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2013 Nationwide Series: Driver Rankings

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A five-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year each of the last two years. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

1. Kyle Busch/Other Drivers - No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota - The most dominant car and team in the last five years of Nationwide Series competition return in 2013. While the driver lineup is still in flux at this point, it's clear that Joe Gibbs Racing star Busch could return for a few events this season. Outside of Busch the driver lineup should include a few Sprint Cup Series drivers and youngster Darrell Wallace Jr. This strong team racked up a series-leading seven victories and 28 Top-10 finishes last season and that was with a rotating driver lineup as well. The 18-year-old driver Wallace picked up three Top 10s in four starts with this team, and that speaks volumes of the top car in the Nationwide Series.

2. Austin Dillon -
No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - Dillon and his RCR No. 3 Chevy team will return for a second season of racing in the Nationwide Series. As a rookie Dillon finished a surprising third in the final driver standings with two victories and 27 Top-10 finishes. The youngster is just getting started. Dillon should up the ante in 2013 and throw his hat in the ring for the championship once again. He will be reunited with crew chief Danny Stockman and primary sponsor Advocare. Given all that Dillon learned in his rookie season, he should be even better in the upcoming season. He's a prime contender for this year's Nationwide Series championship.

3. Elliott Sadler -
No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota - The 18-year NASCAR veteran jumped ship over the off-season. Sadler no longer races for team owner Richard Childress. He moved to the Joe Gibbs Racing stable and the No. 11 Toyota that was occupied by Brian Scott in 2012. The move should further enhance Sadler's chances to win the championship. Scott piloted this car to 11 Top 10s and a ninth-place points finish in 2012. We expect Sadler to take this strong team to new heights in the upcoming season. The veteran driver is fresh off a four-win and 24 Top 10 campaign at RCR that saw him finish runner-up in the championship standings. Sadler could raise the bar even higher in 2013.

4. Trevor Bayne -
No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford - After suffering through a long 2012 season that saw Bayne only make six Nationwide Series starts in a very limited schedule, the talented youngster will finally get the full-time Roush Fenway Racing ride he deserves. Bayne has stood in series champion and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s shadow the last couple years, but now it's his time to shine. Bayne will pilot the team's strong No. 6 Ford and make his bid to be series champion. The 21-year-old showed us in 2011 that he can win races at this level and finish in the Top 10 on a weekly basis. Bayne will get his NASCAR career back on track this season.

5. Regan Smith -
No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet - Smith will be demoted to full-time racing in the Nationwide Series this season, but he gets a major upgrade in team performance. The former Furniture Row Racing driver takes the wheel of JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet this season. Smith made one start for this team at the end of 2012. It resulted in a victory in the season finale at Homestead. This is likely a preview of what's to come from this driver and team in 2013. Smith hasn't raced full-time in this series since 2006 and he's never enjoyed that much success in Nationwide racing, but that's of little concern. Smith is a much more polished driver now than in 2006, and he's got one of the top teams in the series at his disposal.

6. Brian Vickers -
No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota - Vickers is another former Sprint Cup Series regular who is finding a new life in the Nationwide Series. The Michael Waltrip Racing veteran has been employed by Joe Gibbs Racing to compete full-time in pursuit of the championship in the No. 20 Toyota this season. Vickers owns three career wins and 60 Top 10s in his 118-race Nationwide Series racing resume. He's sure to add to his trophy case in 2013. This JGR team claimed two victories and 13 Top 10s with a rotating driver lineup in 2012. Imagine what they'll be capable of with the consistency of having a driver like Vickers behind the wheel each week.

7. Brad Keselowski/Ryan Blaney -
No. 22 Penske Racing Ford - The Penske Racing No. 22 team will be back in 2013, but we're likely to see less of Keselowski behind the wheel than we did last year. He started 21 races last season and picked up three victories and 14 Top-10 finishes in those starts. The demands of defending his Sprint Cup Series championship will likely reduce Keselowski's slate to a more manageable 15 or so starts. When the champ isn't behind the wheel we expect to see a heavy dose of youngster Blaney. He made seven starts with this team last season and picked up five Top-10 finishes in those efforts. A surprisingly good performance for the rookie driver. Blaney's starts figure to go up with this team in the coming year, so we've pulled back a bit on overall expectation for this team, but not by much.

8. Brian Scott -
No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - Scott had a reasonably successful season in the Joe Gibbs No. 11 Toyota last year, but not a good enough performance to keep his job. The 24-year-old was held winless for his third straight season of Nationwide Series competition, but Scott did manage a career-best 11 Top 10s en route to a ninth-place finish in the driver standings. He makes the move to Richard Childress Racing's strong No. 2 team in the new season. This is the same group that carried Elliott Sadler to runner-up in the standings and four victories. Expecting similar results from Scott would be overly ambitious, but he should be a fringe Top 10 drive none-the-less. He could even find victory lane for the first time in his career in 2013.

9. Kurt Busch/Kyle Busch -
No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota - At the time of this writing the No. 54 KBM team is a bit up in the air. No driver schedules have been announced and we can only speculate that we'll see a similar Kyle / Kurt split of this ride in 2013. Together they posted one victory and 22 Top-10 finishes in this fledgling team last season, after starting the year in a slump. It has been speculated that Kyle could see as many as 20 starts in his No. 54 Toyota and if that's the case all the better. Now that this team has one year under their belts and showed dramatic improvement in the latter half of last season, then the best performances lay straight ahead. This team could easily win multiple races and challenge for the owner's championship when performing up to their potential.

10. Justin Allgaier -
No. 31 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet - Allgaier was a bit of a disappointment in 2012. Despite one victory and 19 Top-10 finishes, he fell to a disappointing sixth in the final driver standings. The No. 31 Turner Chevrolet was expected to challenge for the championship, but they did not in what was a very competitive field of teams last year. Allgaier returns and will be paired with new crew chief Scott Zipadelli. It could take the two some time to develop chemistry and the relationship to get the most out of Allgaier's abilities. While the jury is out until that happens, it's pretty safe to assume a similar performance for the 26-year-old Illinois native. Allgaier is at the leading edge of the tier "B" drivers in this series and poised to move into the "A" tier if the right things can happen.

11. Sam Hornish Jr. -
No. 12 Penske Racing Ford - Hornish will return and challenge for the Nationwide Series championship again this season. The Penske veteran was quite consistent in 2012 with 22 Top-10 finishes and an average finish of 9.7 that was among the best in the series. However, Hornish was held out of victory lane despite all his consistency. The No. 12 Ford team will refocus under new leadership in the upcoming season. Gone is crew chief Chad Walter, and in his place atop the war wagon is veteran chief Greg Erwin. Erwin has Sprint Cup Series victories and Chase appearances in his resume with Roush driver Greg Biffle. The knowledge and experience he brings to the table should help the No. 12 team and Hornish, but it will take the prerequisite time period for the two develop some chemistry.

12. Parker Kligerman -
No. 77 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota - The Camping World Truck Series sensation makes the full-time jump to the Nationwide Series in the coming year. Kligerman was hired over the off-season to pilot Kyle Busch Motorsports new second team, the No. 77 Toyota. The 21-year-old rising star will not be eligible for Rookie of the Year because he has 18 prior starts in the Nationwide Series and with some success as well. In 2012 alone, Kligerman collected a pair of Top 10s in just three starts in the strong No. 22 Dodge. It's that level of performance that earned him this job with KBM. We don't expect Kligerman to let down team owner Kyle Busch either. The young driver had one victory and finished a very respectable fifth in last season's truck series driver standings. Kilgerman should have a big first full season of racing in the Nationwide Series.

13. Michael Annett -
No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford - Annett surprised in his first year with this new team in 2012. The journeyman driver turned in the best season of his four-year Nationwide Series career in 2012. Annett was held out of victory lane but picked up 17 Top-10 finishes and ended the year a surprising fifth in the championship standings. This team should make some gains in the upcoming season since all the sponsorship, team and crew chief are returning intact. Phillipe Lopez will once again call the shots for Annett and hopefully the two can challenge for the young driver's first career win in this racing series.

14. Kasey Kahne/Brad Sweet -
No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet - The dynamic duo of Kahne and Sweet will take their show from Turner Motorsports over to JR Motorsports in 2013. The Cup star and rising Nationwide sensation will split the strong No. 5 Chevrolet team about 40/60 in the upcoming schedule. The two combined for three Top-5 finishes and 11 Top-10 finishes in their old Turner ride. There should be a noticeable increase in performance moving to the stronger JRM No. 5 team. Kahne could return to victory lane in this new ride and Sweet should improve on the two Top 10s he posted in 2012. Mike Bumgarner, an 18-year veteran of Hendrick Motorsports, has been named crew chief for this dynamic duo. His veteran presence will further enhance the performance level of this team.

15. James Buescher/Nelson Piquet Jr./Other Drivers -
No. 30 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet - The driver lineup for this team is yet to be determined, but should boast a similar face to 2012. Rising Turner stars Buescher and Piquet carried the majority of the starts with this team and it certainly yielded a lot of fruits. The two combined with other drivers to post two wins and 12 Top 10s. Buescher won the season opener at Daytona and Piquet won his first career NASCAR race in the road course event at Road America. The strength and depth of this team is enough to overcome the driver rotation that fills the seat. Mike Hillman Jr. should be back at the top of the team's war wagon and calling the shots for its multiple drivers.

16. Travis Pastrana -
No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford - The former Motocross and X-Games champion will make the full-time dive into NASCAR this season after a couple seasons dabbling in the lower divisions of the sport. Pastrana made nine Nationwide Series starts last season, most with the No. 99 team. This year he'll get a big upgrade in team and equipment. The strong No. 60 Roush Ford that Carl Edwards used to win so many races over the years will be his new destination. Pastrana will be paired with veteran crew chief Chad Norris and Boost Mobile will pick up the bills. While it's still quite early in his stock car racing development, the situation will be a set up for success. Just how much depends on how quickly Pastrana learns the ropes.

17. Danica Patrick/Ty Dillon/Other Drivers -
No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - This driver lineup is yet to be set in stone, but this team is too good to slip too far down the rankings despite the pending driver rotation. It looks like whatever amount of racing Patrick will do in the Nationwide Series this year will likely happen in this car. She will probably be paired with youngster Dillon from the truck series. In addition, we could see a handful of Sprint Cup Series regulars in this ride in the coming year making it a strong performing team. Patrick alone picked up four Top 10s last season, so this team could do some pretty impressive things depending on the final driver lineup.

18. Kenny Wallace -
No. 99 RAB Racing Toyota - Wallace spent more time off the track that on it in 2012 and that's the bad news. The good news is that he could resume full-time competition in the coming season. Wallace will reclaim the wheel of the No. 99 Toyota of RAB Racing, and hope that the sponsorship issues have been put to bed. The veteran driver had 11 Top-10 finishes and a seventh-place final standing in the championship standings with this team in 2011, so expectations are pretty high for a return to full-time racing. Given the sponsorship issues of this team we have to hedge lower in the rankings, but they can be a top performing team when the bills are paid.

19. Unknown Drivers -
No. 38 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet - This team is certainly capable of big things, but the driver lineup is in a state of limbo at the time of this writing. Cup star Kasey Kahne and young driver Brad Sweet piloted this Chevrolet in 2012 but they left for Hendrick Motorsports over the off-season. Turner has a lot of driver options for this team, and most are competent truck series drivers. If the No. 38 team is not idled it could be a decent performing team even with Turner's rotation of young truck series drivers in the seat each week.

20. Kyle Larson -
No. ? Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet - The EGR development driver will get his first full-time action in the Nationwide Series this season. Although the car number and team makeup are yet to be determined, it is clear that this team will compete in the full schedule with the 20-year-old behind the wheel. Larson is coming off a K&N Pro Series East championship where he won two events and finished in the Top 10 in 12 of the 14 races. He also made four truck series starts in 2012 with an impressive three Top 10s to show for. Larson is an up-and-coming talent and should have a big rookie season in the Nationwide Series.

21. Jeffrey Earnhardt -
No. 39 Go Green Racing Ford - The 23-year-old son of Kerry Earnhardt will get his first taste of full-time action in the Nationwide Series this year. Earnhardt will compete for Rookie of the Year honors in the seat of GGR's Ford Mustang. The grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. has only had 10 spot starts in this racing series over the last four years, so this season will be a crash-course in full season action. Earnhardt only managed a top finish of 21st last season, so it could be a long year competing with this small race team.

22. Hal Martin -
No. 19 Tri Star Motorsports Toyota - Louisiana native Martin will take over the Tri Star No. 19 Toyota in 2013. This was a decent performing team last year with a handful of different drivers. Martin brings to the table only four career starts between the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series combined, and only 11 ARCA Series starts spread over the last four years. He spent most of his racing career working the dirt tracks of the Gulf Coast in late models, but now he's ready to advance up the ranks in NASCAR. Martin has a lot to learn in the coming year, so this rookie will have several ups-and-downs along the way.

23. Joe Nemechek -
No. 87 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota - The owner/driver of the No. 87 Toyota will be back for another season of racing in the Nationwide Series. Nemechek prides himself on fielding competitive race cars each week in this NASCAR series. Last year he eight Top-15 finishes in a full-time schedule in this Toyota. That culminated in an impressive 11th-place finish in the final driver standings, his best final ranking since 1993. Nemechek will return the same crew, team, sponsors and crew chief for the 2013 campaign. That should add up to similar success for the 49-year-old driver.

24. Mike Wallace -
No. 01 JC Motorsports Chevrolet - Wallace tallied one Top-10 finish and a 12th-place finish in the final driver standings of 2012. He will come back for an impressive 24th year of racing in the Nationwide Series. Wallace returns to the seat of the No. 01 Chevrolet, and to basically the same team he had at the end of last year. He claimed 17 Top-20 finishes last year, so while Wallace wasn't leading laps and picking up Top 10s he was generally staying on the lead lap and racing competitively. We should be in for an eye-full of the same in 2013. Wallace has always been a steady performer on the larger ovals.

25. Eric McClure -
No. 14 Tri Star Motorsports Toyota - McClure had a tough 2012 campaign that included a big crash and concussion at Talladega during the spring. The injuries sustained in that crash sidelined him for five races. Despite missing those events, McClure still finished a respectable 16th in the final championship standings. This was thanks mostly to his seven Top-25 finishes in the final 10 races of last year. That push allowed him to climb a couple spots in the standings over the last two months of 2012. The No. 14 Toyota team will field McClure again this season and hope for some better luck. The veteran driver will make his 200th series start at Daytona in February, so good things should be in store.

26. Johanna Long -
No. 70 ML Motorsports Chevrolet - Long will return to ML Motorsports and finish her two-year contract with this small race team. She will compete in a similar 22-23 race schedule in the upcoming season. Long really showed that things were starting to click during the summer last season. She picked up five Top-20 finishes during a 10-race span last summer. It was highlighted by a pair of 12th-place finishes at Daytona and Kentucky. Long will take more steps forward in the coming year, but the part-time status of this team limits her performance overall.

27. Unknown Drivers -
No. 44 Tri Star Motorsports Toyota - Tri Star will have to fill the seat of this team as well as the team's No. 19 entry. This car was a decent performing team in 2012 with a handful of different drivers behind the wheel. Mike Bliss led the team to some of their best finishes with a Top 10 at Daytona during July and a handful of Top-15 efforts throughout the summer months. If this team can put a good driver in the seat and make the commitment to race each week, they could easily climb in the standings. The No. 44 Toyota team has a "check status" label before the season-opener at Daytona.

28. Jason Bowles -
No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports Toyota - Bowles returns for his second full season of racing with the No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports team in 2013. John Monsam returns to the crew chief position and will guide the young driver once again this season. The two combined for 17 Top-20 finishes last year, so they weren't just riding around on the track. Bowles will attempt to up the ante in 2013 and collect his first career Nationwide Series Top-10 finish. Considering how this team performed last year, that goal is entirely possible. The native of Ontario, California can race anything on wheels, and that's a big bonus for the No. 81 Toyota team.

29. Scott Lagasse Jr. -
No. 8 Team SLR Chevrolet- Lagasse made a scant three starts in the Nationwide Series last season and he hopes to reverse that trend in the upcoming year. The 32-year-old has over 50 Nationwide Series starts in his resume with five Top-10 finishes to his credit. Lagasse will partner with crew chief Brad Parrott and Team SLR in 2013. This is the same team he finished last season with and picked up a season-best 20th-place finish in the season finale at Homestead. It is a young team, but the driving and crew chief experience is veteran. Hopefully the upcoming season will be one of many gains for Team SLR.

30. Jeremy Clements -
No. 51 Jeremy Clements Racing Chevrolet - Clements is coming off of his second full season of Nationwide Series competition and the results are starting to show. The Spartanburg, S.C., native picked up two Top-10 finishes and a respectable average finish of 22.8 last season en route to a career-best 14th-place finish in the driver standings. While some improvement is possible in 2013, we still have to remember that this is one of the smaller teams in the series that competes full time. Clements should make a few gains in performance but don't expect him to climb the standings drastically or challenge for wins any time soon.

31. Jeb Burton -
No. 32 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet - The next generation of racing Burtons is ready to hit the Nationwide Series tour. The son of NASCAR driver Ward Burton, he is ready to take on some part-time action in this racing series. Burton made five starts in the Camping World Truck Series last season with one Top-10 finish to his credit. He'll take on a full schedule in that racing series, but he'll also compete in a part-time capacity in Turner's No. 32 Chevrolet. Burton has the "gift" of wheeling a stock car, so it shouldn't take long for him to catch on. Turner will give him good cars, so he should be pretty competitive when he takes to the track.

32. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet - This part-time team will feature owner Earnhardt in a few events, including the season-opening Daytona and spring Las Vegas events. There will be at least one more event, yet to be named, that will feature Earnhardt behind the wheel. We wouldn't rule out this team showing up for some of the road course events as well, as that is what the team's history shows. For those races we'll likely see some form of road racing ringer in the driver's seat which gives the team high value for spot starting in fantasy racing leagues.

33. Kurt Busch -
No. 1 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet - Despite Busch's departure from owner James Finch's Cup car at the end of 2012, he will come back for some more action with Phoenix Racing's Nationwide Series team in the coming year. Busch raced a handful of events in the No. 1 Chevrolet last season, and even won at Daytona during the summer. That will be the focus of this driver and team again in 2013. The super speedways and larger ovals will be the primary focus of their efforts. Busch made four starts with this team last season collecting the one win and three Top 10s in those four races.

34. Dexter Stacey -
No. 92 KH Motorsports Ford - The young Canadian is starting his own racing team for the Nationwide Series in 2013. Stacey made a scant seven starts in this racing series last year to mixed results. He will now focus on not only starting a team but the rigors of full-time racing in this very competitive division of NASCAR. Stacey will have his work cut out for him this season. The 20-year-old has spent the last four years sharpening his stock car racing skills in the Canadian Tire Series, but the results have not been eye-popping. Lessons will be many and the bumps will be tough for this new driver and team in the coming year.

35. Joey Gase -
No. 52 Jimmy Means Racing Chevrolet - Gase already has 23 career starts in this racing series despite the fact that he's only competed part-time in the last two years. At 20-years-of-age he has a lot more time to learn, and he will get the opportunity this season. The No. 52 team of Jimmy Means Racing intends to field the youngster in the full schedule in 2013. Gase made most of his starts over the last half of last year with this race team. He earned a modest two Top-25 finishes in that effort, but also DNQ'd on three occasions for this team. Hopefully the first full-season of racing will help Gase's efforts, but the small team's potential limits too many expectations.

36. Erik Darnell -
No. 40 The Motorsports Group Chevrolet - The former truck series prodigy will compete in his second full season of racing in the Nationwide Series this year. Darnell returns to the No. 40 team that he spent all of last season with. The journeyman driver competed in 31 of the 33 events in this racing series in 2012. Darnell earned six Top-20 finishes and an average finish of 26.0 in the No. 40 Chevrolet. We see similar stats and performance in his future for the upcoming year. Darnell has the experience to increase this team's level of performance, so they could climb the rankings as the season wears on.