NASCAR Fontana 2013: Three Nationwide drivers who might want to reset their seasons

Jared C. Tilton

After a little more than one month of racing, there are three Nationwide Series drivers who wish they could hit the reset button on their seasons. Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers and Nelson Piquet Jr. each expected a better start to their campaigns but find themselves sitting ninth, 11th and 14th in the points standings after five events.

Two of the drivers, Sadler and Vickers expected to be championship contenders and Piquet entered the season with a lot of promise after contending for a Truck Series championship last season and driving for the successful Turner Scott Racing team.

So what has gone wrong and what can turn their seasons around?

For Brian Vickers, his turnaround will be dependent on how fast he adjusts to competing full-time in NASCAR for the first time since 2011. Vickers' ninth place start isn't quite indicative of the speed his team has shown in flashes of 2013.

He sat on the pole at Las Vegas and started second at Phoenix but just hasn't been able to close out on solid results. Such was the case during Saturday's race at Auto Club Speedway. Vickers qualified third but finished 33rd after suffering a mechanical issue.

Vickers is the 2003 Nationwide Series champion and a more than capable driver. His teammate Kyle Busch has had the fastest car at each event this season, so Joe Gibbs Racing isn't the problem. Vickers has just suffered from bad luck. If he can overcome the obstacles and build some consistency with new crew chief Kevin Kidd, his climb back to the front could come sooner rather than later.

Like Vickers, Elliott Sadler has just faced an incredibly erratic string of bad luck. Since moving over to Joe Gibbs Racing, Sadler has had speed. He qualified sixth at Daytona but finished 15th in the dramatic finish of that race. He finished fifth in back-to-back races at Phoenix and Las Vegas but again suffered bad luck, this time, an engine failure at Bristol.

He qualified on the outside row on Saturday at Auto Club Speedway but could only muster a seventh place finish by the end of the afternoon. If Sadler can gel with his new team and capitalize on his better qualifying starts, it's a given that he will be back on the championship conversation by midseason.

Nelson Piquet Jr. is a different kind of case study than the previous two contenders. Not many experts expected Piquet to consistently win races and compete for the championship. And yet, the same could have been said for his 2012 season in the Camping World Truck Series where he won twice but faded late in the season to finish seventh.

Piquet has designs on eventually graduating to the Sprint Cup Series and has elected the slow and methodical approach as opposed to making an immediate jump like fellow open-wheelers Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya.

As a result, many of the circuits and cars are still new to Piquet. The former Formula 1 driver has proven to be a quick study on ovals in the Truck Series, winning at Vegas and Michigan last year and but has struggled thus far in the heavier and faster Nationwide cars.

Piquet should be the favorite when the Series competes on road courses like Road America, Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen. If he can capitalize on his strengths and continue to adapt on ovals, it's not entirely unrealistic to expect four wins and a top-five finish in the championship standings.

That said, with Sam Hornish Jr. jumping out to a 28-point lead over Regan Smith after just five starts, it may be a reset may not be enough to win the championship. But these three could certainly pose a threat if luck and circumstance just shifts in their favor.

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