by Richard Slifkin – follow Richard on Twitter @Race_Media
It’s been a little more than three weeks since the end of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season, and I would venture to guess that for the Nationwide drivers who are unsure of their plans for 2014, it’s been at least 21 days of wondering whether or not they’ll get another shot behind the wheel in NASCAR’s second-tier series. With only four of the top 12 drivers in 2013 driver points returning to the series full-time next year, there have been several definite announcements as well as plenty of speculation regarding who will end up where at Daytona in February. Here’s a partial countdown of some drivers coming and going in the Nationwide Series:
Photo: Johanna Long (right) is among the drivers unsure of their 2104 racing plans. This photo was taken in the garage at Homestead-Miami Speedway where Johanna talked to Clair B. Lang (left) of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the uncertainty of her 2014 schedule. Photo credit: Richard Slifkin, Destination: Race Day
7 - At least seven full-time drivers, including six of the top 12 in driver points, are not returning to the series full-time for 2014. Perhaps most notably is series champion Austin Dillon who, along with several others, is making the move the Sprint Cup Series. Also on the move to Sprint Cup racing are Justin Allgaier (5th in 2014 Nationwide points) who will drive the car formerly owned by James Finch and now owned by Turner Scott Motorsports co-owner Harry Scott, Kyle Larson (8th) who takes over the seat of the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing No. 42 from Juan Pablo Montoya, and Parker Kligerman (9th), out of a ride when Kyle Busch closed his Nationwide Series team, joins Swan Racing as it expands to a multicar team in 2014.
After sharing the Michael Waltrip Racing #55 ride for the past two years, Brian Vickers (10th) is scheduled to take over driving duties of the car full-time for 2014. Michael Annett (15th) is bringing his Flying J sponsorship from the Nationwide Series and replacing Dave Blaney in the No. 7. Nelson Piquet Jr., who drove for NTS Mototorsports in the last Camping World Truck Series race of the year, is reported but not yet confirmed to be moving from the Nationwide Series, where he finished 12th in points in 2013, to NTS Motorsports in the truck series full-time for 2014.
6 – A bunch of driver with previous series starts will be seen more often in the series this year. Six of the most notable are Ty Dillon, Dakoda Armstrong, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Reed, Chris Buescher and Maryeve Dufault. After two years full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Dillon will be taking over the wheel of the No. 3 car vacated by his brother Austin. He has 12 previous NNS starts with four top ten finishes. Dakoda Armstrong and Brendan Gaughan will join Dillon in the move up from the Truck Series to the Nationwide Series. For Armstrong, it will be his first full year in the series, while for Brendan Gaughan, it will be a return. Armstrong has signed a multi-year contract with Richard Petty Motorsports and will take over the wheel of the No. 43 from the departing Michael Annett. Armstrong made six NNS starts in 2013. Gaughan drove full-time in the Nationwide Series in 2009 and 2010 and has a total of 84 series starts with 22 top ten finishes. He moves back to the series full-time with Richard Childress Racing after taking his RCR truck to a seventh place points finish in the Camping World Truck Series this year. Ryan Reed will be driving the full-season for Roush Fenway Racing after driving six races for the team in 2013 with one top ten finish.
With Travis Pastrana deciding not to return to NASCAR in 2014, the seat of the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing car will be taken over by Chris Buescher for an as-of-yet unannounced number of races. The younger brother of Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher, Chris drove seven NNS races in 2013, bringing home two top ten finishes. Another driver running a partial schedule will be Canadian driver Maryeve Dufault, who plans to compete in a dozen Nationwide races in 2014 for Go Green Racing. Dufault will be the first Canadian woman to race full-time in a U.S.-based stock car circuit, as she is joining Team Stange Racing for the complete ARCA schedule for 2014. Dufault has two career NNS starts.
5 – Unfortunately, there are more than five drivers whose plans for 2014 are unknown, but I’ll only list five here in this countdown. Clearly the most notable is championship runner-up Sam Hornish Jr., whose contract with Penske Racing was up at the end of this season. Hornish is joined in the drivers-without-a-contract category by Alex Bowman and Johanna Long. Bowman, who brought home two pole starts and six top ten finishes in his rookie season this year driving for RAB Racing, was released before the final race of the year. Johanna Long’s two year contract with ML Motorsports was up at the end of this year and neither driver nor team has made any announcements for 2014. Two other series regulars that have not yet announced plans for 2014 are Mike Bliss, who finished 13th in points this year, and Mike Wallace, who finished the year 17th.
Photo: With Penske Racing cutting back to one Nationwide team for 2014 and with no plans to expand its Sprint Cup operation, runner-up for the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship Sam Hornish Jr. is among the drivers looking for opportunities for 2014. During the Championship contenders press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sam commented: “I definitely feel I belong in the Cup Series.”. Photo credit: Richard Slifkin, Destination: Race Day
4 – Finally, the four series regulars who finished the year in the top 12 in points who will be coming back full-time in 2014: Regan Smith, 3rd in points with JR Motorsports in 2013, recording 19 top ten finishes and two wins, is expected to return to the seat of his No. 7 Chevy. Elliott Sadler, who moved to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, will return to the team in 2014. Sadler’s 2013 stats were 20 top ten and 9 top five finishes en route to a fourth place finish in the points. Trevor Bayne, who drove his Roush Fenway Racing Ford to 6th place in the final 2013 points standings, will be back behind the wheel of his No. 6 car with sponsor Advocare coming over from the championship winning Richard Childress Racing No. 3 team. Finally, Brian Scott will return to the seat of his own Richard Childress Racing machine after recording one pole position and 13 top ten finishes in 2013.