by Ryan Isley
Writer’s Note: This is Part 11 in a 13-Part series. Each Friday from November 23rd to February 15th, Ryan will make a prediction for the 2013 NASCAR season spanning over all three main touring series – Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series. On February 8th and 15th, Ryan will predict the 12 drivers who will make the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase and the Sprint Cup champion. You can check out all of the predictions here.
With Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. moving from the Nationwide Series to the Sprint Cup Series in 2013, it means we will see a new Nationwide Series champion. And nobody can be happier about that than Elliott Sadler. While Stenhouse, Jr. has won the last two series championships, it has been Sadler who has finished second both seasons.
That will change this season as Sadler will finally get over the hump and hoist the 2013 Nationwide Series championship trophy.
The 2012 Nationwide Series championship was a three-driver race between Stenhouse, Jr., Sadler and Austin Dillon with Sadler finishing 23 points out of the top spot and one point ahead of Dillon. While there will be other drivers making noise in 2013, It is hard to imagine the race for the championship being anything but a two-driver battle between Sadler and Dillon.
The one difference this season will be that Sadler will be running for Joe Gibbs Racing, joining a team that won the owner’s championship in the Nationwide Series in 2012 for the fourth time in five seasons after Joey Logano won nine times in just 22 races. By moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, Sadler leaves Richard Childress Racing, the team that still employs Dillon.
Sadler finished the 2012 season with four wins, 15 top-5s and 24 top-10s en route to his second-place finish in the series. His four wins were third behind Logano’s nine and Stenhouse, Jr. with six. He finished behind only Stenhouse, Jr. (19) and Dillon (16) in top-5s and Dillon (27) and Stenhouse, Jr. (26) in top-10s.
Sadler showed an improvement over his 2011 season with the four wins, as he had zero wins despite finishing second in 2011. He also had three more top-5s in 2012 than in 2011 and had 24 top-10s for the second straight season. He improved his average finish from 9.8 to 7.6, which also placed him just behind Dillon (7.1) and Stenhouse, Jr. (7.3). They were the only three drivers in the series to have an average finish of better than 9.5.
2012 could not have started much better for Sadler, who finished first, third, first and third in the first four races of the season to open a 25-point lead on Stenhouse, Jr. It was the first of two times during the season that he would record four consecutive top-5 finishes.
Sadler either led the standings or was tied for the lead following 26 of the 33 races in 2012 and he was in second place after the remaining seven races, including the final two.
Sadler led Stenhouse, Jr. by six points for the series lead with three races to go last season after finishing in the top-5 in eight out of 11 races leading into the last three weeks. Unfortunately for Sadler, finishes of 11th and 22nd sent him into the final race of the season 20 points behind Stenhouse, Jr. with little chance of winning the championship.
Despite a poor showing in two of the final three races – if you can even call 11th-place a bad showing – Sadler still finished ahead of Dillon in the final standings and never trailed Dillon at any point during the season.
While Sadler will be changing teams, the biggest distraction between the two drivers will probably be on Dillon. The 22-year-old will be looking ahead to 2014 when he will make the move to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and he will be getting some seat time in the Sprint Cup Series in 2013 to prepare for that leap.
Sadler has more experience than Dillon in the series and will not be looking at 2014, rather focusing most – if not all – of his attention on bringing home the Nationwide Series championship that he has missed out on the last two seasons. Sadler will indeed win the Nationwide Series championship but will not wrap up the title until that final weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway as Dillon will give him all he can handle.
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