The 2012 Nationwide Series season has already featured three first-time race winners, and there could be more on the way, maybe as soon as this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.
Last Friday, rookie driver Austin Dillon claimed his first Nationwide victory at Kentucky. Dillon put on a dominating performance by leading all but eight of the 200 laps and crossing the finish line 9.8 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Kurt Busch. His maiden win in the series came in his 26th start.
Dillon also moved atop the Nationwide point standings, but his lead would be short-lived when NASCAR penalized him with a loss of six points earlier this week for a rules infraction that occurred at Kentucky. The rear of his car was found to be too low during post-race inspection. Instead of holding a two- point lead over Elliott Sadler, Dillon is now four points behind his Richard Childress Racing teammate.
Nelson Piquet Jr., who is a regular in the Camping World Truck Series, became a first-time Nationwide race winner on June 23 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI.
James Buescher, who is Piquet's Nationwide and Truck Series teammate at Turner Motorsports, won his first NASCAR national touring series race in the February 25 Nationwide season-opener at Daytona. Buescher avoided a big wreck on the frontstretch and then miraculously pulled ahead of the field on the final lap before NASCAR displayed the caution flag to end the 300-mile event at Daytona. He was running in the 11th position just before the multi-car wreck occurred.
"Returning to Daytona is special for me and this entire No. 30 team," Buescher said. "We had a great car here in the spring and rolled into victory lane. That is something that everyone on this team is very proud of. To say that we are Daytona champions is something we have all dreamed of."
Who has the potential to become the next first-time winner in Nationwide?
Danica Patrick is certainly a good candidate, especially at Daytona. A win for Patrick would not only be very popular but a historical one as well. Patrick set a record for the highest finishing female in one of NASCAR's top-three series with her fourth-place run in the March 2011 Nationwide event at Las Vegas.
When the series competed at Daytona earlier this year, Patrick became just the second woman to win a pole position for a race. She joined Shawna Robinson, who first did it in March 1994 at Atlanta. Patrick led the first two circuits around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, but on lap 50, she crashed into the wall after her JR Motorsports teammate, Cole Whitt, a rookie this season, bumped her from behind. She ended up finishing 38th, which was her worst result in four Nationwide starts at Daytona.
Patrick placed 10th one year ago at Daytona, sliding across the finish line during a last-lap crash on the frontstretch. She led a Nationwide career-high 13 laps in that race.
"I'm just glad I can go to a place like Daytona in a stock car and have it be a place where I run competitively and run well," Patrick said. "I think for me at this point, Daytona is the first track that I'm going to have a good opportunity at. It's pack racing. It's very fast. You don't lift off the throttle, and it's also the most like IndyCar racing. That is what IndyCar racing is like at anything bigger than one mile."
Joey Logano won the July 2011 Nationwide race at Daytona. Logano leads the series with five victories this season. He is expected to make his 100th career start in Nationwide on Friday night.
Logano is one of six Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are the others.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Subway Jalapeno 250.
Series: NASCAR Nationwide. Date: Friday, July 6. Race: Subway Jalapeno 250. Site: Daytona International Speedway. Track: 2.5-mile oval. Start time: 7:30 p.m. (et). Laps: 100. Miles: 250. 2011 Winner: Joey Logano. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.