This season’s NASCAR Nationwide Series championship battle is already heating up.
Need proof? Heading into Auto Club Speedway for the TreatMyClot.com 300, the fifth race of 2014, one point separates Regan Smith and second-place Trevor Bayne. This time last year, Sam Hornish Jr. held a 22-point advantage over second-place Justin Allgaier.
Of course, things change throughout the season and Austin Dillon, who was sixth at this point last year, ultimately was crowned the series champion in November. By season’s end, Hornish was second with Allgaier fifth.
Last year, 34 points separated the top six heading into Auto Club. This season, the top-eight drivers are separated by a margin of 34 with Smith, Bayne, Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Elliott Sadler, Brendan Gaughan, Brian Scott and James Buescher making up the top eight.
What does all this mean? This year’s championship conversation will likely include more drivers, and the points race will likely be tighter.
In 14 national series starts at Auto Club, Smith’s best finish came in the Nationwide event last year where he finished third. The finish was only his second top 10 at the track, the first (a ninth-place finish) coming in the previous year’s Nationwide race. In six series starts, Smith’s average finish is 20.5.
Bayne has made six Nationwide starts in Fontana and has six top-20 finishes. His best finish was sixth in 2011. In March 2013, Bayne posted his second top-10 finish at the track, placing ninth.