Race Weekend Central

2013 Season Preview, Part VI: NASCAR’s Rising Stars

As the NFL fades away, sports fans across the country turn towards the next big event on the schedule: NASCAR’s Super Bowl. After a three-month hiatus, Daytona beckons as the 38-week, 2013 schedule descends upon us.

But the Great American Race is the Great NASCAR Beginning, the start of a journey that takes us to Las Vegas, Pocono and nearly two dozen American locales in between. There’s plenty of unanswered questions about what’s to come, a year filled with changes from the Gen-6, to new qualifying, to new competitive rookies for the first time in over four years. So let us get you revved up once again; it’s Frontstretch season preview time, all week setting up not only the Sprint Cup season and the excitement of our coverage to come.

“2013 SEASON PREVIEW, PART I: IS THE GEN-6 NASCAR’s FIX-ALL”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/42266/
“2013 SEASON PREVIEW, PART II: WHAT CUP DRIVER HAS THE MOST TO PROVE?”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/42267/
“2013 SEASON PREVIEW, PART III: DOES A CHAMP NEED TO CHANGE”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/42270/
“2013 SEASON PREVIEW, PART IV: SOLVING THE CUP SPONSORSHIP CRISIS”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/42275/
“2013 SEASON PREVIEW, PART V: BRUTON SPEAKS OUT ON START-AND-PARK… ANY SOLUTIONS?”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/42278/

Today’s Season Preview Topic: The Nationwide and Truck Series have become rich with young talent once again. Give us the one driver from within those two series you’re watching in 2013, and why.

P. Huston Ladner, Senior Writer: Nelson Piquet Jr., in Trucks, and Travis Pastrana in Nationwide. Piquet has started to show that he is a worthwhile talent in oval racing, after spending the past few years converting his abilities from F1. His win last year shows this maturation and the possibility for more. This year, he’ll again be driving the same equipment as the Truck’s reigning champions, James Buescher, and he should be a contender for the title. A foreign-born driver taking the title would be a big splash for the series and might be the kind of factor to help it maintain its existence and grow.

For Travis Pastrana, will 2013 be his stock car breakthrough? He’ll drive a full season in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60.

With Danica Patrick bumping up to Cup, Pastrana takes on the role of celebrity driver in the Nationwide Series. He’ll be in Roush’s No. 60 car, one that has been, with the exception of the Gibbs program, dominant. No one knows yet whether Pastrana truly has stock car talent, and driving trucks might have helped acclimate him to this form of racing, but Pastrana has shown strong abilities in rally car. If he starts clipping off top 5s and 10s, he very well may be a rising star – and one that will also bring a different sort of interest to NASCAR racing.

Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor: Since that’s a hard choice to make, I’ll give one from each series.

*Nationwide Series: Corey LaJoie.* Yes, he’s only scheduled to run four races with TeamSLR (in cooperation with Tommy Baldwin Racing). However, Randy’s son has shown that he can be very quick in the K&N Pro Series East. His debut is scheduled for Dover in June, and I’ll be watching to see what he can do. I think he’ll be like Kevin Swindell with Biagi-DenBeste Racing. A pleasant surprise.

*Camping World Truck Series: Ross Chastain.* After engine woes and a lack of sponsorship curtailed his rookie campaign, Chastain has earned a top ride with Brad Keselowski Racing. I wouldn’t say that it’s “put up or shut up time” for the incredibly polite young man, but he’s got to perform well to keep the ride beyond 2013. Luckily, the talent appears to be there for the watermelon-backed Floridian, much to Michael Waltrip’s pleasure (Knowing him, he’d be bummed out if Chastain lost his ride not just because he’s an up-and-coming racer, but because he’d lose out on free watermelon).

Also, you don’t just fall into a third-place finish at Bristol. It’s not easy racing on the high banks there.

Mike Neff, Short Track Editor: Kyle Larson is going to have a Nationwide ride in 2013. If that is the case, there is no question he’ll have the biggest impact. Larson is the best pure talent to come into the sport since Kyle Busch and is very possibly the most talented driver we’ve seen since Tony Stewart. Larson wants to race anytime he possibly can in anything he can get into, and he wins in almost all of them. The only vehicle he drove last year that he did not win a race in was a Truck. Expect that to change. All bets are on this kid fast-tracking it to the Cup Series and once he is there, he’ll be there for a long time.

Beth Lunkenheimer, Managing Editor: With so much talent across the board in both the Nationwide and Truck Series, it’s almost impossible to pick just one driver. However, Jeb Burton quickly jumps to mind. Having only made five starts in the 2012 season before sponsorship woes sidelined the young rookie, it’s worth paying attention to his performance with Turner Scott Motorsports in the upcoming season. While Burton posted a lone top-10 finish (eighth at Charlotte), he has shown that he knows what he’s doing behind the wheel. Add that knowledge to the experience TSM has gained, coming off of a championship season and you’ve got a recipe for a breakout star.

Brett Poirier, Senior Writer: Parker Kligerman. After being released from Brad Keselowski Racing/Penske development, Kligerman shined at Red Horse Racing, nearly beating James Buescher for the Camping World Truck title. Kligerman came through in his second chance and Kyle Busch recognized that, rewarding him with a full-time ride with Kyle Busch Motorsports in Nationwide this season. It will be interesting to see what Kligerman can do with a team that Busch couldn’t even get to Victory Lane last year. Either way, it is one heck of an opportunity.

Amy Henderson, Managing Editor: The driver people should be watching in Nationwide is actually a familiar face: Brian Vickers. He’s going to be in the best equipment in the Nationwide Series and running for a title. A look at his Cup numbers from 2012 shows what kind of a driver Vickers can be, scoring three top 5s and five top 10s in just eight starts wheeling a car that was built for another driver. Now, he’ll be in cars built to his liking and back in the series where he’s the 2003 champion. Vickers is still a young talent, only 29 years old; when he won the title, he had barely turned 20. He’s more experienced now and wiser than he was three or four years ago, let alone a full decade. Since moving up to Sprint Cup as a 20-year-old in 2004, Vickers has had some hard lessons: he lost his best friend on his own 21st birthday, so he knows the cost of the sport. He could have lost his own life with a health scare, in 2010 so he knows how to put racing in perspective. And because he lost respect in 2011 when he was driving scared, trying to prove too much, he now understands the value of racing with respect. He won a championship without any of that. Just imagine the potential he has now, years afterward…

Kyle Larson, shown here after a win at Gresham Motorsports Park will move up to the Nationwide Series full-time in 2013 after a very successful 2012 driving well, anything he could get his hands on.

S.D. Grady, Senior Editor: Kyle Larson. The kid is amazing. He can drive anything and more often than not puts his ride of the day in Victory Lane. He competed in over 100 races in 2012 in almost any kind of car you care to name. This is one driver who has the talent and determination to change the face of NASCAR in the upcoming decade.

Summer Bedgood, Assistant Editor: Two words: Ryan Blaney. Yes, he could turn out to be the next Joey Logano (hint: not a good thing!) But you can’t ignore the buzz that surrounds the son of Dave Blaney, who has been successful in every form of racing he’s come across even at a relatively young age. Now that he’s being thrown into the spotlight in both the Nationwide and Truck Series this season, he’ll be up against talent that will show his true capabilities. While I’ve been impressed with the performances he’s had thus far, I’m not completely sold. The curiosity will ultimately get the better of me, however, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Blaney all year.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Editor: In the Truck Series (now Nationwide), it would be Nelson Piquet, Jr. He finally won a race last season – two, in fact – after several near misses (or near hits?), and is everything somebody could ask for as a spokesman of the sport. A young, articulate driver by way of Brazil, the son of a three-time Formula One world champion, Piquet Jr., spent three seasons in Formula One before trying on Trucks – a natural progression obviously. He has proved himself as an open-wheeler who can turn left, which some of his predecessors have found difficult. He’ll get the opportunity to do both, as he advances to the Nationwide Series, driving the No. 30 Chevrolet Camaro for Turner Scott Motorsports. Given Turner’s affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports, one has to believe that a successful season or two in Nationwide would help pave the way for a Cup opportunity somewhere down the line.

Danny Peters, Senior Writer:
I’m really excited to see how Travis Pastrana runs in his first full-time season as a Nationwide driver. If his wacky paint scheme is an indicator, he could quickly become a must-watch type of personality.

Kevin Rutherford, Nationwide Series Expert: The Nationwide and Truck Series have not only begun producing talent with vast potential once again — both series are also housing the offspring of wheelmen, both former and current, such as Ryan Blaney, the Dillons, Corey LaJoie and more.

But I’m most excited about Jeb Burton. The son of former Daytona 500 champ Ward, Burton gets a full-time seat driving a truck for Turner Scott Motorsports, with a few Nationwide events on the side.

Burton debuted in 2012 with Hillman Racing, showing promise before being sidelined due to lack of funding. But with Turner Scott, he’s found a team that’s not only well-funded, but highly competitive as well. I expect him to be in the No. 4 truck all season and to run up front for many races, possibly with a win or two. He’ll also learn a vast amount of knowledge from defending series champ and teammate James Buescher, as well as fellow teammate Miguel Paludo.

I don’t envision Jeb vying for the title like Ty Dillon did in his first full season last year. But the kid will be battling for titles someday, and this year is the first real glimpse we’ll get at him for an entire year. I know I’m excited.

Rick Lunkenheimer, Contributing Writer: With 17 top 10s, plus a win in 22 races combined with nearly becoming the first rookie in Truck Series history to win the series championship, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Ty Dillon’s performance. In fact, I imagine he’ll be just as competitive as — if not more so — than his brother was in his sophomore season. After all, because he’s younger Ty already lives a bit in the shadow of his brother and would like to establish his own identity as he moves up the ladder in NASCAR.

Over in the Nationwide Series, I’ll be watching Travis Pastrana. With his over-the-top attitudes and his friendliness with fans, he’ll be an asset to the series. Besides, who doesn’t want to see just how well he’ll perform since he’s succeeded so much already? Could Pastrana become an ambassador for the sport based on his fan-friendly mindset? Only the future will tell for sure, but I’m positive that mindset will live on.

Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: I think Sam Hornish is a driver to watch in the Nationwide Series. I was of the opinion that Penske should have given the No. 22 Sprint Cup ride to Hornish, instead of Logano (though I personally like Logano). Hornish regularly contended for a top 10 spot when he took over for A.J. Allmendinger for Penske halfway through season with six finishes of 13th or better, including three 11th-place finishes. If he has another strong Nationwide season, it will just prove that he should be a Sprint Cup regular, too.

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