Today’s Ford EcoBoost 300 could mark a historic day for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. If Stenhouse, Jr. can finish 16th or better, he will become the fifth driver in series history (Martin Truex, Jr., Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Randy Lajoie, Larry Pearson) to win consecutive titles in what is now the Nationwide Series.
One thing going for Stenhouse is he is the defending race winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the track has been a good spot for Ford. Stenhouse starts fourth in the Cargill Ford Mustang – right behind his main championship rival, Elliott Sadler.
Sadler, trailing by 20 points, needs to win and hope something happens to Stenhouse, to avoid a collapse for a second consecutive season. Sadler, winner of four races and four poles in 2012, held a solid points lead late in the season.
However, handling issues late in races and self-inflicted wounds took what looked like a sure title away from the veteran from South Boston, Va. Sadler will be moving on to another major team in the Nationwide Series for 2013 and has a good shot to leave Richard Childress Racing with a win, starting from the outside of the front row in his One Main Financial Chevy.
For Sadler’s teammate Austin Dillon, the 2012 season was successful for the grandson of car owner Richard Childress. Coming off a Camping World Truck Series title in 2011, Dillon will be the rookie of the year, on the heels of two wins and three poles. Like Stenhouse and Sadler, Dillon led the points this season. A difficult stretch of races in the summer put Dillon behind and he was never able to recover.
Dillon’s rookie season in Nationwide is similar to his rookie season in the trucks, where he won races and poles and finished well in points. In his second season, he won the title. Dillon will start his Advocare Chevy in the third position today. While Joe Gibbs Racing stands to have two veteran drivers, the favorite for the 2013 title should be Austin Dillon.
Speaking of JGR, Joey Logano will be attempting to win his tenth race of 2012, following in the footsteps of Sprint Cup teammate Kyle Busch and his accolades in JGR Nationwide equipment. This will be Logano’s last race for JGR, after being a part of the team since he was 16-years-old. Logano starts fifth in the Gamestop Toyota after qualifying on pole for the Sprint Cup race yesterday.
For Busch, he is looking for his first win in his Kyle Busch Motorsports Nationwide car. Starting from pole today in the Monster Energy Toyota, Busch has possibly his best shot of 2012 to win. Older brother Kurt won at Richmond in April and the team has been relatively successful as a start-up operation.
Other drivers to look out for in today’s race are Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier, who are battling for the fifth and final spot on the stage for the Nationwide Series awards banquet. Annett has found great success in 2012 since moving to Richard Petty Motorsports, with six Top Fives and 17 Top Ten finishes.
Annett holds a seven-point lead over Allgaier, the winner at Montreal earlier this season and veteran of the series. While Allgaier starts sixth in his Brandt Chevy, Annett will have to come from 32nd on the grid in his Pilot/Flying J Ford.
Cole Whitt, Brad Sweet, Regan Smith and Kenny Wallace are three drivers outside any points battles that have been fast this weekend. Whitt, the driver of the 88 car for JR Motorsports, has lived under the shadow of Danica Patrick all season, but has performed much better than Patrick all year. Whitt starts eighth in his TaxSlayer Chevy, looking to earn a win and solidify his spot on the team for 2013.
Sweet, driving for Turner Motorsports as a teammate to Allgaier, has shown flashes of speed all year but has not been able to turn that into success on race day. With no solid plans for 2013, this is an audition for the former USAC star and protégé of Kasey Kahne. Sweet will start 18th in the Great Clips Chevy.
Regan Smith makes his first start for JR Motorsports in the HendrickCars.com Chevy. Smith, a former winner of the Southern 500, will move to the Nationwide Series full-time next year as the lead driver for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Smith drove well in two races as a sub for Earnhardt, Jr. during the Chase, while the most popular driver was recovering from concussion-like symptoms.
Kenny Wallace is a veteran of the Nationwide Series and has had fast cars at times this season. The driver of the RAB Racing Toyota will start 17th today, looking for that elusive tenth win that he has been chasing for many years.
300 miles, 200 laps stand in the way of a championship and race win. Enjoy the racing.