While the Chase is doing NASCAR fans everywhere a favor by making the points race irrelevant for another three months, the Nationwide Series has a repeat of their Stenhouse vs. Sadler battle from a year ago brewing, with the standings tighter than they were a season ago and both teams combining for five race wins already in 2012. But even as that series heads to Dover to tackle the high banks of the Monster Mile, it’s also going to play host to another championship battle…even if it’s not for points. Because when the green flag drops on Saturday, positions three, four and five in the Truck Series standings will be taking it alongside the Nationwide Series regulars.
One of those drivers is no stranger to the Nationwide ranks, seeing as how he won the season opener at Daytona. In a season that’s been underwhelming for regular driver Justin Allgaier and quiet for Cup regular Kasey Kahne, the one bright spot at Turner Motorsports has been their leading Truck Series contender in James Buescher. Buescher has scored as many top 10s in the his nine races so far this year than in his previous three-plus seasons and 30 starts, has the only win of the year for Turner, and has the No. 30 team at a level of competitiveness on par with the team’s Nos. 31 and 38 squads, something it decidedly wasn’t through much of last season. Though some of that may be attributed to more resources (the team contracted from four cars to three after last year) and more consistency in who’s driving the No. 30, there’s no doubting that Buescher, contending for a Truck title for the second consecutive year, has had a steadying impact on the Nationwide operation.
Parker Kligerman hasn’t been nearly that big a presence on the Nationwide front in 2012, but he’s still going to be inheriting a red-hot No. 22 car that’s coming off a win at Charlotte with Brad Keselowski behind the wheel. What’s more, Kligerman’s only gotten two shots in his career in Penske’s No. 22 Nationwide car…and he’s scored top 10 finishes in both of them. It’s been a few years, but it’s important to remember as well the bang-up job Kligerman did driving the Team 42 Nationwide Series entry in 2010, including a top 10 at Bristol. Considering the Penske development driver is heading to a track that’s described as Bristol on steroids, that’s not a bad resume to have.
And then there’s the late entry to the party. Enter Ty Dillon, 2011 ARCA champion and the younger brother of RCR regular Austin. Brendan Gaughan was slated to drive the No. 33 car with South Point Resort colors on the hood this weekend, but a late change to the entry list now will have Ty making his Nationwide Series debut on Saturday in a car that’s scored two poles and nine top 10 finishes in the first 11 races this year. Dillon was the model of consistency in a dominant ARCA campaign a season ago (eight wins and 16 top 10s in 19 races), and has continued that into this year, scoring a top 10 in every truck race so far this year.
Coupled with a field that is chock-full of start-and-parkers (look for at least nine and as many as 12 cars in the 43-car field to pull in early on Saturday) and short on Cup regulars (only four are entered), there’s no reason to think that each of these drivers will have a realistic shot at a strong finish or even challenging for a win. And even if the thin field wasn’t enough, there’s plenty of reason to think that each of these three will have their own impacts on Saturday’s race anyway.
Buescher enters on a three-race top 10 streak. Kligerman has the keys to Penske’s flagship ride having never finished outside the top 10 on a concrete track in NNS competition. And as for Ty Dillon’s late add to the entry list, well…let’s not forget that older brother and grandfather felt awfully wronged after last Saturday’s race in Charlotte. And what better wingman to have on the track than a family member if older brother decides to play rough?
There will be plenty of Truck flavor in the NNS race on Saturday. Shame that won’t come along with a SPEED telecast.