Nov 14, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT
The good news: a NASCAR Nationwide Series regular will win the 2013 series championship this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The bad news: the potential exists that champion could finish the 2013 season winless.
So long as Austin Dillon finishes ahead of Sam Hornish Jr. – the Richard Childress Racing prodigy leads Penske Racing’s Hornish by eight points entering Saturday’s Ford Ecoboost 300 – and doesn’t win, he’ll be the champion. To Dillon’s credit, that would give him titles in both Nationwide and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (2011).
NASCAR can spin it all it wants, as in “Dillon’s incredible consistency carried him to the title” or some such. But a winless champion would be the first all-time in any of NASCAR’s three top tiers, and a potential nightmare scenario from a marketing or PR standpoint.
After all, the Chase for the Sprint Cup was introduced a year after Matt Kenseth won a solitary race in 2003, building his lone title triumph on consistency rather than race wins and dominance.
Nationwide has, for better or worse, traditionally allowed the influx of Sprint Cup regulars to compete in its races. And while Cup drivers can’t register driver points, they can play major dividends in both the driver and owner championships.
The dominant teams entering this weekend are the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford and the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota teams; Penske lead JGR by 4 owner points, 1256-1252. Both teams have 12 wins; Busch has all 12 for the 54 while four different drivers (Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Blaney) have won in the 22. That’s a full 24 of 32 races thus far won by just these two cars (75 percent), and in total, 27 of 32 won by Cup regulars. Dillon’s and Hornish’s teams rank only third and fourth in the owner points, by contrast.
That’s a majority of the races where the 54 and the 22 have received the most ink, the most press, and the most coverage, instead of the series’ actual full-timers.
Knowing and learning how to win races should be part of a training ground, and so long as the Cup regulars continue to dominate the scoreboard, it’s always going to be difficult for Nationwide drivers to gain that skill before moving up.
Perhaps a “maximum race cap” gets introduced for Cup regulars, or the schedule itself designates only a certain number of races where Cup regulars will be eligible. That’s a topic for another day, though.
Still, it’s no coincidence that some of the most intriguing Nationwide races this year – Iowa and the road courses at Road America and Mid-Ohio, for instance – have featured less than a full handful of Cup regulars in the field. And all three were won by drivers not competing in Cup full-time.
You could properly see how well Dillon and Hornish fared against their Nationwide peers in those races compared to the majority, populated by Cup regulars, where all they really needed to do was finish “best in class” to keep building the points.
Hornish has finished second five times this year, and third four times. Of those nine races, the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford driven by Keselowski, Logano or Allmendinger has won five of them (Hornish finished second to the No. 22 three times, third twice). He finished best in class, but you could argue he left points on the table in ending behind the team car. Indeed, it’s more than 20 points that have gone begging as a result, and right now, those points would be pretty valuable heading into Homestead.
Sponsorship is the main reason Hornish doesn’t have a 2014 contract in place, although he plans to remain in NASCAR. But those missed winning opportunities have to loom large to potential suitors.
Perhaps Hornish overcomes the deficit this Saturday, and a win with Dillon outside the top five would do just that. For his and the series’ sake, it would be welcomed, to give him his second win of 2013. Or, Dillon could reduce the potential angst of a winless champ with a win of his own.
Either way, game on this Saturday.
Mar 12, 2014, 3:04 PM EDT
We all know Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights said that second is the first loser. And we also know all about start-and-park and go-or-go-home drivers, as well. But this takes losing – or shall we say, not finishing – to a whole other level (and no, this is NOT a trick question): Which former NASCAR champion holds the record for most last-place finishes in a career?
Mar 12, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT
The World Rallycross Championship (WRC) continues to bag big names to compete on its circuit in the 2014 racing season.
Mar 12, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
Ken Block has nothing on Mike Ryan. When he wants to do a little drifting – or as most race fans call it, driftin’ — Ryan climbs into his 1,950 horsepower Detroit Diesel-powered Freightliner.
Mar 12, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
16-year-old shifts from open-wheel to prototype racing in 2014, under iconic Dyson banner.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:08 PM EDT
There’s nothing like racing in front of your hometown crowd to get a driver pumped up more than usual.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Kevin Magnussen, Daniil Kvyat, Marcus Ericsson seek finishes first in Grand Prix debuts.
Mar 12, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Minimal 2014 expectations for the team that took the 2013 Australian Grand Prix victory.
Mar 12, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Streaming, pre-race shows among the offerings from IMSA ahead of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Mar 12, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
After brief career detour, Ryan Briscoe looks to deliver with another top-flight chance in IndyCar.
Mar 12, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
One of IndyCar’s most improved 2013 drivers could advance even higher than fifth in points with a few more things turning around.
Mar 12, 2014, 8:47 AM EDT
Michael Schumacher’s manager says there are slight signs of improvement.
Mar 12, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Third, fourth drivers for teams at Sebring add strength to 12-hour race field.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Sports car racing meets “It’s a Wonderful Life.” With dinosaurs.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:18 PM EDT
NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey and Wally Dallenbach discuss the team’s quiet start to the 2014 Sprint Cup season.
Mar 11, 2014, 7:06 PM EDT
Cooling units are now allowed on pit road and cool-down laps on track are banned.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT
All the notes and numbers to keep in mind going into Thunder Valley.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT
Be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified for access to the Live Extra stream.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
The saga continues as Smoke and Darrell Waltrip head for Texarkana.
Mar 11, 2014, 3:24 PM EDT
Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer will take part in pre-race duties for the Food City 500.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
RBR’s team principal also tags Merc’s Lewis Hamilton as the favorite for the world title.
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