By Summer Bedgood – Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. When you see those names, your mind may instantly bring up the visual of Busch’s vibrant M&M’s paint scheme, or the Blue Deuce that is so iconic in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Despite their Sprint Cup Series status, though, both are just as recognizable in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This season alone, the two of them have combined for a total of 12 wins of the 22 races that have been run this season. Whether you like Sprint Cup drivers in Nationwide or not, their dominance is undisputed.
For years, Joe Gibbs Racing has been a dominant force in the Nationwide Series. Between Busch’s eight wins and Matt Kenseth’s trip to Victory Lane in Daytona, JGR accounts for nine wins this year. Last year, they won nine with Joey Logano. In 2011, they won a total of 10 races between Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch.
Looking at these statistics, which go back even further than that, it looks like JGR is darn near unbeatable in the Nationwide Series.
However, there may be a new sheriff in town when you look at the drivers in Victory Lane this year, and they aren’t all just Sprint Cup crossovers. Penske Racing has seen their drivers go to Victory Lane in four of the last Nationwide Series races this year. A.J. Allmendinger was the most recent driver to go to Victory Lane, winning last weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio. Brad Keselowski won the previous two at Watkins Glen and Iowa. Busch snagged the win at the Brickyard, but Logano won the race in Chicago.
This gives Penske seven wins to JGR’s nine, which might sound like Penske is on the losing end. However, last year, while JGR was winning race after race and again dominating the season, Penske only had three measly wins with driver Keselowski. Hornish never made it to Victory Lane and Logano was still with JGR.
2011 was a little better, with Penske winning seven races but was still short of JGR’s 10.
Penske does have a dog in this fight, though, when it comes to running for points. Sam Hornish Jr. is leading the points standings and has a victory to his credit. Elliott Sadler, who is in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, is 13 points behind Hornish without a win. He has come close with two second place finishes, but has yet to seal the deal.
Joe Gibbs Racing is often seen as the Hendrick Motorsports of the Nationwide Series, and they have several statistics that back it up. Yet when you compare the results with that of Penske Racing, they appear equal and perhaps are lined up to eclipse JGR over the next few years.
What exactly is generating this change in the guard?
First of all, the movement of Logano to Penske may not have been a huge loss for JGR in the Cup Series (though his win last weekend might have changed that), but it has largely worked against them this season in the Nationwide Series. Not only has Logano gone to Victory Lane twice this year for The Captain, but Logano’s average finish this season is only slightly lower than Busch’s (6.6 to Busch’s 5.9) and Logano has run fewer races.
While Penske has not yet become the dominant force in the Nationwide Series, they are making a case for themselves as a powerhouse that is, at the very least, able to keep up and contend with the dominance of JGR.
This weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway might be an interesting one to watch in this ongoing Penske vs. JGR battle. Gibbs has four cars to Penske’s two. Keselowski and Busch are both going to be in the race, and those two are arguably the best current drivers at Bristol in the sport right now. It would be a huge surprise if neither team had a car in Victory Lane this weekend.
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