Nationwide Stars Set to Shine in Iowa
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin on June 7, 2013 | 6:15 P.M. EST
Both Regan Smith and Brian Vickers are making their first Iowa Nationwide start. (Photo: Getty Images)
Iowa Speedway will host the NASCAR Nationwide Series this weekend with Saturday's DuPont Pioneer 250 marking the first stand-alone race of the year.
After Sprint Cup Series drivers have taken nine of the first 11 checkered flags this season, there stands a good chance that one of the Nationwide drivers will return to Victory Lane this weekend.
The first winner of a NASCAR race at the track in 2007, Joey Logano will be the only Cup driver making the commute from Pocono Raceway on Friday and Saturday. Logano, who is coming off his first Nationwide win of the season last weekend at Dover, won the inaugural K&N Pro Series race in Iowa en route to winning the 2007 K&N East championship.
"Any opportunity I get to race, I’m going to do it," Logano said. "It’s what I love. Originally, Ryan Blaney was supposed to run the event. But since he's running full-time in the Truck Series, he’s got a race in Texas. So I have the opportunity and I’m going to make the most of it. We’ve had a good start to the season with me and the No. 22 guys, with four top fives and a win. Hopefully, we can continue that in Iowa."
With Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski not racing on the Newton oval this weekend, that leaves Elliott Sadler as the only driver entered who's gone to Iowa's Victory Lane in the six races since 2009 - winning last August.
"Iowa is probably my best track," said Sadler, who will be going for his fourth consecutive pole there. "Mentally, I know where I want to be on the track, where I need to be on the gas, on the brake and how my car needs to feel in practice to be in the race. It's a really good track for me.
"That being said, we need to go there and have a great, competitive weekend. I can't think of another track on the schedule coming off the weekend we had at Dover that I'd rather go to than Iowa. I mean that sincerely because of the record I have there the last two years. I feel comfortable going to that track and being successful."
Drew Herring will drive the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota that Busch has won six races in this season. Logano's Penske Racing teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., and Regan Smith are the two drivers running for the Nationwide championship that have recorded wins this season. Hornish is coming off his best Iowa finish, third last summer, while Smith has yet to race at the .875-mile track.
"We’ve run a lot better at Iowa than our results show," Hornish said. "We qualify pretty well and our racecars have been fast. We just haven’t been able to put it all together. I like Iowa because it's a short track that drives like a speedway. It all comes down to executing during the race."
Smith, who carries a 27-point advantage over Hornish into Iowa, has spent the past week watching videos of previous races as he preps for Friday's practices and searches for the right setup with crew chief Greg Ives.
"I've never seen the place," Smith said. "I don't know anything about it. I don’t know about the bumps, the groove, grip level or anything like that. Between myself and Greg, we don't have any notebook for that place so we're going to rely on what we see from years past at JR Motorsports."
Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, will also be making his first Iowa start. He's coming off his best finish of the season, second at Dover, and has posted two additional top fives in the last five races including the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway.
"Iowa is similar to Richmond and typically, the setups transfer from one to another," said Kevin Kidd, Vickers' crew chief. "However, you have to negotiate the bumps at Iowa, unlike Richmond."
Trevor Bayne brings two consecutive top 10s into Iowa, where he will race with the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team that won three consecutive races there with Stenhouse.
"We finally got some races where we were still running at the finish," said Bayne, who was married this week. "There was a stretch of weeks that were tough on us because we would have fast cars and crazy stuff would happen out of the blue. We finally finished a couple races in the top five and now, we have to keep clicking those off. On our worst day, we’re a top-10 team and on our best day, we can win these races."
Des Moines, Iowa, native Michael Annett heads home looking to score his first top 10 since returning to action two races ago after recovering from a broken and dislocated sternum suffered in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. He had a test planned for Iowa after being medically cleared to race, but it was rained out.
"I always love going back," Annett said. "It used to be just because it was my home track, but I never really ran as well as I thought I needed to and should have. Last season, we had some strong runs and probably had a chance to win the second race."
A win Saturday would be special for Annett.
"I’ve told everybody I would like to win a foot race there, anything just to bring home a trophy," Annett said. "It would be huge. It would be right up there with a Nationwide championship, a Nationwide win at Daytona and places like that. It's definitely at the top of the list."
Rookies Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson, respectively, paced the opening DuPont Pioneer 250 practice session. Both have raced previously in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series with Larson - who leads Bowman in the Rookie standings by 21 points - scoring the best finish last season, second.
Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will air live coverage of Saturday's DuPont Pioneer 250 beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET) with live streaming at MotorRacingNetwork.com.