Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Saturday marks the beginning of the NASCAR Nationwide Series as 40 drivers will take the green flag for the Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway.
While some of the entrants for the race will be competing for the Sprint Cup Trophy this year, the main storyline will be regarding those competing for the Nationwide Series title and who might become the next big star of the sport.
Ty Dillon graduates to the Nationwide Series full-time this year after two successful seasons in the Camping World Truck Series. Joining him at Richard Childress Racing will be returning Nationwide driver Brian Scott and a returning veteran in the shape of Brendan Gaughan.
With Gaughan returning to the Nationwide Series, Childress has an established veteran who can help guide and advise the 21-year-old Dillon and the 26-year-old Scott. Scott enters his fifth full-time season in the Nationwide Series and is thus far winless; his highest points finish came last year in his debut with RCR with seventh in the points standings.
A team with a similar team dynamic but without the same amount of depth is JR Motorsports. Regan Smith returns to the No. 7 car with 18-year-old Chase Elliott moving up to the Nationwide Series in the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro.
Smith is a proven winner in the Nationwide Series, amassing three career victories with a highest points finish of third coming last year. Elliott moves up full-time to the Nationwide Series after a partial Camping World Truck Series schedule last year. In his short time driving the trucks, he already has a race victory to his name and has finished in the Top-10 in 77.7% of his career races in the series.
While Smith will look to provide JR Motorsports with their very first Nationwide Series championship, he will also be able to provide mentoring to the rookie. While the young Elliott also has team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a NASCAR legend in Bill Elliott for a father to go to for advice; Smith perhaps has the most valuable advice for him as he best understands how the new Nationwide Series cars handle.
Another multi-car team with drivers contending for a Nationwide Series championship is Roush-Fenway Racing. 23-year-old Trevor Bayne returns for another season in the No. 6 Mustang, this season he will have two rookies racing alongside him with 20-year-old Ryan Reed and 21-year-old Chris Buescher moving up to the series. Thus far, Bayne and Reed are confirmed to be running for the whole series; Buescher has been confirmed for a part-time schedule for now.
Last season Bayne was paired up with motocross superstar Travis Pastrana; this was a bit of an oddball pairing as Bayne had to partner with a driver with minimal stock car experience. Both Reed and C. Buescher have traditional stock car backgrounds. Reed got to the Nationwide Series by racing in legends cars and late models; C. Buescher made his way to the series by way of legend cars and by racing in ARCA.
It will be interesting to see how these three will be able to work together throughout the season, Bayne will have teammates who come from similar racing roots as him while Reed and C. Buescher will have an experienced teammate to get pointers from.
Another Buescher will be competing for the Nationwide trophy this year as James Buescher (Chris’s older cousin), 2012 Camping World Truck Series champion, will pilot the No. 99 Rheem Camry for RAB Racing full-time this year. After NASCAR mandated in 2011 that all drivers must elect to run for only one of the top three series’ points championship, J. Buescher elected to run for the Camping World Truck Series title for each of those three seasons.
The elder Buescher won the 2012 Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona and stringed together some impressive runs across both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series that year. By year’s end, J. Buescher won the Camping World Truck Series title off the strength of a four-win season. For 2014, the 23-year-old from Plano, Tex. will drive for a team that hasn’t proved they’re at a championship level yet but with a consistent driver behind the wheel – they just might find themselves lifting the Nationwide trophy by the end of the year.
Dylan Kwasniewski is another name that has been making some waves in the sport. 18-year-old Kwasniewski, 2012 K&N Pro Series West champion and 2013 K&N Pro Series East champion, will drive for Turner-Scott Motorsports in the No. 31 Rockstar Energy Camaro this season. Kwasniewski has already earned accolades in his career that prove that he has a tremendous amount of talent behind the wheel of a stock car. This year marks his first venture into any of NASCAR’s top-three divisions, a strong first season will show that he is destined to become a star in this sport.
The Nationwide Series has long been considered a proving ground for NASCAR’s future superstars. Many Sprint Cup drivers made their way through the Nationwide Series before moving up to the premier division of stock car racing; names such as Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Brad Keselowski.
The talent within the field for this year’s championship is undeniable, combine that talent with the hunger to prove oneself and we are looking at one of the most competitive Nationwide Series fields in ages. These young guns will set out to prove that they can be the next Johnson, the next Kenseth, or even the next Harvick. If you asked these young competitors the question ‘Who’s next?’, they would gladly tell you that they’re next.
The Drive4COPD 300 will air live on ESPN this Saturday starting with pre-race coverage at 12:00p.m. EST.