Several drivers ready to begin Nationwide title fight in 2013

The 2013 Nationwide Series season gets underway on Saturday with the 300-mile race at Daytona International Speedway.

After winning the Nationwide championship in 2011 and '12, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has graduated to the Sprint Cup Series this season. Elliott Sadler, who finished second to Stenhouse in points the past two years, is the favorite to win this year's title in NASCAR's second-tier series. Following the conclusion of last season, Sadler moved from the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Toyota.

The battle for the Nationwide championship this year will be wide open though. Austin Dillon finished third in points during his rookie season last year. Former Sprint Cup regulars Brian Vickers and Regan Smith will be full-time competitors in Nationwide this season. Vickers will drive the No. 20 JGR Toyota, while Smith will be behind the wheel of the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. Sam Hornish Jr. and Trevor Bayne are figured to be in the title hunt as well.

"The Nationwide Series is stacked this year, and there is going to be a fierce battle to the end for this championship," Sadler said. "I really do believe that we have all the parts and pieces in place to win this championship. I feel great working with (crew chief) Chris Gayle, and Daytona is always such a big stage that it gets everyone that much more excited for the season. I think I'm a pretty good restrictor plate racer, and I think we have a really good plan going into this weekend."

Sadler finished third in last year's Nationwide season-opener at Daytona. He placed sixth in the July event here.

After making his first nine starts in Nationwide this past season, Travis Pastrana is competing in the full 33-race schedule in the series this year. Pastrana, a four-time rally champion and motocross titleholder as well as a multiple X Games gold medal winner, is driving the No. 60 Roush Fenway Ford.

"I want to do well, and I feel like I'm good enough to race with these guys," he said. "Winning is a lot more fun than losing, and we've got to figure out a way to get there."

Parker Kligerman and Nelson Piquet Jr. are those drivers who have elevated from the Camping World Truck Series to Nationwide. Kligerman secured a ride in the No. 77 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, and Piquet landed in the seat of the No. 30 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports.

Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the DRIVE4COPD 300. Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Michael McDowell, Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart are those Sprint Cup regulars entered in this race. Patrick is driving the No. 30 Chevrolet for Turner Scott.

Series: NASCAR Nationwide. Date: Saturday, Feb. 23. Race: DRIVE4COPD 300. Site: Daytona International Speedway. Track: 2.5-mile tri-oval. Start time: 1:15 p.m. ET. Laps: 120. Miles: 300. 2012 Winner: James Buescher. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.