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Wide Open Championship Battle Heading Into Homestead

By Summer Bedgood – Kyle Busch won the Nationwide Series race. You may not have even watched the race and you probably already knew that. It’s almost a guarantee that if Busch is entered in a Nationwide Series race, that he’s the one who is going to win the pole and, more than likely, the race. In fact, he’s won from the pole nine times this season, and there is only one race left!

Oh yeah … one race left. That means someone is going to win a championship!

And it won’t be Busch. Though Busch very well might lead the team to an owner’s championship next week—there are only four points separating the No. 54 team from Penske Racing’s No. 22 team with Penske currently holding the advantage—Busch is not eligible for a driver’s championship because of his tenure in the Sprint Cup Series.

In fact, the Nationwide Series driver title is very close in and of itself and is equally important to those who are running for it. At the end of the Phoenix race on Saturday afternoon, as Busch was running away with the race, two drivers were already setting themselves up for potential championship runs next week.

Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. are first and second in the points, respectively, and are separated by only eight points.   A third-place finish by Dillon and a fifth place finish by Hornish was reason enough to show how closely contested these two already are, and why they are the two that will be gunning for a championship in Homestead next weekend.

Interestingly enough, it is Hornish that has a victory and Dillon who has yet to make it to Victory Lane, yet Dillon is leading the points. The potential for a winless Nationwide Series champion is widely apparent and could very well come to fruition, but in no way would a championship be undeserved for either driver.

Dillon, for instance, despite his lack of trips to Victory Lane, has 13 top fives and 22 top 10s this season and an average finish of 8.7. Even more amazing is that Dillon only has three finishes outside of the top 20 all season. In a points system that rewards consistency as aggressively as it punishes poor finishes, Dillon’s ability to follow through and finish races—did I mention he only has one DNF?—is reason enough for Dillon to be worthy of a championship this season.

That’s not to say that Hornish isn’t equally deserving. As mentioned before, Hornish’s trip to victory lane is more than Dillon’s win total this year and he is one of only three Nationwide Series regulars to make it to Victory Lane this season.

Hornish also has better statistics when it comes to his finishes. He has 16 top fives and 24 top 10s and an average finish of 9th (slightly less than Dillon’s average). Looking at those statistics, it is difficult to tell why Hornish isn’t the one leading the points.

As we take a look at his finishes outside of the top 10, though, we begin to see a bigger picture painted. Though Hornish has only had two DNFs all season, he has four finishes of 25th or worse. Where Hornish actually lost the lead, after having lead it for seven consecutive season, was with two consecutive finishes of 17th earlier this fall, whereas Dillon finished sixth.

As you can see, both have been equally matched most of the season, but especially so as of late. So what are their chances heading into Homestead?

For Dillon, he only has one Nationwide Series start in Homestead and he finished fifth. Hornish, on the other hand, has five previous starts with one top five and two top 10s. So both now how to drive at Homestead in Nationwide Series cars.

However, if you extend that experience level to the other series both drivers have raced in, the picture gets a little fuzzier. Hornish has four starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series without one finish in the top 10 and a dismal average finish of 26th. Perhaps that is not surprising to some considering that Hornish’s Sprint Cup Series career was rather lackluster, but does it leave room for concern for Hornish for the race this weekend?

Dillon, too, has some experience at Homestead outside of the Nationwide Series, but his previous starts came in the Camping World Truck Series. Dillon has two starts at Homestead in NCWTS competition. He finished 31st in one race and 10th in 2011 when he won the championship.

Though the Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series titles are both wrapped up, the Nationwide Series leaves plenty of room for excitement and not just between the Cup Series regulars for the owner’s points. Hornish has never won a championship at the NASCAR level and Dillon is looking to win a Nationwide Series title before moving up to the Cup Series. As it stands, it will be the most exciting championship battle all weekend.

EMAIL SUMMER AT summer.bedgood@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @SummerBedgood

By Popular Speed

POPULAR SPEED is a Social Media driven website featuring exclusive content, photographs, news and pointed editorials. It’s makeup consists of veteran motorsports journalists as well as the unique voice of developing young talent. POPULAR SPEED was launched in 2013 under the direction of former Sprint Cup Series spotter, Mike Calinoff.

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