The 2012 Nationwide Season is less than a month away, and to get you ready I’ve made up a list of the top ten Championship Contenders entering Daytona. Some new, and some returning drivers will compete in thirty-five events on their way to the 2012 Nationwide Championship.
So here they are, in car number order, NASCAR RnR's Troy J.’s Top Ten Nationwide Championship Contenders!
- #2-Elliott Sadler: Sadler is arguably the favorite to take home the 2012 Nationwide Title. With Stenhouse not sure on plans and a lack of sponsorship for the entire year, Sadler may be without his biggest competition. Sadler’s biggest issue was a lack of wins in 2011. That and Jason Leffler. Now in his second year with Kevin Harvick Inc/RCR, Sadler is primed to dominate the Nationwide Schedule.
- #3-Austin Dillon: Dillon is the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year title, but don’t count out the 2011 Truck Champion from a Nationwide Title. Dillon was pretty quiet to date in the Nationwide Series, but with a full off season of testing, he should be able to blast through the tough learning curve of the Nationwide Cars. Dillon also has the support of KHI and RCR, along with full time sponsorship to put him in top of the line equipment.
- #6-Ricky Stenhouse: The 2011 Champ is still not sure on if he will run full time or not in 2012. Combine that with a lack of sponsorship and the extra added competition and you have a defending champion heading into the new season and not being a favorite to repeat. If sponsorship can be found, Stenhouse could go on another tear and become a two time Nationwide Champion.
- #7-Danica Patrick: She had a pretty good close to the 2011 season and will now go full time. Patrick has the added power of Hendrick Motorsports under her and with a full schedule; she now has a chance to contend for a championship. I still think that Patrick is biting off more than she can handle with a handful of Cup races also on her schedule, but maybe she could surprise everyone out there.
- #11-Brian Scott: His first year with Joe Gibbs didn’t look great, but that doesn’t mean that Brian Scott should be counted out. He has power, and a full time sponsorship, and now he has a chance to show everyone why Joe Gibbs took a chance on him.
- #12-Sam Hornish: Hornish looked stellar in his part time Nationwide Schedule last year. The famed Dances with Walls looked more like the veteran driver he is last year. Now, with a chance at a full year, Hornish could finally reclaim the magic from his IndyCar days.
- #16-Trevor Bayne: Bayne is an interesting driver. He has shown that he can run up front and contend, but has also shown himself to be a mid-pack driver. His Cup career is stalling after a surprise Daytona 500 run. Bayne is stuck in limbo right now, as sponsorship dollars continue to elude the former Michael Waltrip Racing developmental driver.
#19-Taylor Malsam: Taylor Malsam, once a standout in the Truck series, found himself without a full time ride for 2011. 2012 was looking much the same until TriStar Motorsports came calling. Malsam will now replace Mike Bliss as full time driver of the #19 team. The only thing that may keep Malsam out of the Championship conversation is a lack of equipment issue. TriStar is a mid-pack team, and Malsam will have a giant metal ball attached to his ankle in the form of teammate Eric McClure.
#31-Justin Allgaier: Probably the favorite to contend with Sadler in 2012, Allgaier remains in the Nationwide Series. I know I was not alone in thinking that Justin would join Penske Racing in the Cup Series and be a force, but that all fell apart after sponsorship issues caused Penske to release Allgaier and stunt his rise to the top. Here he is again, running full time for Turner Motorsports and still without a prospect in the Cup Series.
#88-Cole Whitt: The surprise entrant in the Nationwide Series this year is Cole Whitt. After a very impressive Truck Series campaign, the former Red Bull developmental driver is now a partner to Danica Patrick at JR Motorsports, replacing Aric Almirola, who finally will be given a fair shot at a Cup Career. Whitt is a rising star, and I would be shocked to see him go winless this year. Whitt is a virtual lock for the Rookie of the Year, but shouldn’t be counted out for a possible Championship either.
Well, there you go. Tell me who you think will win the 2012 Nationwide Championship.