Sandwiched between the top-tier NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the rough and tumble Camping World Truck Series is the middle child, the Nationwide Series. But for the upcoming 2012 season, this may indeed be the preferred series to watch for the NASCAR fandom.
[media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”218″][/media-credit]One of the biggest new stories in the Nationwide Series is of course that of Danica Patrick running her first full-time gig in NASCAR since her abdication from the world of open wheel racing. For her first Nationwide run, the marketing diva will be continuing her association with JR Motorsports with Tony Eury, Jr. as her crew chief.
“I’m going into this season with a little bit more of a ‘I’m going to do it’ attitude,” Patrick said. “I’ve got a lot to learn and I know that.”
“I’m going to make lots of mistakes I’m sure,” Patrick continued. “But I’m mentally wrapping my head around not just learning but being successful and running well and getting to Victory Lane and thinking about that so my thoughts translate to the real world and really happen.”
Patrick also fully intends to run for the Nationwide championship and even her crew chief believes that is possible. Eury’s goal is to get his driver into the top ten in points after the first ten races of the season, positioning her to make a run at the title.
“She’s gone to a lot of these tracks,” Eury Jr. said. “Before she wasn’t running for points.”
“This year, she’s here for the reason to win the championship,” Eury Jr. continued. “So, she’s not going to be that person that kind of lays over.”
In addition to seeing the new aggression of Patrick on the Nationwide as she attacks her first ever full-time stint, two other super aggressive drivers, in fact brothers, are planning to share a Nationwide gig in 2012.
Big brother Kurt Busch will be sharing a 2012 Nationwide seat with little brother and team owner Kyle for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Monster Energy, leaving prior driver Ricky Carmichael high and dry, will sponsor the Busch brothers in their No. 54 Monster Energy Camry. Kyle will drive the season opener at Daytona and the following four races and then split the ride with his brother Kurt.
While not competing with Patrick for the Nationwide championship, since both Busch brothers are also racing in the Cup Series, the duo fully intends to complete for the 2012 Nationwide Owner’s Championship.
“We’ve had a lot of talks about how this whole deal is going to work out, what we’re both looking to get out of this and what a great opportunity this is to race in the Nationwide Series,” Kyle Busch said. “Kurt’s never done a full Nationwide deal; he’s always had the itch but never really cared about it.”
While Danica Patrick and the Busch brothers have something to prove in the Nationwide Series, a driver whose Nationwide debut has been delayed also has to prove he can get back behind the wheel of a race car.
Travis Pastrana, who was scheduled to come to the Nationwide world last year but could not due to a serious injury sustained during the X Games competition, plans to run seven Nationwide races, starting with Richmond.
“I feel really good,” Pastrana said during the NASCAR Preview 2012. “The therapy the last two weeks has made huge improvements.”
“We’ll start out with seven Nationwide races and that’s kind of a let’s see how we do, let’s see what we need more work on,” Pastrana continued. “If we’re running OK or if I can get sponsorship to keep running wherever we’re running, we’re going to keep trying to get seat time.”
“I basically have to prove I can get in a car.”
As opposed to Pastrana with something to prove, one driver who has already proven that he can drive a race car will be back to defend his Nationwide title. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will indeed return to the Series, driving full-time again for Roush Fenway Racing.
“They’re working on sponsorship for it right now, so everything is good,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “It sounds like we’re going to be able to go and defend our title again.”
Stenhouse Jr. won the Nationwide title by just 45 points over Kevin Harvick Inc. driver Elliott Sadler. And for this upcoming year, Stenhouse Jr. is certainly hoping that the championship competition will not be quite as close.
“I think we will do little things at the beginning of the year different,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “So, hopefully the points chase isn’t so close all year. That drives you nuts.”
Speaking of Elliott Sadler, or ‘Ricky Bobby’ as he is affectionately known, he will indeed be back to challenge the other Ricky, Stenhouse that is, for the Nationwide Series championship. Since Sadler’s former team is no longer, ‘Ricky Bobby’ will be driving the No. 2 OneMain Financial for Richard Childress Racing.
“It is such a great opportunity to compete for such an accomplished organization like Richard Childress Racing,” Sadler said. “To have an organization like OneMain Financial support me on and off the track again this year really makes me eager to get back to the track to compete for the Nationwide Series championship.”
“We came up short last year, but I know we have all the parts in place to win this year with this RCR team.”
Speaking of Richard Childress Racing, that team will be putting a member of the family, grandson Austin Dillon, on the Nationwide Series track this year. Dillon, last year’s 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion, will be driving the very storied No. 3 Chevy as his Nationwide ride, competing for another honor, the Nationwide Rookie of the Year.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of moving with Danny Stockman (crew chief) and the guys to the NASCAR Nationwide Series with the No. 3,” Dillon said. “Our goal next year is to win races and compete for Rookie of the Year honors.”
Finally, there are two veterans worth mentioning as very good reasons to watch the 2012 Nationwide Series.
First is Morgan Shepherd, who at the sweet age of 70 years, will be driving in his 45th season in the Nationwide Series. Shepherd, competing with plenty of faith, hopes to better his best ever 21st place in the Nationwide point standings in 2011.
The other veteran who is always worth watching in the Nationwide Series is Kenny Wallace, affectionately known as the ‘Herminator’. Wallace will be back with RAB Racing, behind the wheel of the No. 09 American Ethanol Toyota Camry.
“Corn farmers are excited to continue our relationship with RAB Racing and Kenny Wallace in 2012,” Garry Niemeyer, National Corn Growers Association President, said. “Kenny is a fan favorite and one of the most visible drivers in the sport.”
So, from the veterans, like Morgan Shepherd and Kenny Wallace, to the newbies, like Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana, the Nationwide Series does indeed seem to be the one to watch in 2012.
Fans can catch all the action of the Nationwide Series, beginning with the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, February 25th, 2012.