Nationwide: Five storylines to watch

Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon has moved on to Sprint Cup. Runner-up Sam Hornish Jr. said he is close to something for 2014 but isn't saying in which series. The Nationwide gang enters 2014 with plenty of questions and potential storylines. We peruse five.

1. Marshal (the other) Dillon

Ty Dillon, 21, has followed in the slipstream of his brother, Austin, as the older grandson of team owner Richard Childress and son of vice president of RCR competition Mike Dillon made a trophy-laden progression to Sprint Cup. After Austin won the 2010 Truck series rookie of the year award, took the championship in 2011 and graduated to the Nationwide Series, Austin slid into his No. 3 truck and finished fourth in points as a rookie. He claimed top rookie honors too.

With Austin advancing to Sprint Cup after winning the 2013 Nationwide title, Ty will assume his place in RCR's No. 3 Chevrolet in NASCAR's top developmental series. He hasn't replicated his brother's success as much as his route, but that's not to suggest he has been unsuccessful. He was fourth in points in his full-time debut in trucks and second last season, winning at Kentucky and Texas and producing nine top-5s to finish 40 points off the pace of champion Matt Crafton.

Ty Dillon begins his Nationwide career with 12 starts' worth of experience, most notably a third-place result at Indianapolis in 2012 in his second start in the series. If he can perpetuate the Dillon boys' typical two-year advancement program, RCR could in 2016 have a Cup lineup in which two-thirds of the drivers share DNA with management. Paul Menard and Ryan Newman might want to start angling for adoption.

2. Help wanted: New talent

Apply within: The series is frequently criticized that Sprint Cup drivers are allowed to enter races and poach wins, paychecks, exposure and owner championships from those who race full time in what is supposed to be a developmental series. But that scenario, said NASCAR president Mike Helton, is not likely to soon change. So the consolation and exploitable areas for young drivers have been the chance to excel in comparison to Cup drivers, capture the driver championships -- if not wins -- moonlighters are ineligible to claim and move up as quickly as possible.

In that, the series has served its purpose the past two seasons, with 2011 and 2012 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. graduated to Roush Fenway's Cup lineup and being named rookie of the year and 2013 titlist Austin Dillon the recently announced successor to the legend of the No. 3 Chevrolet at the Cup level for RCR.

Wunderkind Kyle Larson finished eighth in points as a rookie this season and will become a full-time Cup driver at Earnhardt-Ganassi in 2014. Travis Pastrana labored and eventually failed to establish a NASCAR career and is gone. He wasn't successful, but he was interesting and popular. The successful and popular Hornish? Uncertain after finishing second to Dillon in points.

A season after several characters made Nationwide interesting beyond the exploits of moonlight Cup drivers, the series needs another infusion of storylines.

3. Free-agent Danica

Stewart-Haas Racing had hoped to meld 10 Nationwide races into Danica Patrick's rookie Sprint Cup season, but logistical and sponsor issues reduced the total to a less-useful two -- and none after May -- with Turner Scott Motorsports. The situation remains much the same for 2014, agent Mark Dyer said at the end of the season.

"There's no Nationwide at Stewart-Haas Racing, which is one of the few disadvantages of Stewart-Haas. The advantages far outweigh it," he said. "But usually it's easier for a Cup driver to run a limited Nationwide schedule because there's a coordination of sponsor efforts between Sprint Cup and the Nationwide effort.

"So we're kind of a free agent out there on the Nationwide side. It makes it tougher to put together a four- or five-races Nationwide schedule."

Patrick said she hopes to race more in the series, where she has made 60 starts with one top-5, seven top-10s and a pole since 2010.

"I think 10 would be really nice to be able to do to mix in some races that I feel like I just need more track time overall on the weekend to races that I feel like I can finish well," she said. "I think that a mix of both of those would be a lot of fun and good for me."

4. Bayne moves forward

Trevor Bayne makes it apparent -- as would any former winner of the Daytona 500 -- that he believes he should be racing in the Sprint Cup Series, immediately.

But the 2011 winner of NASCAR's most prestigious race returns to the Nationwide Series in 2013 with a chance to regain a beachhead in a career fraught with adversity, racing his first scheduled full season with Roush Fenway since prolonged medical problems cost him five races three years ago.

The sponsorship woes that have marred the 22-year-old's career appear resolved, but health concerns have crystallized with the announcement he is suffering from multiple sclerosis. Managing his disease will be a constant endeavor given the physical rigors of racing, but Bayne says he is up to it. At this point, that's all he can do. That and continue to try to move forward.

5. Regan's turn?

Regan Smith led the series in wins by regulars (two) and the standings for 10 weeks before a late-season fade allowed Dillon and Hornish to pass him. Unfulfilling, but still the best -- by a massive stretch -- finish in his NASCAR career. Back again with JR Motorsports, the 30-year-old with 330 starts in NASCAR's top three series should be a major contender again.