Let’s assume that the NASCAR Nationwide Series points battle has narrowed to only five contenders: Sam Hornish Jr., Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith, Austin Dillon and Brian Vickers. With only 18 points separating them, all five drivers have a very realistic shot at capturing the title.
The determining factor in this year’s championship battle could come down to one thing – championship-hunt experience.
As the series heads to Bristol for Friday night’s Food City 250, four of the five drivers in the top five have some type of championship battle experience.
The odd man out is Smith, currently tied for third (-15), who returned to the series fulltime after six years of giving it a go in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In seven years in the top series, seven previous years in the NNS (of which only one was fulltime before this season) and five years in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he had never been in the title conversation. His best points finish in one of NASCAR’s three national series was 20th in 2006.
Although Hornish, the current points leader, has never really been embroiled in a battle for the points lead during his tenure in NASCAR (he finished fourth in 2012, but never made it higher than third in points during the season), he won the IZOD IndyCar Series title three times – 2001, 2002 and 2006.
Sadler gained a lot of experience dueling for the title the last two seasons. Unfortunately, his efforts fell short both years, finishing runner-up to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the final standings.
Dillon was in the thick of the NNS championship hunt last season up until the very end, ultimately finishing third. The year before, he held off a hard-charging Johnny Sauter to capture the 2011 NCWTS title.
Vickers, who will be pulling double-duty for most of the remaining weekends, won the NNS championship in 2003. This could be his last chance at another NNS crown since he’ll be returning to the NSCS fulltime in 2014.
The points battle is so close that one poor performance could shake things up among those in contention, as evident by Dillon dropping from first to fourth at Mid-Ohio. With two shorts tracks (Bristol and Richmond) remaining on the schedule, no lead is safe.