NASCAR: Tight Nationwide championship battle resumes at Michigan

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When you have Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a boss and one of NASCAR’s brightest young stars as a teammate in Chase Elliott, you run the risk of being overshadowed.

But JR Motorsports’ Regan Smith is front and center in a hotly-contested race for the Nationwide Series championship, which resumes this weekend with a 250-miler at Michigan International Speedway.

Since winning the NNS season opener at Daytona in February, Smith has stayed consistent by earning a Top-10 finish in every race since (making for an overall average finish of 7.1). He also comes to Michigan as its defending Nationwide race champion.

But while Smith has been steady, so has Elliott Sadler, who is only four points behind Smith. Sadler also has a win under his belt (Talladega) and boasts an almost identical average finish of 7.6.

Meanwhile, Chase Elliott will try to keep digging out of the points hole he fell in after a bad 37th-place result in Charlotte two races ago.

The JRM driver dropped from the lead to third in the NNS standings, where he remains at 22 points behind teammate Smith. However, a strong fifth-place run in the most recent event at Dover should have him feeling good going into the Irish Hills.

Also within striking distance are Trevor Bayne (fourth, -27 points) and Ty Dillon (fifth, -34 points). Bayne finished second at Dover, which marked his 10th Top-10 finish of the year. If not for a 23rd-place finish at Texas, he’d likely be higher up the table.

As for Dillon, he’ll look to carry over his solid Camping World Truck Series results at Michigan (sixth, 2012; fourth, 2013) to Nationwide.

The NNS rookie has racked up nine Top-10s but has not yet earned a Top-5; his best finish was a seventh at Daytona in February. We’ll see if Austin’s little brother can take the next step starting at MIS.

Adding more intrigue this weekend is a solid number of Sprint Cup drivers in the NNS field, including the aforementioned Earnhardt and Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard.

The first three in that group have four NNS wins at Michigan between them, while Larson has picked up two NNS victories in 2014 at Charlotte and California’s Auto Club Speedway.