letter word via comment on a picture Kligerman posted that is considered derogatory toward the homosexual community. He has since apologized for the incident.

- A number of Truck Series drivers are taking advantage of the off week to race in the Nationwide Series, including Jennifer Jo Cobb. The Truck regular will make her first Nationwide start of the 2013 season, piloting Rick Ware’s No. 23 with sponsorship from Mark One Electric.

- Richard Childress Racing’s No. 33 team has a new crew chief. Nick Harrison, former head wrench at Phoenix Racing, will take the helm after this weekend at Kansas. Jimmy Elledge will take Harrison’s post at Phoenix through the end of the year.

- Sprint Cup Series team Leavine Family Racing is working on a Nationwide Series debut. The team, which has run the No. 95 for David Starr, Scott Speed, Scott Riggs and Reed Sorenson in the Cup Series since its inception in 2011, will run its first race at Charlotte later this month for Sorenson. Meanwhile, Michael McDowell will drive the car at the team’s home base in Texas.

Looking Ahead: Kansas

Stats (Entered Drivers):

Most Wins: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Joe Nemechek, Jeff Green (1)
Most Top Fives: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch (4)
Most Top 10s: Kyle Busch (6)
Most Poles: Matt Kenseth (2)

Entered Past Winners: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Joe Nemechek, Jeff Green

Kansas Nationwide Debuts: Landon Cassill, Chris Buescher, Dakoda Armstrong, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Ken Butler, Nelson Piquet, Jr., Kyle Larson, Ryan Sieg, Travis Pastrana, Bryan Silas, Alex Bowman

Season Debuts: Jennifer Jo Cobb

Series Debuts: None

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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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