News & Media


Nationwide Spotlight: Early surprises, good and bad

March 09, 2011, Jill Erwin, NASCAR.com

Nationwide drivers didn't have long to get into a groove before the series takes its first off week of the season. Three races in, there are surprises, both good and bad.

But at least there's plenty more racing left to go.

WHO'S HOT

Turner Motorsports: The new team's three full-time drivers are all in the top five in the points. Reed Sorenson leads the way, Jason Leffler is third and Justin Allgaier, who was the top-finishing Nationwide regular last season, is fifth.

The former Braun Racing team has started the season on fire. Each of the team's drivers picked someone from their own camp as a preseason pick to win the title.

With the way things are going, they might have figured it out well before the rest of us.

Danica Patrick: The amount of improvement for the second-year NASCAR driver is stark. Last week's history-making fourth-place run at Las Vegas can be shouted down as a pit call, but that would be a mistake.

Patrick was running competitive laps throughout the day. She ran competitively at Daytona, earning her then-best 14th-place finish. She ran competitively in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Those expecting more than competitive laps and top-15 finishes out of a person who has been driving stock cars for only 16 starts has another agenda.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: It's a whole new year for Stenhouse. After last season's recovery and the rookie of the year award, Stenhouse has built on the momentum he started at the end.

He finished eighth at Daytona and seventh at Phoenix.

"We feel like we've potentially [given] up some spots, but then again last year we would have paid for two top-10s to start the season off," Stenhouse said before Las Vegas. "We've got to look at it in perspective of how last year went and where we started off this year."

Stenhouse added a third top-10 run when he finished eighth at Vegas.

Kenny Wallace: He finished 19th in 2009, driving for Jay Robinson. This year, he has moved over to RAB Racing and regained his up-front ability.

Wallace has grabbed 10th-place finishes in the past two races after a disappointing 28th-place run at Daytona.

The veteran showed last season he could run well in good equipment when he raced Gateway in a car from his brother Rusty. Now, he's showing he can do it with his full-time team as well.

WHO'S NOT

Aric Almirola: It seems weird to say a car sitting seventh in the points is not hot. But just listen to Almirola tell you.

"I'll be honest: I'm a little surprised that our No. 88 team is sitting seventh in championship points," Almirola said. "We're three races into this season, and I thought we'd be a little higher up at this point. But I know we have a solid team here at JRM, we just need to get past this string of subpar finishes and focus what we have coming up. I believe in these guys, and I'm confident we can turn this around and get ourselves into points contention."

The No. 88 team has been Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s baby for a long time. Now they've got a full-time driver for it who wants to do more than the team accomplished last year. Sounds like a perfect fit.

Rusty Wallace Racing: Steve Wallace finished 10th last year, and Michael Annett -- an addition to the team for 2011 -- was 13th in the points for Germain Racing.

But Annett was flagged and charged with several things, including driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content of .32 prior to the season opener. And Wallace has been woefully inconsistent, finishing no better than 16th in any race and 30th at Phoenix.

It's far from the way Wallace wanted to start off with his new lineup.

Trevor Bayne: For as consistent as Bayne has been in qualifying -- he's started seventh in each race -- he has not had the same luck in the race.

He led nine laps at Daytona, but finished 10th. He crashed out at Phoenix, finishing 31st, and finally pulled out a top-five run at Las Vegas.

It's his first full season with Roush Fenway Racing, and expectations are high for the 20-year-old.

Elliott Sadler: The odds-on favorite to win the Nationwide Series title in 2011 has yet to lead a lap.

Sadler joined the Kevin Harvick Inc. stable and was expected to be one of the frontrunners in the series in his move to full-time status. But things haven't worked out quite that way.

Daytona was a poor start, with a 38th-place finish. He's been 12th the past two races, but he's been on the lead lap at the finish of only one race of the first three.

%>