Once again, there isnít a lot to discuss in the Cup Series this week, so I will again be recapping the history and 2013 season of one of the lower-tier series in NASCAR, the Nationwide Series.
What would eventually become todayís Nationwide Series started in 1950, a mere two years after the Cup Series was founded. It was simply known as the NASCAR Sportsman Division. Races were held along the east coast and there were three to four races a week. This led to drivers competing in close to 60 races a year.
The NASCAR Sportsman Division remained this way for eighteen years until 1968 when it underwent its first name change. The name was changed to the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Division. This name stuck until the early 1980s when Anheuser-Busch entered the sport with their Budweiser beer. Thanks to Budweiser, the series was changed to the NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series and it was made into a national touring series in 1982. Jack Ingram won the first title under the new sponsorship by 47 points over Sam Ard.
Budweiser remained as the series sponsor for two seasons, before Anheuser-Busch made a change to the series sponsor from Budweiser to Busch in 1984. With this, the series is once again renamed, becoming the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series.
In the history of the Nationwide Series, in the time it has been a national touring series, only a handful of drivers have won back-to-back titles. These drivers include Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr., and most recently, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
In 2008, Nationwide Insurance took over as the title sponsor for NASCARís second-highest touring series and Nationwide announced in September of this year that it would not return as the series sponsor once its contract expired following the 2014 season.
In 2011 after seeing Cup drivers dominate the series in the previous few years and winning the majority of the races and the all championships between 2006 and 2010, NASCAR implemented a new rule that declared drivers could only accumulate points towards the championship in one series. The move worked as Nationwide regular Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the 2011 and 2012 titles. Stenhouse won a combined eight races in his title-winning seasons. However that all went upside down in 2013.
The points lead was held by Regan Smith for the early part of the year as he won two races and controlled the points lead into the summer. The wheels fell off for Smith late in the year as Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish, Jr. bypassed Smith in the standings. Smith would wind up third in the final standings.
Hornish, Jr. won the third race of the year at Las Vegas for his lone win of the year. Hornish, Jr. took over the points lead in late summer and held it for a while until the fall Kansas race when Dillon took command of the points lead. Dillon would continue to hold the points lead for the last few weeks going into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The 2013 season finale at Homestead was a crazy race that had a questionable ending. Late in the race, a caution came out and NASCAR proceeded to throw the yellow flag as usual. Officials didnít think it would take very long to clean up the track and kept the yellow flag out. However, it was soon realized that the cleanup would take longer than expected. NASCAR continued to keep the cars under the yellow flag (and therefore decreasing the number of laps the drivers would have left to race once the race went green again) instead of throwing the red flag and bringing the field to a halt. In all, the field was under caution for 12 laps during that caution period. Once the track was finally clear and the race was restarted there were only five laps left in the race. Hornish did everything he could to overtake Dillon by finishing third in the race. Dillon finished 12th and won the championship by three points. The margin of victory tied the record set by Joe Nemechek over Bobby Labonte in 1992. Kevin Harvick holds the record for the largest margin of victory with an 899-point lead over Carl Edwards at the conclusion of the 2006 season.
By winning the Nationwide title, Dillon pulled off a Matt Kenseth-like performance parlaying consistency into the title. He had 13 top-five finishes and 22 top-ten finishes out of 33 races. The big difference between Kensethís 2003 Sprint Cup title and Dillonís 2013 Nationwide title is that Kenseth won a race during his championship year. Dillon won the title despite not winning a single race all year. It was the first time in series history that the champion didnít win at least one race. Dillon and Nationwide Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson will both make the transition to the Cup Series next year.
With Dillon and Larson in the Cup Series and with Cup drivers ineligible to compete for the title, the question remains: Who will step up and become the 2014 Nationwide champion? There are plenty of drivers who are capable of winning the title. It will be fun to see who puts their name into the NASCAR history book by claiming they won the 2014 Nationwide championship.