Nationwide at Mid-Ohio is wide open with few Cup stars

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The NASCAR Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend is a true wild card event for the Nationwide Series. There’s a few interesting storylines to note going into the series’ first race on the 2.258-mile permanent road course.

  • Someone other than Brad Keselowski will win. Hardly a bold prediction but with the Sprint Cup Series at Michigan this weekend, the 2012 Cup champion won’t have a chance to continue his Nationwide interloping and capture a fifth straight win on Saturday. He got it done at Watkins Glen over teammate Sam Hornish Jr. As at Road America in June, the door is largely open for Nationwide Series regulars.
  • That someone needs to be Sam Hornish Jr. I get the consistency is fine for the championship but Sam Hornish Jr. has left way too many points on the table finishing second to Penske Racing Cup drivers this year. He’s done it in three of the last four races, and those 10-12 points lost are crucial in a championship race where right now, the top five are covered by only 18 points. Hornish is one of the few with Mid-Ohio race experience from IndyCar, albeit six years ago in 2007, and he finished 14th.
  • Dillon’s double dilemma. It’s hard to imagine Austin Dillon maintaining his slim three-point lead over Hornish after the weekend ends. Dillon has taken on a double duty role with filling in for Tony Stewart at Michigan, all while still trying to focus on his Nationwide commitments at Mid-Ohio. If he misses Nationwide qualifying and starts at the rear of the field, he’ll have seriously impacted his title chances as he’ll need a bit of a miracle to make it through the field. Regan Smith (-5), Elliott Sadler (-12) and Brian Vickers (-18) are within striking distance.
  • ‘Dinger leads the “ringers.” If the concept of “road course ringer” has petered out in Sprint Cup, it’s still alive and active in Nationwide, and an early favorite going into the weekend is AJ Allmendinger. He won at Road America and remains focused on getting another win for Roger Penske, who’s stuck with him in various part-time opportunities all season.
  • “Bumper cars” likely. Road America’s Nationwide race has been traditionally clean for the first 30-35 of 50 laps, before all hell breaks loose in the last 15. With two great braking points and passing opportunities at Mid-Ohio, into the Keyhole (Turn 2) and after the longest straight at Turn 4, there’s bound to be at least one accordion effect collision during the race.

UPDATE (5:45 p.m. ET): Author oversight here, as I failed to note Marcos Ambrose in my initial look through of the Nationwide entry list at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Apologies for that. My MST colleague Chris Estrada has a post here on the other double duty drivers this weekend.