NASCAR at Chicagoland: Hot Drivers and Hot Topics for the Nationwide Series

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IJune 3, 2011

NASCAR at Chicagoland: Hot Drivers and Hot Topics for the Nationwide Series

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    JOLIET, IL - JULY 10:  A general view of race action during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LIFELOCK.COM 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway on July 10, 2010 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The inaugural running of the STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway is ripe with story lines and topics that will be sure to add some drama and excitement to Nationwide racing.

    Participation by the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will be limited because they are racing Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway, following the night race at Chicagoland for the second-tier series.

    The Nationwide Series is seeing the return of drivers that garner media attention with their mere presence at the track.

    Drivers will hit the 1.5-mile D-shaped banked track, which allows for fast speeds and passing at Chicagoland Speedway.

    Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick will depart Kansas to participate in the STP 300. The Cup drivers are normally favored, but a recent win by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Iowa may indicate the young guns are going to be tough competitors.

    Let's take a look at some hot drivers and the stories that will surely be topics of conversation.

1. They're Back

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    PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 24:  53rd Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne gis congratulated by NASCAR driver Danica Patrick February 24, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. Bayne and Patrick made a special appearance at Phoenix International Raceway's annual 'Night of Cha
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Danica Patrick returns to her first Nationwide race since March 19th at Bristol Motor Speedway, having just run the Indianapolis 500 with the IndyCar series.

    Trevor Bayne returns to his slot in the NASCAR Nationwide series after sitting on the sidelines since April 23rd due to a mysterious illness.

2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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    FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 07:  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #6 As Seen On TV Easy Feet Ford, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just may be the new NASCAR Nationwide hot shoe, after scoring the first win by a regular Nationwide series driver this season.

    Stenhouse drives for Roush Fenway Racing and has pulled his act together after his boss, Jack Roush, stood beside him in 2010 even though his teammate Colin Braun was shown the door.

    In 13 starts this season, he has one win, five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. His confidence is at an all time high, after the win at Iowa Speedway, and looks to be a strong contender for wins against those pesky Cup drivers.

    It would be no surprise to see him win the series title at the end of 2011.

3. Danica Patrick

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    JOLIET, IL - JUNE 03:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Tissot/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, speaks with the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 3, 2011 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Gett
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Media darling, Danica Patrick, makes a return to her No. 7 GoDaddy.com JR Motorsports Chevrolet after a stint at her full-time job of IndyCar racing.

    Patrick finished fourth at Las Vegas and became the highest-finishing female in a NASCAR race earlier this year.

    She will be running approximately one Nationwide race per month until the end of the IndyCar season. It has not been formally announced, but all fingers point to her moving to NASCAR's Nationwide series full-time in 2012.

    With a future in stock cars looming on the horizon, Patrick will work hard to prove herself in the remaining NASCAR races she will run.

    It may be a little tough for her as she regains her footing in the bulky stock cars at Chicagoland Speedway, but look for her to show steady improvement.

4. Trevor Bayne

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    JOLIET, IL - JUNE 03:  Trevor Bayne, driver of the #16 Avnet/BMA Ford, speaks to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 3, 2011 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASC
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Winning the Daytona 500 for Wood Brothers this past February most certainly is the highlight of the young and popular Trevor Bayne's career.

    There is no doubt he is a talented driver and his Roush Fenway Racing equipment in the Nationwide series is good enough to compete with the best, including Cup drivers.

    It remains to be seen what kind of toll his mystery illness has taken, along with his absence from racing and the regimen involved in preparation to hit the track.

    His medical problems supposedly began with a spider bite that took a turn for the worse. His symptoms included nausea, fatigue and blurred vision. Evaluation at the Mayo Clinic failed to verify the medical cause of his problems and yield a diagnosis.

    Currently Bayne is 16th in the Nationwide point standings. Hopefully his comeback will be strong and he can pick up where he left off. He is scheduled to continue racing the No. 21 for the Wood Brothers soon.

5. Elliott Sadler

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    DOVER, DE - MAY 14:  Elliott Sadler, driver of the #2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Nationwide Series 5-hour ENERGY 200 at Dover International Speedway on May 14, 2011 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Ge
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Elliott Sadler announced in the preseason that he would step back from the NASCAR Sprint Cup series and race full-time in the Nationwide series behind the wheel of the No. 2 Kevin Harvick Inc. car.

    He was picked to be the Nationwide champion at the end of 2011 by fans and media, prior to the start of the season. Currently he has a precarious one-point lead as he sits atop the point standings.

    Sadler needs to prove he can be the best in the second-tier series so that hopefully he will garner the recognition that will get him sponsorship and a ride back in the Cup series eventually.

    Sadler struggled with Richard Petty Motorsports under former owner George Gillett, as it looked as if the operation was headed toward oblivion.

    Earlier this week, Sadler filed a suit in North Carolina against Richard Petty Motorsports. He requested a jury trial and is seeking damages based on non-payment from RPM, back in April, 2010. Further information can be found on espn.go.com. 

                                 espn.go.com/rpm/nascar/nationwide/news/story

    Sadler has 13 starts this season with seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes. It will be tough medicine for him if the young drivers like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier and Reed Sorenson sail by him for the series title.

6. Turner Motorsports

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    Justin Allgaier (left) speaks with Reed Sorenson
    Justin Allgaier (left) speaks with Reed SorensonChris Graythen/Getty Images

    Turner Motorsports has assembled a first-class operation that fields Chevrolets in the NASCAR Nationwide series.

    The drivers include Justin Allgaier, Reed Sorenson, Jason Leffler, James Buescher, Ricky Carmichael and even some appearances by Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin.

    Turner Motorsports also has drivers that run both Nationwide and the NASCAR Camping World Truck series.

    Currently, Sorenson and Allgaier are third and fourth respectively in the point standings, with Leffler in the sixth-place slot. There is little doubt drivers under the Turner Motorsports banner will be contenders at every race and for the title.