The 2011 season for the NASCAR Nationwide Series was expected to be one of the most exciting in recent memory. With the new points system and NASCAR only allowing drivers to compete for one drivers championship, it left the door back open to the regulars of the Nationwide Series to decide who wins the championship. And that’s exactly what we have gotten.
After 32 races on the Nationwide tour, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leads the standings by 17-points over championship rival Elliot Sadler. A tour which has included some of the most diverse tracks across North America.
With the sweep of the Iowa Speedway for the season, Stenhouse Jr. has asserted himself as one of the few Nationwide regulars to run with the ‘double dippers’ of the Sprint Cup Series when they come into the Saturday show.
Looking for redemption after a tumultuous past few seasons in the Cup Series, Sadler joined forces with Kevin Harvick Incoporated for the 2011 season with the plans of competing for the series championship. Starting off the season as the consensual favorite, Sadler struggled early on. But, as the summer stretch rolled around, his No. 2 team began to show why they were the favorite to win.
With only two races remaining on the schedule, the Nationwide Series makes their second stop of the season at the Phoenix International Raceway. But this time around there will be an added ‘twist’ to the action.
After the February race weekend, the Phoenix International Raceway saw a complete makeover which included not only a repaving but, a reconfiguration of the famous oval. Placing in a ‘more defined’ dog-leg on the already tough back stretch as well as a fresh surface of pavement, Saturday’s race will no doubt be a major obstacle for the run to the championship.
The change may be a welcome sign for the two championship contenders. While Stenhouse and Sadler finished in the top 12 when the checkered flag flew back in February, they weren’t nearly in contention for the win in a race that should have been named The Kyle Busch 200.
By no means does that guarantee success for Stenhouse and Sadler though.
With the high speed 1.5-mile tracks being the two drivers’ ‘cups of tea’, Saturday could very well be a battle that consists of survival rather than winning. Which seems to be fitting given that in the 32 races run this season, the two championship contenders have only amassed two victories against the Cup regulars.
While only Stenhouse and Sadler are the only that have a mathematical shot at winning the championship, they still must remain just as aware of the drivers around them and where there are on the track as if they are in a points battle with five other drivers.
Whoever is able to survive the game of the unknown in the desert on Saturday, will put themselves in prime position to take home the championship.