COMMENTARY | Road course racing with a beatin' and bangin' short track feel, that is what fans can expect at NASCAR's Nationwide Series debut at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio this weekend.
A very technical road course with a narrow surface, challenging turns and long, car-swallowing runoffs, the race this weekend at Mid-Ohio will be closer in line with what you might find at a Bristol or a Martinsville. Maybe better.
Passing will be difficult and track position will be at a premium, leading many to believe that this weekend's Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 will be more a test of patience than anything else.
Just two weeks ago the stars of the IZOD Indy Car series attacked the 2.25-mile, 13-turn facility with Chip Ganassi regular Charlie Kimball walking away the winner. And one man who knows plenty about tackling the Mid-Ohio course is Kimball's teammate, three-time Indy Car champion Dario Franchitti who said this earlier this month. "It's going to be interesting. (Scott) Dixon and I were talking about it last night. They're going to do the restarts here on the frontstraight at the pits. (Will Power) is going to talk with his Penske teammates and teach them how to go through the gravel traps there 'cause it's going to be tough out there."
Tough is an understatement. The track will be adjusting from a 26-car field of open-wheel machines to more than 40 bulky Nationwide Series cars, a real challenge on a narrow track and an even narrower pit road. Another challenge will be digging these 3,400-pound machines out of the gravel traps which line the facility.
Being a new track to the series and with the finesse it takes to master Mid-Ohio, road course regulars should be at a sizable advantage this weekend. Among them, Ron Fellows, Max Papis and even Sprint Cup regular Marcos Ambrose will be on hand to test their abilities this weekend.
But the man that everyone will be watching is A.J. Allmendinger. Winner in his one-and-only Nationwide Series start this year at another extremely technical road course in Road America, Allmendinger will be an overwhelming favorite in the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford driving once again for Roger Penske.
Vickers and Dillon
NASCAR's other big storyline entering this weekend's lineup at Mid-Ohio and Michigan International Speedway are the new rides of Nationwide Series regulars Brian Vickers and Austin Dillon.
Currently first and fifth in the Nationwide Series standings, Dillon will be pulling double-duty driving the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in Ohio while also filling in for an injured Tony Stewart on the Sprint Cup side. Dillon spent Thursday in Ohio practicing for the Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 and will spend the next three days traveling back and forth between the two facilities, competing in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday before traveling to Michigan to compete in Stewart's No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet on Sunday.
Vickers also received a bit of good news this week as he was named driver of the No. 55 Aaron's Totoya fulltime forMichael Waltrip Racing in 2014. Vickers has one win with MWR in 2013.
Less than 20 points separate Nationwide Series leader Austin Dillon and fifth place Brian Vickers entering this weekend's race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Dillon has been steady at the road races in 2013, with finishes of 10th and 13th, but the men behind him have been better. Sam Hornish Jr., currently second in points, hasn't finished worse than fifth in his two road starts this season, while Elliott Sadler and Vickers have had some measure of success on the road courses with two straight top 10s each.
With Dillon's mind elsewhere this weekend, look for the drivers behind him to make up significant ground at a race that will test the patience and skill of the entire field.
L.A. Crum is a professional writer and journalist from Ohio. He is an avid fan of motorsports and college athletics and has worked with many of the top teams and drivers in the racing industry during his decade long career. He is a proud graduate of Marshall University.
- Sports & Recreation
- Motor Racing
- Brian Vickers