14 February 2014

2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series Season Predictions

It was the best championship race in the top NASCAR series last year, and it was Austin Dillon who edged Sam Hornish, Jr. by three points to win the Nationwide Series title even without any victories. But now Dillon is on to the Sprint Cup Series, and Hornish is running part-time for Joe Gibbs Racing, and thus now it looks like a series that is wide open for the title. And beyond that, it is a bit of a transitional series as Nationwide Insurance is on its final year as title sponsor (but will be expanding their involvement in NASCAR). So who will win the Nationwide Series in 2014? Here are my predictions.

Cup Series Predictions
Truck Series Predictions

1. Regan Smith, #7 TaxSlayer/Ragu Camaro, JR Motorsports
Smith had high expectations in his first full season with JR Motorsports after winning in his sole start for the organization at Homestead in 2012, and while he did not win the title, it is safe to say the season was a success. He won twice and led the points for two months from Talladega in May to New Hampshire in July, but he was hurt by inconsistency in the second half of the year and back-to-back finishes 30th or worse at Road America and Kentucky which ate into his points lead. This year, Smith is going to put it all together and do one better.

2. Trevor Bayne, #6 Advocare Mustang, Roush Fenway Racing
At least Bayne finally got a full Nationwide season for Roush last year, but a sixth-place finish was a relative disappointment for the 2010 Daytona 500 champ, but it was also a career high points finish. I think he is ready to make a real championship push for a team that went back-to-back with titles just a couple of years ago.

3. Elliott Sadler, #11 OneMain Financial Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
One would have thought that Sadler was poised for a strong 2013, and I did. After all, he had come so close to winning the 2012 title and was moving to JGR, which has been perhaps the dominant team in Nationwide action in recent years. Alas, it was a disappointing year for Sadler as he was never a title contender even as he did finish tied for fourth in points, and he never reached victory lane. I do think that he will get back into victory lane this year, and he will be a contender for the title, but I do not think he will get over the top.

4. James Buescher, #99 Rheem Camry, RAB Racing
Buescher surprised some folks by moving from Turner-Scott Motorsports, co-owned by his father-in-law, and their strong truck program to a RAB program that has never been serious contenders in the Nationwide before. But when you think about it, it makes sense. It gives Buescher the opportunity to excel on his own and the chance he wanted to run for a Nationwide title that he may not have gotten at TSM. Plus, RAB is an underrated team that has been competitive in years past, Kenny Wallace found some success with them in both 2011 and 2012 and Alex Bowman was speedy at times last year. Plus, Buescher brings some key sponsorship RAB has never had. This could be a sleeper to win it all.

5. Brian Scott, #2 Shore Lodge Camaro, Richard Childress Racing
He may not have gotten derided like Paul Menard has but Scott is another of those guys who are helped in finding rides by their sponsorship connections, but Scott had himself a quality year last year in finishing seventh in points. He also came damn close to winning his first Nationwide race through dominating the September Richmond race in which he led 239 of 250 laps, but they were the first 239 laps as Brad Keselowski led the final 11 for the win. Look for him to get his first win this year.

6. Ty Dillon, #3 Bass Pro Shops/Yuengling Light Camaro, Richard Childress Racing
I'm not sure that Dillon will come in and be a championship contender right away like Austin Dillon was, but I don't mean that as a slight on Ty Dillon, who is talented in his own right and was excellent in trucks. With strong sponsorship backing, as well as backing of his grandfather Richard Childresss, Dillon will be a contender right away although he may be a year away from matching his brother with a Nationwide title.

7. Chase Elliott, #9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro, JR Motorsports
Elliott, only the son of the legendary Million Dollar Bill, has been pegged for stardom for years now and he showed some flashes of greatness last year in limited Camping World Truck Series action with seven top tens, five top fives, a pole and the win at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. He continues to work as a Hendrick developmental driver and gets to drive for a strong JR Motorsports program with the full backing of NAPA. Rome was not built in a day, so we should not expect Elliott to come in and dominate right away though.

8. Brendan Gaughan, #62 South Point Camaro, Richard Childress Racing
Gaughan is another guy that is helped by sponsorship connections, but he has also proven himself to be a rock solid driver in both the Truck Series and in Nationwide and one could certainly expect him to do so in his return NNS trip with RCR. It would be a surprise to see him be a title contender, but he should certainly compete for a win or two and slide in solidly to the top ten.

9. Dylan Kwasniewski, #30 Rockstar Energy Camaro, Turner-Scott Motorsports
Kwasniewski is another wildly talented youngster embarking on his rookie campaign in Nationwide, and he comes in as the first ever champion of both the K&N Series West and K&N Series East. However, he comes with no experience beyond that, and team co-owner Harry Scott admitted that sponsor considerations were why he was promoted to Nationwide. That said, such a talented kid driving for a quality team with a very good crew chief (Pat Tryson) is going to be somebody to watch out for.

10. Ryan Reed, #16 Drive to Stop Diabetes Mustang, Roush Fenway Racing
The 20 year-old Reed is looking to become the first driver with diabetes to run a full NASCAR season, and he has the talent to be in the mix this year for some top fives and top tens. He showed promise in limited Nationwide action last year for Roush and looks to build on that in 2014.

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