Out of nowhere, just 17 points separate NASCAR Nationwide top 5

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After his win at Michigan International Speedway three races ago, Regan Smith (No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet) increased his lead over Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 12 Penske Racing Ford) in the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings from 23 to 58 markers.

But consecutive finishes of 30th or worse at Road America and Kentucky before an eighth place this Friday at Daytona has seen Smith’s lead shrink to just six points to Hornish. Hornish has finished fifth, ninth and seventh and clawed back 52 points.

The actual championship battle in Nationwide has been largely overshadowed by the frequency of Sprint Cup regulars scoring Nationwide race wins. In 16 races, only Smith (twice), Hornish (once) and Trevor Bayne (once) have taken home wins ahead of the Cup regulars.

So with the season nearly at its halfway point, with 17 races remaining, just 17 points separates the top five in the series standings.

Smith leads Hornish by six, Elliott Sadler by 14, Justin Allgaier by 15 and Austin Dillon by 17 points.Those three have yet to win a race this season. Their quest to get on the scoreboard continues at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon this Saturday.

Dean Wilson’s life as a privateer reconnects the rider to his roots

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One of the added benefits of subscribing to NBC Sports Gold is the in-depth interviews from each Saturday’s action. Last week between the first and second rounds of qualification for the Glendale Supercross race, a relaxed and confident Dean Wilson joined Race Day Live’s Daniel Blair and Jim Holley to review his fourth-place finish in the season opener and his mindset moving forward.

Losing factory support from Rockstar / Husqvarna at the end of 2018 was not exactly what Wilson had in mind, but after getting off to a great start in the first two races this season, it may well have been a blessing in disguise.

The life of a privateer is not exactly relaxed, but it affords a rider the opportunity to call his own shots. For Wilson, it is also a way to reconnect with the grassroots feel that attracted him to Supercross in the first place.

“I think that’s what I like,” Wilson said on Race Day Live. “I think that’s the environment and atmosphere I like – it’s just more low key. At Anaheim I, you would think I was local racing at Glen Helen. I had a Sprinter and I had another trailer just to chill in, do my spins. It was so cold I had a little propane heater to warm me up. But I like that. That’s what works for me.”

MORE: Dean Wilson’s Cinderella story at Anaheim 

The program Wilson was able to put together during the offseason produced back-to back top 10s – a much better start to the 2019 season than he experienced last year.

In 2018, Wilson did not score a top 10 until his fourth feature at San Diego. His first top five would not come until late March in Indianapolis.

This year Wilson got the hole shot and led 14 laps at Anaheim in the opener before finishing fourth. Last week in Glendale, he finished eighth.

“What was going through my head was ‘it’s about time; it’s about five years too late to lead some laps here,’ ” Wilson described his emotion as he led at Anaheim. “It was nice because I did a lot of work in the off-season and my starts were really good. The thing is I haven’t over-analyzed my starts and practice.”

At Anaheim I, Wilson struggled with visibility as his goggles began to get fouled by mud. A once comfortable lead was eroded by Justin Barcia. With pressure from behind, Wilson made a minor mistake that was then compounded by lapped traffic.

“I was leading my laps; I was just trying to hit my marks. I was doing really well until I made a couple of mistakes. I couldn’t hit that middle double, double … the rut was getting real chewed out, but I was already on the right side where you couldn’t double the middle part so you had to go roll, roll, roll – and Barcia was already on me.”

Wilson’s pair of top 10s was enough to keep him fifth in the standings, three points behind Glendale’s winner Blake Baggett.

For more, watch the video above.

Next Race: Anaheim II Jan. 19, 11 p.m., NBCSN

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