Nationwide Season Preview
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Brian Vickers contested his only full Nationwide Series season a decade ago. He was 20 and racing for a friend who had convinced his father to fund a program for the boyish-looking redhead with the precocious skill set.
The friend happened to be the late Ricky Hendrick, whose father was Rick Hendrick, proprietor of one of NASCAR's elite teams. Vickers won three races and had 13 top-5s and 21 top-10s overall, becoming the youngest to win a NASCAR championship. He didn't figure to return.
A decade later, Vickers has taken a winding route back to NASCAR's second-tier series. He had an uneven -- though eventful -- tenure with the HMS Sprint Cup team, was left to find his own path outside the shadow of Hendrick's stars at the now-defunct Red Bull Racing, and was diagnosed with a circulatory problem in 2010 that cost him most of the season. He'll race part-time Cup with Michael Waltrip Racing this season, perhaps setting up a full-time gig in 2014.
A decade after his only NASCAR title, Vickers said the Nationwide Series looks very much the same, aside from the haircuts.
"A lot of the guys in the Nationwide Series are going to be racing for the championship. It's their second or third year in the series. There's a lot of well-funded teams," he said. "I think this is one of the first years that I can remember that it's kind of equivalent to . The Nationwide Series is always at a little bit of a disadvantage because they always lose a lot of their talent to the Cup series. Sometimes it goes one at a time and sometimes it goes in waves."
Bolstered by an influx of young talent and drivers returning to the series after careers in the top-level Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide figures to be deep and diverse when the season begins on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Daytona International Speedway.
"What comes into the Nationwide Series can vary," Vickers said. "In the 2003 year there was a lot of guys that are now all in Cup from that year. I think you're going to see a lot of that this year. There's a lot of young talent that will end up in the Cup series."