1. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota After a record-setting 13 wins and an astounding 28 Top 10's last season, how can we not make Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team No. 1 in our ranking? Busch is pegged to return for the full schedule, but with NASCAR taking championship eligibility away from Sprint Cup Series drivers, don't be surprised to see the JGR star take a break on occasion. At the very least, Busch is the most dominant driver in this series when he saddles up.
2. Brad Keselowski, No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge With the 2010 Nationwide Series championship now a trophy in his trophy case, Keselowski will return for another full dip in 2011. While he won't be eligible to defend his championship the Penske Racing driver will be a dominant force none-the-less. Keselowski racked up six victories and an amazing 26 Top-5 finishes with this No. 22 team last season. With all the cast members returning, there's no reason to believe there will be a drop off.
3. Joey Logano/Denny Hamlin/Other Drivers, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Logano and Hamlin will team up again to take the majority driving duties for Joe Gibbs' second car in the Nationwide Series in 2011. The duo mopped up behind teammate Kyle Busch to the tune of three wins and 29 Top-10 finishes. Not too bad for being second fiddle in this racing stable. Logano is scheduled to compete in about 20 of the 35 races and Hamlin the vast majority of the others. A tough team to beat with this quality driver lineup.
4. Kevin Harvick/Clint Bowyer/Paul Menard/Austin Dillon, No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet Harvick will field his team full-time in 2011 with a deep driver lineup. The owner/driver will take the most events with 12, followed by Bowyer with nine and Menard with seven. Dillon will catch the remaining events. This team was one of the strongest in the Nationwide Series last season with three wins and a series-best 30 Top-10 finishes. We expect KHI's No. 33 entry to be a strong weekly performer given this talented lineup of drivers and the elite personnel and equipment backing them.
5. Carl Edwards, No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford With the Nationwide Series championship now out of the question, it remains to be seen if Edwards will run the full slate in the No. 60 Ford, although we believe he'll be in the driver's seat the vast majority of the time. Edwards' four wins and 27 Top 10's made him a prime contender for the championship in 2010. The level of performance of this team should remain very high, even if Edwards is not in the car every weekend. With 29 victories in the last six seasons, this team has been an elite performer in the Nationwide Series.
6. Elliott Sadler, No. 2 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet Sadler will move from the Sprint Cup to the Nationwide Series in the upcoming season in the wake of his Richard Petty Motorsports team shutting down at the end of last season. With him racing a full slate for Kevin Harvick Inc. he automatically becomes a championship contender. Sadler made a handful of starts in 2010 collecting two Top 10's in just five starts. The veteran driver can still wheel a race car around an oval, and he'll prove that with good equipment he can still be competitive.
7. Aric Almirola, No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet After bouncing around between the Camping World Truck Series and the Sprint Cup Series, Almirola has finally found a home in the Nationwide Series. JR Motorsports has decided to put the talented youngster in the team's No. 88 Chevrolet. Almirola only made eight starts for this organization in 2010, but he was productive, grabbing one Top 5 and four Top 10's in those starts. With Tony Eury Sr. serving as his crew chief, we expect Almirola to make some waves this season.
8. Trevor Bayne, No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Bayne will be a front-runner for this season's championship. With the Sprint Cup Series drivers locked out of the championship hunt, this Roush Fenway Racing development driver could easily be the best of the regular field. Bayne earned 11 Top 10's last season and finished a surprising seventh in the final driver standings. With Roush equipment at his disposal, we expect that first career Nationwide Series win to come in 2011, followed by many more. Think Joey Logano in 2008 and we believe you'll get the picture.
9. Justin Allgaier, No. 31 Turner Motorsports Ford With Penske Racing downsizing at the end of last season, Allgaier found himself a free agent. However, he landed a good full-time gig with Turner Motorsports. The No. 31 team has geared-up on personnel and sponsorship for 2011 in order to give Allgaier the best possible run this season. He collected one victory and 20 Top 10's with his old Penske Racing team. Allgaier should come close to replicating those numbers with Turner Motorsports.
10. Reed Sorenson/Mark Martin, No. 32 Braun Racing Chevrolet Sorenson made a good transition from the Sprint Cup Series to the Nationwide Series last season. Despite only racing in 28 of the 35 events, he piled up nine Top 5's and 21 Top 10's for his Braun Racing team. Sorenson is tabbed for a pretty full slate of races this season, and he'll cede four starts to the veteran Martin at some larger ovals. Sorenson will make good on this opportunity and could even win a race or two along the way.
11. Jason Leffler/Kasey Kahne, No. 38 Braun Racing Chevrolet This team returns pretty much intact from 2010. Again Leffler and Kahne will split the driving duties with Leffler getting the bulk of the starts. Last season's tally saw the No. 38 Braun Racing team collect 14 Top-10 finishes in a full schedule. With the move to Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports power plants, this team could improve in 2011. Leffler has a personal best of 20 Top-10 finishes in a season, and he'll push that mark in the upcoming campaign.
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford After a rocky start to last season, Stenhouse stepped up his performance down the stretch to salvage a decent 2010 season. Of his eight Top 10's, five of them came in the final 10 races. The No. 6 team shouldn't have any trouble carrying that momentum through the short off-season. Stenhouse will have to make a quick connection with new crew chief Mike Kelly but that shouldn't be to concerning given the talent of this driver and capabilities of this team.
13. Brian Scott, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota This is a new race team for JGR in 2011. Scott comes over from Braun Racing to run a full slate for Gibbs in the Nationwide Series. Given the recent success of this stable and the talent of Scott, this would appear to be a venture tabbed for immediate success in the upcoming campaign. Scott only claimed five Top 10's in a full season last year, and he should easily more than double that tally racing for JGR.
14. Steve Wallace, No. 66 Rusty Wallace Inc. Toyota Veteran crew chief Doug Randolph joins this team for the upcoming season. The still-improving Wallace needs all the guidance he can get from the top of the war wagon. While the son of team owner Rusty Wallace collected a career-best 13 Top-10 finishes last season, he also picked up a disappointing seven DNF's. It all added up to a respectable 10th-place finish in the final driver standings. Wallace should get incrementally better in 2011. Hopefully Randolph's influence will show in Wallace's driving and some patience will materialize.
15. Drivers TBD, No. 27 Baker Curb Racing Ford Baker Curb Racing is still searching for a driver for the team's No. 27. Considering that Greg Biffle and a handful of other drivers posted 10 Top-10 finishes for this team last season, the cupboard is far from bear. The capability of this race team to be competitive is undisputable, but their potential will largely be set by whatever lineup of drivers the team selects. Watch this situation closely as we draw closer to Speedweeks at Daytona, as this team could climb the rankings with the right drivers.
16. Michael Annett, No. 62 Rusty Wallace Inc. Toyota Annett replaces Brendan Gaughan's two-season run in the No. 62 Toyota. Gaughan managed to place this team ninth and 11th in the driver standings each of the last two years, so the RWR team is quite capable. Annett brings two full seasons of Nationwide Series experience to this team, but little in the achievements category. He's managed a mere six Top 10's in 71 races of experience in this racing series. Team owner Rusty Wallace will expect Annett to hit the ground running, so pressure to perform will be very high.
17. Ricky Carmichael/Other Drivers, No. 10 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet The talented young motocross star turned NASCAR driver is ramping up his stock car racing schedule in 2011. Carmichael is set to race a handful of starts for this team in combination with some other drivers. The No. 10 Chevrolet was very respectable in 2010. This team posted nine Top 10's last season with Jason Leffler, David Reutimann and a host of other drivers in the seat. We should see a similar performance in the upcoming year with Carmichael and an ever-changing driver rotation behind the wheel.
18. Mike Bliss, No. 40 Key Motorsports Chevrolet Bliss mainly drove this car last season, and it appears that he's been tabbed for another campaign with Key Motorsports. With only two Top-10's after the full season, the performance fell short of expectations. Still, Bliss and this team generally finished inside the Top 20 most weeks and avoided the troublesome DNF's in large part. If the veteran driver can build some more chemistry with crew chief Gary Showalter, the performance should improve in 2011.
19. Kelly Bires, No. 25 Team Rensi Motorsports Ford Bires will look to revive his sagging NASCAR career with Team Rensi in 2011. It appears that the No. 25 team is poised for a full-season run and the young driver will hope to gain traction early in the season for this small race team. Bires made two starts for this team at the end of last year and posted 27th- and 22nd-place finishes at Richmond and Charlotte. He has 78 career starts in the Nationwide Series with 12 Top 10's to his credit, so Bires has some valuable seat-time in this racing series. The potential exists for this to be a surprise team in the upcoming season.
20. Sam Hornish Jr., No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge At the time of this writing Hornish is poised for just a part-time schedule in the team's No. 12 Dodge. It looks like 10 starts are possible, but Penske Racing is looking for more sponsors to make this a full-time ride for Hornish. If this happens, you can bump this team up the ranking five or six slots. Justin Allgaier piloted this team to 20 Top-10 finishes last season, so it is an elite level team. Hornish has enough NASCAR experience now that he can make this a very successful campaign if the funding comes together.
21. Patrick Sheltra, No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet At the time of this writing this is a speculative team, but one with tremendous upside if it comes together. The 2010 ARCA Series champion has been in talks with Richard Childress about racing for the car owner in the Nationwide Series this season. While this is still just rumor, it carries the tantalizing prospect of a very talented driver climbing behind the wheel of a very well equipped team. Sheltra has just five career starts in this racing series, but that shouldn't be much of a concern given his obvious talent. Keep this team on your radar screen pre-fantasy draft and bump them several notches up this ranking if they materialize before Daytona.
22. Danica Patrick/Josh Wise/Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Patrick returns to NASCAR in 2011, and ups her racing commitment to about 11 events this season. The first season with this team was a rocky affair, but Patrick did show improvement by the close of 2010. At the season finale at Homestead, she led 4 laps and finished a respectable 19th on the lead lap. When Patrick isn't behind the wheel we'll see a steady stream of starts for Wise and other drivers. Earnhardt Jr. will take the wheel for four events, likely most of the restrictor-plate races.
23. Kenny Wallace, No. 09 RAB Racing Toyota Wallace gets a bit of an upgrade in team for this season. He moves to RAB Racing and the revamped No. 09 team. Wallace will be paired with veteran crew chief Scott Zipadelli in a bid to run the full season. At the time of this writing they have sponsorship for 16 of the 35 events but are committed to run the full schedule no matter what. Wallace may be 44-years-old but he still has the ability to forge Top 10's and finish inside the Top 15 of this season's driver standings.
24. Eric McClure, No. 14 Tri Star Motorsports Chevrolet McClure ended a three-year relationship with Team Rensi Motorsports and heads to Tri Star in 2011. He brings with him his steadfast corporate sponsor Hefty. McClure is looking for a fresh start in the upcoming season, and the No. 14 team could provide a great opportunity for the driver to get his NASCAR career back on track. McClure has 137 career starts in the Nationwide Series, so he's not short on experience. However, he has no Top 10's in those starts so he is short on success. McClure should post his first career Top 10 with this team and forge a respectable Top 20 points finish by the end of the season.
25. Travis Pastrana/Ryan Truex/Other Drivers, No. 99 Diamond Waltrip Racing Toyota Motocross and X-Games champion Pastrana will follow Ricky Carmichael's lead and head into NASCAR this season. He is tabbed for seven starts in Waltrip's Toyota that was handled by Trevor Bayne last season. When the rookie is not behind the wheel another talented youngster Truex will be in the driver's seat. The glue that will hold these young drivers together will likely be Waltrip's Sprint Cup Series drivers Martin Truex Jr. and David Reutimann.
26. Tony Raines, No. 19 Tri Star Motorsports Chevrolet The journeyman driver will likely return to this team in 2011. Raines piloted this car last season under the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports. He started all 35 races last season for this team and posted two Top-10 finishes. Despite six DNF's Raines managed a decent 22.2 average finish for the year in this Chevrolet. While the team details are still pending, the team should be a decent performer again in the upcoming season.
27. Ricky Carmichael/James Buescher/Jason Leffler/Reed Sorenson, No. 30 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet This team will be part-time this season and only race about half the schedule. With that in mind, we can't discount the ability here compared to some of the lesser full-time teams. The driver lineup is more than capable, and it will be the home of Sorenson when Mark Martin is driving the team's No. 32 Chevrolet. In summary, this team is worth a fantasy racing look in weekly lineup leagues when they're entered in any event, but prepare for those weeks that they don't show up at the race track.
28. Jason Keller, No. 44 Tri Star Motorsports Chevrolet Journeyman driver Keller is likely to return to this team (formerly the No. 35) for the upcoming season. He posted one Top 10 and a respectable average finish of 23.4 for this team in 27 starts last season. The team's performance should remain pretty much the same this season with Bryan Berry returning a top the team's war wagon. There's no doubt that Keller can still wheel a stock car around an oval, so this team will surprise on occasion, especially on the circuit's short tracks.
29. Mike Wallace, No. 01 Davis Motorsports Chevrolet Wallace returns for another campaign with Davis Motorsports in 2011. The veteran driver returns to a team that is short on sponsorship but high on enthusiasm. Wallace has failed to post a Top-10 finish in his last two seasons in the Nationwide Series, so the possibility exists that he has reached the other side of the hill. This small race team did post the occasional Top 20 under Wallace's guidance last season, so the cupboard is not completely bare; however realize they were tagged with seven DNF's last season so the equipment is far from reliable.
30. Kevin Lepage, No. 24 Team Rensi Motorsports Ford Journeyman driver Lepage takes over the No. 24 Ford for the departing Eric McClure. This team is looking for a fresh start in 2011. After finishing 21st-, 17th- and 24th-place in the championship standings each of the last three seasons, it was time to break clean with McClure. Lepage spent most of last season racing for the start-and-park No. 56 ream of Mac Hill Motorsports. He will surely be excited about this racing opportunity. Lepage hasn't posted a Top-10 finish in the Nationwide Series since 2005, so we have to be a bit reserved about his chances. Still, this is the best team situation Lepage has had in some time.
31. Michael McDowell, No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge McDowell returns to the No. 81 team for the upcoming season. He may not likely race the entire schedule in the team's Dodge but he should get the vast majority of the events. McDowell posted one Top 10 (Watkins Glen) in 33 starts for this small race team. The equipment limits their fantasy racing worth, considering the eight DNF's they collected. Still, McDowell can turn in the occasional good run for this team if sponsorship can get behind them for a full schedule.
32. Joe Nemechek, No. 87 NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet The owner/driver will likely return for another full season of Nationwide Series action in 2011. Nemechek is dealing with sponsorship issues once again to start the season, but he is as good a salesman as he is a stock car driver. He normally pulls a few corporate sponsors out of the hat and gets into the action. Nemechek made 33 of the 35 events last season and accumulated 10 Top-20 finishes to the tune of a 24.7 average finish. Those are not bad numbers considering the budget limitations of this small race team. Nemechek should post similar numbers in 2011.
33. Driver TBD, No. 28 Jay Robinson Racing Chevrolet This is the team that Kenny Wallace raced for in 2010. Currently they have no sponsorship or driver. That doesn't seem to be deterring their plans to race in the upcoming season. With engines and other equipment provided by their own shop, if the right driver and sponsor land in this team prior to Daytona there could be some fantasy racing implications develop.
34. Robert Richardson/Coleman Pressley, No. 23 R3 Motorsports Chevrolet R3 Motorsports hasn't announced their plans for 2011 as of the date of this writing, but Richardson should be tabbed to return to the team in at least a part-time capacity. Pressley has also been rumored to be linked with this small race team in the upcoming season considering he made five starts for them in 2010. The No. 23 team made all 35 starts last season, so they should return for a full schedule in the upcoming season. Between Richardson, Pressley and whatever other drivers climb on board, don't have too high expectations for this team.
35. Willie Allen/David Starr, No. 05 Day Motorsports Chevrolet This team made 31 of the 35 events in 2010 with a multiple driver lineup. Mostly Allen and Starr were behind the wheel and the tandem should return in the upcoming season. Allen's 18 starts netted a respectable 24.6 average finish with only 3 DNF's. When truck series veteran Starr made his seven starts (most towards the end of the season) he netted a slightly less impressive 26.7 average finish. No matter who pilots the No. 05 Chevrolet in the upcoming season, this small team is very unreliable and subject to the occasional DNQ despite grabbing the occasional Top-20 finish.