Fantasy NASCAR: Nationwide drivers to watch

by C.J. Radune on February 11, 2010 @ 00:00:00 PDT

 


Each season a few lucky NASCAR Nationwide Series regulars get a shot at the big league. They get a race or two in Sprint Cup machinery, and sometimes they even spank the regulars. It happened last season when Brad Keselowski won the Aaron's 499, and it will certainly happen again at some point.

There are a number of new faces in the Nationwide Series and some may be making appearances in Cup, as well. Let's take a look at some that might get the call to step up at some point this season.

Justin Allgaier

Allgaier will drive the No. 12 Penske Championship Racing entry for the entire 2010 Nationwide campaign. While he has no official plans to run a Cup event in 2010, if he continues to prove successful that opportunity will come. He won the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award in his first full season of Nationwide competition in 2009 with three top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. He finished sixth in the standings behind such names as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. At age 14, Allgaier became the youngest driver ever to qualify for the famous Chili Bowl Midget Nationals A-Main race. He then spent time in ARCA and finished fourth in the 2007 standings. Penske does not sign drivers that it believes cannot succeed at the highest level of competition, and Allgaier is not an exception. He could be the most likely to receive a shot at Cup in 2010.

Danica Patrick

It is hard to predict that anyone will make as big of a splash on the NASCAR scene in 2010 as Patrick will. Her rumored move to stockcar competition had been brewing for some time and was finally announced just a few short weeks ago. Her plan is to run selected events in ARCA and the Nationwide Series, but don't be surprised if she makes an attempt at Cup before the season is over. Regardless of what she accomplishes on the track in terms of results, her presence alone will create a circus. While she is running a limited schedule in the lower rungs of the ladder, the appetite to take a stab at Cup will be great from herself as well as her team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and GoDaddy.com sponsor. Not many open-wheel drivers have made a quick transition to tin-tops, but that does not mean it can't happen. Danica was the first female to win an IndyCar Series event and has mixed it up admirably with the top dogs at various times through her career. The challenge of NASCAR should be nothing new to her aggressive nature.

Colin Braun

Another hotly anticipated Cup debut could come from Braun. He has been driving sports cars for a number of years, turning in nine top-fives and 14 top-10s in the 2009 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. His stated goal in 2010 is to win Nationwide's Rookie of the Year honors as well as find Victory Lane. He has a great shot at accomplishing that goal based on his past exploits. He was the youngest driver to stand on the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans by finishing second in class, and he was also the youngest driver ever to race a Daytona Prototype. Braun has more experience behind the wheel than his age would typically suggest, much like Joey Logano, who made his Cup debut in 2008. The opportunity to make a qualifying attempt for at least one Cup race in 2010 could be very ripe for Braun. If he can stay on track with his Nationwide goals, there is no reason he would not look to a Cup debut, as well. He finished fourth in this weekend's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, a solid start to a promising season for the young driver.

Trevor Bayne

Bayne will head out in 2010 for the Diamond-Waltrip Racing team. The team was Michael Waltrip Racing's Nationwide program until a majority interest was sold last year. Bayne was retained as the driver. He scored two top-10 finishes in 15 starts in 2009. He will run the full season this year with an eye on seven Sprint Cup races in 2011 and then move to full-time in that series the following year. To get him started on the right foot, there could be a Cup try here or there in 2010. Bayne is a quick young driver with an average finish of 18.1 in last year's Nationwide attempts. While he doesn't have a lot of experience in the Nationwide Series yet, it hasn't stopped other drivers from attempting Cup in the past. Bayne is with a team that has a viable path to Cup competition and the ability to slot him in on short notice should the timing be right.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse is another young talent that could parlay his top-notch Nationwide ride into a Cup debut at some point in the 2010 season. Stenhouse started his ARCA RE/MAX career in 2008 and won in just his sixth start in a stockcar. He finished the season with two wins and fourth-place in the standings. That performance was just what Roush needed to see to give him a shot in the Nationwide Series when its Cup drivers were occupied. Stenhouse started seven races under that guise in 2009; he tallied a pole, one top-five and two top-10s. Those are impressive results from a driver with such little stockcar experience. He will compete in the entire Nationwide schedule in 2010 and may work himself into a Cup start or two before the season ends.

A good omen for some of these drivers is the fact that many teams that have announced plans for the 2010 Sprint Cup schedule are only part time. The economy has forced sponsors to scale back their support of teams and drivers, which has forced many competitors into running partial schedules. The Nationwide drivers will be looking to leverage their early-season performances to find one-off runs in the Cup Series in teams like the No. 26 Latitude 43 Motorsports entry. While Boris Said will pilot that car through the first four races, no driver is confirmed past that point. While Said may stay on further, the new team's relationship with Roush may provide a loophole for RFR to field one or two of its successful Nationwide proteges in a Cup race. Stay tuned, and look for these names to begin making their way around the Cup garages.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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