While Silly Season has been a hot topic on the Cup side for months at a time, RCR’s choice to release Scott Wimmer in favor of Stephen Leicht for 2009 may well mark the start of driver shuffling in the Nationwide Series. As the season begins to wind down and the series finds itself in the heat of a points chase for the first time in years, development drivers and other young talents may find themselves lost in the mix as Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski duke it out for a championship.
That’s a shame, because there are plenty of able-bodied individuals out there just willing to get here – five future stars that should be gracing the Nationwide Series with a full-time presence next year.
Justin Allgaier – In his limited incursions into NASCAR, Allgaier certainly hasn’t set the world on fire. In his eight Truck Series starts, he has never cracked the top 20 (his best finish is 21st). Granted, Allgaier’s performances were in subpar trucks, but they still did little to boost his stock as a prospect. However, Allgaier has demonstrated his true talent in the ARCA Re/Max Series ranks over the last three seasons, as he has dramatically improved his results while still driving unsponsored, under-funded racecars.
Driving for a family-owned team, Allgaier posted top-10 points finishes in 2006 and 2007, proving his mettle on both short tracks and the dirt ovals of Illinois. 2008 has seen Allgaier improve even further. In addition to short-track victories at Toledo and Cayuga, Allgaier scored the biggest win of his career when he outran Scott Speed to the checkers at Pocono, his first career speedway victory. Currently sitting fourth in ARCA Re/Max points despite facing far bigger teams at Eddie Sharp Racing and Roush Fenway Racing week in and week out, Allgaier has come a long way by doing more with less.
James Buescher – Buescher made his debut in big-time stock car racing in the ARCA Re/Max Series last season, winning his first ever race at the USA International Speedway at the age of 16, making him the youngest winner in series history. Buescher also holds the same distinction in the ASA Late Model Series, making him a phenom. Besides a demonstrated ability to win and win early, Buescher has delivered remarkable consistency in every ride he’s ever driven.
In 2007, Buescher posted six top 10s in seven ARCA starts. In 2008, Buescher has completed 99.8% of the laps he has run in USAR Hooters Pro Cup competition, along with posting top 20s in four of his five Nationwide Series starts with Braun Racing – including a career-best seventh-place run at Gateway in July. Most importantly, Buescher has kept his equipment in one piece in his limited Nationwide outings.
Though his race at ORP resulted in a disappointing 28th-place finish, Buescher kept an ill-handling car clean and out of trouble all night long. There aren’t many 18-year-old drivers out there that have as much patience and consistency to build upon as Buescher. Here’s hoping Braun Racing values this prospect more than Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin when filling the No. 32 seat for 2009.
Landon Cassill – With Keselowski deservedly stealing the headlines at JR Motorsports, its easy to overlook the marked improvement of the team’s other development driver, Cassill. In his limited starts for Hendrick Motorsports in 2007, Cassill often appeared lost on the racetrack, a trait especially obvious in his debut at Gateway – a welcome mat which he answered by getting in a hard crash. One year later, Cassill returned to Gateway and showed how much he has improved by scoring a career-best sixth-place finish.
After struggling at the start of the 2008 season, Cassill has made tremendous progress in his limited races in the No. 5 Chevrolet, with three top 10s in his last four starts. Cassill also scored a solid 14th-place run in the rain-soaked event at Montreal in only his second career road course race. When coupled with the solid outings that he has posted in a limited Truck Series schedule, Cassill very well may need only the consistency of a full-time ride to break out, an opportunity he deserves to get.
Jeremy Clements – It’s hard not to admire the accomplishments of Clements given his circumstances. For years, Clements has toiled in the ARCA Re/Max Series, making starts in unsponsored rides only when funding was available. Despite this, Clements has proven to be a threat on speedways whenever the ARCA Series comes to town. Clements has an ARCA win at Nashville to his credit and was 100 yards from winning at Pocono before running out of fuel coming to the checkers.
Clements’s success in ARCA translated into a Nationwide Series ride at the end of 2007 with McGill Motorsports, but a lack of sponsorship closed the team before the 2008 season. As a result, Clements this year has struggled trying to make limited Nationwide starts with a family-owned team, an effort that has been sidelined after a blown tire wrecked his primary car before qualifying at Michigan.
But any doubts of Clements’s ability to get it done at the Nationwide level were quelled at this season’s race at Kentucky. With Kyle Busch driving in a truck race in Michigan, Clements ran Nationwide practice for Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. After a strong showing in practice, Clements raced the No. 18 into the field for Busch, who later took Clements’s setup from the back of the field to the race lead within 40 laps. Clements has paid his dues big-time, and is more due than any prospect out there for a little luck and opportunity.
Cale Gale – Gale jumped onto the stock car racing stage in 2006 with a surprising victory driving for James Finch in an ARCA race at Gateway International. Since then, Gale has been in a development program with Kevin Harvick Incorporated, and while his results in 2007 were nothing to write home about, Gale has stepped his game up big this summer. After scoring only two top 20s through the month of May, Gale has not finished outside the top 20 in Nationwide competition since.
Gale’s short-track roots have shone especially bright in the summer months, with finishes of sixth and fourth at ORP and Bristol, respectively. More importantly though, Gale has improved dramatically in two key areas; qualifying and speedway racing. In his last three races, Gale started third at ORP, second at Michigan, and on the pole at Bristol. Also, after posting solid top-20 runs at Kentucky and Gateway, Gale turned heads at Michigan after qualifying second and running in the top 10 all race long (he finished 19th after the caution came out in the middle of green-flag pit stops).
Gale’s short-track talent is well known, and with his ability to race on longer ovals clearly developing, it may well be time for Kevin Harvick the driver to give way to Kevin Harvick the owner. Because the owner has a real diamond in the rough waiting to take the reins of the No. 33.
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