Commentary

Nationwide title hunt a free-for-all

Updated: July 11, 2013, 10:20 AM ET
By Brant James | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Nationwide Series contenders agree: Competition is fierce in the points-paying realm of NASCAR's second-tier developmental series through the midpoint of the season. And it is likely to stay that way even if Sprint Cup drivers continue to hoard trophies in the second half of the season.

ESPN.com checked in with points leader Regan Smith and combatants Sam Hornish Jr., Justin Allgaier, Brian Vickers and Austin Dillon for their assessments on the season so far.

[+] EnlargeRegan Smith
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesNationwide Series points leader Regan Smith has two wins in 2013, including this June 15 stop at Michigan.

Regan Smith, points leader, two wins

So far, so good (mostly)?

"I'm real happy with the program," Smith said. "I'm real happy where we're at. We're leading the points. I think when the year started, if you told us we'd have two wins and the points lead at this point, we would take that. We feel like we're in a good spot. Everyone has been focusing on [a 32nd-place finish at Road America and 30th at Kentucky], but there's 14 weeks prior to that where this team was the team to beat or one of the teams to beat. And even the two weeks we had problems we had fast race cars."

Now what?

"We've highlighted areas we can do better at, areas we gain positions at," he said. "We're not going to be satisfied as a team or an organization."

Sam Hornish Jr., second place, minus-6

After having the points lead and losing it, how do you get it back?

"We've had real fast race cars, good opportunities," Hornish said. "The only issue for us, we had one race where we got wrecked [Texas], we had one where we had a piece of debris come up and hit the oil pump and break it [Michigan]. Without those, we would be doing OK. Everybody is going to have little things that cost them. One of those races, we put ourselves in that position, but all in all I've been really happy with the speed we've had throughout the year.

"There's been a lot of times we were the only car that can challenge the 54 [six-race winner Kyle Busch, moonlighting from Sprint Cup] and the 22 [shared by Hornish's Penske Racing teammates, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano], which, if you can run with Brad and Kyle, it's pretty good."

Now what?

"I've been really looking forward to getting done with this restrictor-plate race and know a lot of that is behind us and have a really good opportunity just to move forward and get in the bread and butter of the schedule where you run through the summer months, a lot of mile-and-a-halfs, some road courses -- that's the stuff I'm looking forward to."

Justin Allgaier, fourth place, minus-15

So far, so good?

"I think the thing that has gone well is our bad days haven't been as bad as some of these other guys'," Allgaier said. "What can be better is we just need a little bit of speed. We've been really close on some of these racetracks. I feel like we're a solid fifth-to-10th-place car. But just breaking the gap and going from fifth to first -- don't get me wrong, there are times we are there -- but if we could do that on a week-to-week basis, that's really what we would need to do be able to kind of run away with this championship."

Does the fact that Cup drivers have won 11 of 16 races change how Nationwide title contenders game-plan races?

"I think when you have a situation like that, the thing that's going to make the biggest difference is bonus points. So if you're not going to win the race, you've got to maximize your points. If you can possibly win the race, you've got to go for it, because those three extra bonus points for winning, the extra bonus points for leading a lap, leading the most laps, they play into it. You have to have those to win a championship. I think you have to maximize the days the Cup guys are there and do the best you can to be there when they are not there."

Austin Dillon, fifth place, minus-17

The season so far?

"We've had some rough luck the beginning of this season, and we're still in this thing," Dillon said. "You just want to be there at the end."

Storyline of the year

Hornish -- "Parity. Any time anyone starts to excel, everything gets turned upside-down. [Busch] was obviously super-strong through the first 10 races of the year. Since that point it seems like the 22 has been really tough no matter who's in the car. ... Kyle Larson has run very well on occasion. He seems like he is learning all the time and getting better, and it seems like he has a lot of support of good people around him helping him out, telling him what to look for."

Allgaier -- "The biggest storyline is nobody wants to stay on top the points very long."

But will that continue, Brian Vickers (seventh place, minus-53)?

"I think it will pretty much continue. But I think as the season goes on you will see guys break away towards the end. I don't think it will be one guy. I think it will be a group going down to the end."

Brant James

Contributor, espnW.com
Brant James has covered the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, a World Series and Stanley Cup for the big hometown daily, an NCAA tournament and a Super Bowl. He's walked to the paddock with Kentucky Derby horses before post, ridden to the top of Mount Washington with Travis Pastrana and landed on an aircraft carrier with Dale Earnhardt Jr. He once induced Danica Patrick into a dance number from Moulin Rouge by saying the word "Switzerland." It's been pretty interesting so far.

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