The NASCAR Nationwide Series might just have its best year in awhile in 2013. After years of Sprint Cup domination, whether in single races, series championships or both, the division is beginning to take on an identity of its own, solidifying itself beyond just a playground for the sport’s elite on Saturdays.
In preparation for the NASCAR premiere race next weekend, down at Daytona, let’s take a look at some of the top stories and drivers coming into 2013 in the form of preseason awards. These are the drivers, teams and tracks I expect to be considered the best at the end of the year, starting with smaller distinctions and moving towards the eventual champion. As the season hasn’t even kicked off yet, this is pure speculation… but I feel good about my choices.
For part two of the preview, check back next Friday.
*Top Former Full-Time Cup Driver: Brian Vickers*
It’s funny that this subject is a topic at all, but that just speaks to how many veterans of the sport are getting second chances in lower series. Elliott Sadler may have topped this category the last year or two by virtue of having such a solid team behind him in Richard Childress Racing, but 2013 is Vickers’ year to shine. Joining Sadler at Joe Gibbs Racing, Vickers will be a part of one of the Nationwide Series’ most successful organizations, driving the No. 20 Camry. Unlike Sadler and Regan Smith, Vickers may not have as much to prove, as it’s rumored he’ll be in the No. 55 for Michael Waltrip Racing in Cup in 2014. Still, he’s an undeniable talent and, I think, the best of the trio of he, Smith and Sadler. I expect wins and lots of them.
*Best New Fit: Parker Kligerman, Kyle Busch Motorsports*
Parker Kligerman’s time has come. After a few years of basically wasting away on Penske’s bench, he’s finally the top dog at an organization, not counting his high-profile owner, Kyle Busch. He showed exceptional promise in the Camping World Truck Series in 2012, particularly as part of Red Horse Racing. Now, Kyle Busch Motorsports hasn’t been great in its Nationwide tenure, but the team is no slouch. Combine the two, and you have an organization that may not contend for a win every week but will gel well together. Only issue? Sponsorship. And if Kligerman can’t perform, who knows if this team will even be around come, say, June.
*Best Race: Mid-Ohio*
A totally new track on the circuit _and_ a road course to boot? Sign me up. The addition of Mid-Ohio gives the Nationwide schedule a total of three road course races, the most of any of NASCAR’s top-tier series. Having not visited the track previously, Mid-Ohio promises to produce some great competition; after all, perhaps some interesting entries may occur due to it being the inaugural race. I may be biased because I’m from just downstate… but still…
*Rookie of the Year: Kyle Larson*
Easy choice? Yeah. Sue me. Larson may not even have a full season in the Camping World Truck Series, but he’s shown incredible promise in that division (three top 10s in four races) and has stock car experience in the K&N Pro Series East, winning the championship in 2012. Larson will contend for top-10 finishes every week. He will win at least one race. He will be the class of the Turner Scott Motorsports stable. He will be in Cup very soon. For now, enjoy him in Nationwide and take pride in telling your kids one day that you followed his rookie season in a major NASCAR series.
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