Drive4COPD at Daytona 1 p.m., ESPN

Old meets new in 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series

jutter@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 22, 2013 

— Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

No, it’s not the ingredients to a successful NASCAR wedding.

Rather it’s a fairly apt description of the championship battle about to get underway this season in the Nationwide Series.

Through a combination of up-and-comers, series veterans and drivers looking for a move back up to the Sprint Cup Series, this year’s collection of fulltime drivers has the potential to produce one of its most competitive championship battles.

There is one guarantee as the season begins in Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway – somebody new will win the title. Two-time champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has moved fulltime to the Cup series.

One of the drivers who will be in the mix this year is a blast from the series’ past, hence something old.

Brian Vickers, who won the 2003 title with Hendrick Motorsports in what was then called the Busch Series, returns to the series driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It’s going back 10 years which was the only other time in my career that I ran full time in Nationwide was in 2003 and then raced part-time in Cup and ran five or six races,” said Vickers, who will also run a partial Cup schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing.

“It’s going way back. This year, it’s back to fulltime again and I’m looking forward to it.”

There will be several drivers who contended for the championship returning this season to do battle once again, including Elliott Sadler, who finished second in the series standings the past two seasons at Richard Childress Racing.

Sadler has also joined JGR and along with Vickers provides JGR’s already successful Nationwide program with yet another boost.

“If I can win a championship and prove to myself that I can do it or show Coach (Joe) Gibbs that I can do it, that’s why I need to win a championship,” Sadler said.

“It’s very hard to win a championship whether you’re racing on Saturday or Sunday. If we can pull that off, it will be a great feat.”

Other notable returnees from last season include Austin Dillon, who finished third in the title race with RCR; Justin Allgaier; Sam Hornish Jr.; Michael Annett; and Brian Scott, who moved from JGR to RCR in the offseason.

Among the newcomers – something new – to the Nationwide Series and its title chase is Regan Smith, who lost his job in the Cup series last season and joined JR Motorsports, which is co-owned by driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Smith made a dramatic debut with JRM, running in the 2012 series finale at Homestead, Fla., and winning the race, his first series victory. Smith got the chance to run two Cup races in Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet when Earnhardt was sidelined for two weeks recovering from a concussion.

“There’s been bumps in the road, there have been odd things that have happened but if you look at last year for me, the end of the year, things played out like you couldn’t script it, you couldn’t write a book about it,” Smith said.

“The reason I came here is I want to be a champion in NASCAR.”

Also something new: Chevrolet teams will use the Camaro this season. The new model was unveiled last year at Indianapolis when the series made its first appearance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As for something borrowed, Turner Scott Motorsports is fielding a fulltime entry for upstart Kyle Larson, who is on loan from Cup team owner Chip Ganassi. Larson is under a driver development contract with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

While the prospects of a 19-year-old debuting in the Nationwide Series contending for a championship may seem improbable, Larson has already displayed the ability to compete and win in NASCAR.

Larson won the K&N Pro Series East championship in 2012 and made four starts in the Truck series, with one top-five and three top-10 finishes.

“The past two years have been pretty crazy,” Larson said.

That leaves only something blue.

Well, the No. 11 Toyota Sadler will drive this season has a predominantly blue paint scheme. That will have to do.

More racing news, blogs, photos and more at www.ThatsRacin.com.

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