Nationwide Series Title Race Wide Open
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on February 20, 2014 | 3:52 P.M. EST
Chase Elliott, son of former Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, is among the new faces in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for 2014. (Photo: Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – This year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series features several new drivers and teams in pursuit of the title.
Last year’s champion, Austin Dillon, has moved up to run for Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year and leaves behind what should be a wide open battle for this season’s crown. In addition to Dillon, several other prominent names have departed the series including such high-profile drivers as Brian Vickers, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, Ryan Truex, Alex Bowman and Travis Pastrana.
But there are plenty of newcomers to fill the void including highly-touted Chase Elliott, who joins JR Motorsports for a full-time ride in the No. 9 Chevrolet. NAPA has signed on to sponsor the son of two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott in his first full season on the tour.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," said Elliott. "My family and I are still trying to believe it all. I couldn’t ask to be partnered with anyone better than Dale Jr., Kelley (Earnhardt-Miller) and Mr. (Rick) Hendrick; along with all of the people at their organizations who have put in countless hours to pull this together. I'm pumped to get to work in 2014 with that first trip to Daytona and make the most of this opportunity."
Elliott will be joined by Regan Smith, who returns to the team’s No. 7 car after a 2013 campaign that saw him in contention for the championship until a string of poor performances around mid-season. Smith feels he learned a lot last year that will help him stay in the title hunt this time around.
"We've got a really solid core, not only on paper (but with) what we see in the shop," said Smith, who will have Ryan Pemberton as crew chief this year. "I'm relatively new to the company but even as somebody who's watched JR Motorsports for years prior, this is the strongest it's ever been.
"It's the most excited I think any of us have ever been going into a season, about what's to come and what we're going to be capable of."
Although last year’s champ has moved on, the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing entry should also be a strong contender again with a different Dillon behind the wheel. Ty moves up from the Camping World Truck Series and inherits the ride from brother Austin. The younger Dillon sees no reason why he can’t continue the team’s success of a year ago.
"I plan on running for the championship, for sure, right off the bat," said Dillon, who will have Brendan Gaughan and Brian Scott as teammates, "winning three or four races. I have a great team that’s been in the series for a couple of years, now, and won the championship. So I know I have the guys behind me. They’re going to give me great racecars.
"It’s up to me to be a quick learner as a rookie, go out and achieve my goals."
Elliott Sadler wasn’t able to achieve his goal of a Nationwide Series title last year with Joe Gibbs Racing. But the veteran driver returns with his No. 11 team intact and plans to make a stronger run for the title.
"It may sound corny, but I feel like we’re even better than we were last year," said Sadler. "The wheels came off more than they should have and we need to find a way to eliminate some of those times, for sure. But in terms of fast cars and a solid team, we definitely have that in 2014."
JGR’s potent Nationwide program will also field other part-time entries this year with Kyle Busch, who won 12 times last season, driving the No. 54 Toyota in 26 races with last year’s series runner-up Sam Hornish Jr. driving the balance of the schedule. The team also plans a limited schedule for the No. 20 entry with Drew Herring and Matt Kenseth sharing time behind the wheel.
Roush Fenway Racing has a trio of entries prepped for the season led by former Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who will run for the championship in addition to his limited Sprint Cup Series schedule with Wood Brothers Racing.
"We left some on the table last year," said Bayne, who scored a win at Iowa Speedway as part of a season that saw seven top fives, 21 top tens, a pole at Daytona in February, 84 laps led, and an average finish of 11.5 over the 33-race schedule. "This entire RFR organization and the No. 6 team is dedicated to upping that performance and making a solid run for the championship."
Ryan Reed and Chris Buescher will also run the schedule as teammates to Bayne.
Other notable drivers and teams in 2014 include James Buescher, who left Turner Scott Motorsports for the RAB Racing No. 99 entry. Kyle Larson will take the TSM ride for a majority of the schedule in addition to his Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year effort at Chip Ganassi Racing. Dakoda Armstrong steps up from the Truck Series to Richard Petty Motorsports' No. 43 Ford.
The 33-race slate kicks off with Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway and wraps up with November’s Ford Championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of Saturday's Nationwide Series opener at 12:45 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.