NASCAR has made a lot of aggressive rule changes in the past few seasons. Perhaps one of the most aggressive rule changes was when before the 2011 season NASCAR announced that a driver would have to pick a series to run for the championship. Each NASCAR driver would have to pick a box to check before the season and that's where they would be scored points.
It was a move that left many race fans wondering if the NASCAR Nationwide Series would survive. People were afraid that it would limit the amount of cup drivers in the field and that would hurt attendance and excitement in the series.
One thing is correct. The rule has significantly lowered the amount of Cup regulars running in the Nationwide Series. Not a single Cup regular runs full time in the series anymore. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano both led cup regular in starts in the Nationwide Series in 2012 with 22. The Nationwide Series ran 33 races this year, which means Busch and Logano ran two thirds of the schedule. In 2011 Carl Edwards ran all but one race in the series. The number of Cup regulars running races in the series is down and the number of races run by Cup regulars are down as well.
It's interesting how the "pick a series" format has changed the series. Instead of sponsors wanting to have a Cup driver run for the team, they want a good driver who can win a championship and get the recognition for doing so. It's something not many people would have predicted.
If you look at the potential drivers in the series in 2013 who can run for a championship the list is remarkable. Elliott Sadler, who was runner-up in 2013, will be back in the series with Joe Gibbs Racing, a team that won nine races in the series in 2012. Joining Sadler at JGR is Brian Vickers, who had an impressive year in the Cup Series in 2012. He is a lot of people's favorites to win the championship in 2013. Austin Dillon finished third in the standings in 2012, and he will be back and ready to go for a championship run in 2013. Brian Scott and Brendan Gaughan are rumored to join Dillon at RCR as well.
JR Motorsports will have a shot at winning a championship too. Regan Smith, who gave the organization its only win in 2012 at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, will be back running full-time in the series. Trevor Bayne will take over Ricky Stenhouse Jr's car in 2013, with a team that has won the championship in the series the last two seasons. Sam Hornish Jr is going to be back in a Ford, with a new crew chief and a shot at his first Nationwide Series Championship next year. Michael Annett and Richard Petty Motorsports will be back for a run at the championship as well.
It sounds like Parker Kligerman is the man who is going to take over Kyle Busch's #54 Monster Toyota next year. Then if you look at the other drivers in the series who finished in the top ten in points and plans haven't been worked out yet the list grows even more. Mike Bliss should be back at Tri-Star Motorsports in 2013 and Justin Allgaier's future is still a question mark. Cole Whitt's future is up in the air after his JR Motorsports ride may be gone south due to lack of sponsorship.
Then there is the rumor that James Buescher may come to the series full-time and compete for the championship with Turner Motorsports. Travis Pastrana is running the series for Roush-Fenway Racing as well. Joe Nemechek, who finished 11th in the series standings in 2012, should be back also.
With the drivers we know about and the potential of others there are 15 possible drivers who can win a championship next season. Not bad for a series which was once dominated by "Busch-Whackers." Would that number be skewed if there wasn't the "pick a series" format. Absoultly and a lot of the sponsors would want a Cup regular running for the championship.
In 2012 the series had its most exciting championship run in ages, in 2013 we can expect to see one just as exciting and you can thank the "pick a series" rule for that.