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Hornish, Ambrose drivers to watch at Mid-Ohio

Welcome back, NASCAR.

The national touring series brings the roar back to Ohio with the Nationwide Series and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 Saturday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It’s Nationwide’s first visit to Ohio and comes on the bumper of the highly successful visit by the Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway in July.

Mid-Ohio’s biggest crowd of the season is expected for the race. According to Marcos Ambrose, expect some big action, too.

“The first lap may not be as intense as the last lap. Our races tend to get more of a frenzy by the end,” Ambrose said. “It’s a bit like ‘Shark Week.’ You drop a bit of bait in the water and it takes a while for the sharks to get excited. But by the end of it, it’s a real shark frenzy.”

Here are five storylines to watch for in Saturday’s race (2:30 p.m., ESPN):

1. Hornish returns home: Ohio native Sam Hornish Jr. would love a win in his home state, especially since he trails Austin Dillon in the points standings. Hornish, who grew up in Defiance, carries valuable experience at Mid-Ohio competing in the IndyCar Series as well as karts. Lumbering around in stock cars presents a new challenge on the technical 13-turn, 2.258-mile track.

“I think you’ve seen a couple of the best road course drivers who race the stock car series sitting down in the gravel trap,” Hornish said of the practice sessions. “It’s a tough race track. It’s really easy to overdrive the cars here.”

2. Dillon’s double-duty: Nationwide points leader Austin Dillon missed today’s practice session and will miss Saturday morning’s qualifying. He’ll be in Brooklyn, Mich., filling in for Tony Stewart in the Sprint Cup Series. By missing the Nationwide qualifying Dillon will have to start in the back of the field for Saturday’s afternoon race. That could play a key role in deciding the points champ with just 12 races remaining. Dillon leads Hornish by three points. Regan Smith is five points back, Elliott Sadler 12 and Brian Vickers 18.

3. On the road again: Ambrose and Ron Fellows, also racing at Mid-Ohio, entered tied for most career road wins in the Nationwide Series with four each.

4. Start up front: If Road America and Watkins Glen — the other two road courses on the schedule — are any indication the winning driver will from from the first five starting spots. The last five winners at the Glen have started no lower than fifth, including two pole winners. At Road America, the pole winner has claimed three of the four races there. Ironically, the last driver to win at RA or WG from outside the top five both started 12th: Reed Sorenson in 2011 at RA and Ambrose in 2008 at WG.

5. ‘Grant’ Marshal: Cancer survivor Grant Reed, the die-hard Ohio State fan who named his brain tumor Michigan and beat it, serves as the Grand Marshal. The race also honors 10 patients from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus as select drivers will sport a paint scheme with a patient’s image or name.

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