The Frontstretch: Nuts for Nationwide: This Week's Iowa Race Could Be Best Of Season by Kevin Rutherford -- Friday June 7, 2013

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Pocono’s cool and Texas (usually) entertains, but Iowa’s the place to be this weekend on the NASCAR circuit.

In fact, if you even casually watch the Nationwide Series (which if you’ve stuck around this year, mad props), this could be the best race of the season so far. In fact, expect it.

Standalone races used to be much more present on the series schedule, but these days, races at tracks like Iowa are fewer and farther between. Still, when the series does roll in to these speedways, its mere presence is always exciting.

The Nationwide Series has a well-documented Sprint Cup problem — that is, drivers stepping down to race in the lower series — but at the standalone events, only certain drivers, if any, will make the trek to two different tracks throughout a weekend.

With the Cup Series in Pocono, the Nationwide drivers in Iowa have a golden opportunity to reclaim their series and take the spotlight this week.

That’s part of what makes this weekend at Iowa so exciting. The No. 54 normally driven by Kyle Busch will have a young up-and-comer behind the wheel. Richard Childress’s No. 33 features a road course ace on an oval. In fact, the only two Cup regulars driving in the Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 are Joe Nemechek and Joey Logano.

Logano’s inclusion in the race in Penske Racing’s No. 22 may cause concern — and rightfully so — in terms of another Cup guy potentially stinking up the show, but Logano’s Saturday start at Iowa will actually be his first at the track in his career, and while it’s probably not a difficult speedway to pick up, it still could cause even the slightest hesitation.

Shoot, same goes for Regan Smith and Brian Vickers, too. The Cup-regulars-turned-Nationwide-stars haven’t made a start at Iowa just yet, meaning they’ll be starting on a more even playing field than usual. Vickers and Smith are usually major contenders in the series, but don’t be surprised if things don’t go as well as usual for them because of learning a new track.

Standalones often give younger drivers a chance to shine. That’s the case for Drew Herring, who will pilot a proven winner in Busch’s No. 54. Herring’s raced in the series at Iowa three previous times, even winning the pole in this race two years ago. He’s shown he can belong, and with equipment like Busch’s on his side, it’s not out of the question to imagine a first-time winner in the series in the form of one 26-year-old from North Carolina.

Herring isn’t the only driver to watch. Max Papis hasn’t raced on a NASCAR oval since his full-season Camping World Truck Series run in 2011, but he’s in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 33 usually populated by the team’s Cup squad, Ty Dillon and Dakoda Armstrong. Papis wasn’t exactly known for his oval racing prowess when he was more present in NASCAR, but when you don’t have a lot of chances in the series — especially with a big-name team — survey says you’re going to go for broke. If anything, it’ll be interesting to see Papis back mixing it up with some of NASCAR’s young talent. After a lackluster foray into NASCAR in a full-time setting, one didn’t really expect him back in this capacity.

Best of all? There’s only two Cup regulars (and Joe Nemechek gets a free pass because of different monetary circumstances compared to Logano) and 38 others. This is one of the best shots all year for a Nationwide regular to sneak in a victory, be it one of the title contenders who’ve already won in 2013 (Smith, Sam Hornish Jr.), a series regular who’s had great results in the past at Iowa (Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier) or even a first-time winner in the series (Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman).

As long as Logano doesn’t adapt fairly quickly to a new track, we could definitely have a good race on our hands.

Heaven knows this series needs it.

Quick Hits:

-Corey LaJoie and Ryan Truex may finally have some solid employment in NASCAR. Both young drivers have been signed to Richard Petty Motorsports’ development program, announced last weekend. No word on what either driver’s schedule will be, but it was noted that the team plans to run at least LaJoie in some Nationwide races this season, with hopes for a full 2014 schedule. As usual, both drivers’ runs depend on securing sponsorship.

-Ken Butler III returns to NASCAR this weekend, driving SR2 Motorsports’ No. 24. It’s the first of multiple races for Butler, son of Aaron’s COO Bill Butler Jr. He last raced in the series in 2009, driving 17 races for R3 Motorsports with an average finish of 27th. Butler will pair with his brother, Brett, who will make his Nationwide debut in the car at a later date but did race in the Camping World Truck Series in 19 races from 2009 to 2010.

-ARCA standout Chad Hackenbracht was originally scheduled to make his NASCAR debut this weekend, and while he’ll still do that, it won’t be in the Nationwide Series. Hackenbracht was originally scheduled to drive TriStar Motorsports’ No. 44, but instead accepted a ride with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, his first of four races with the team. Hackenbracht could have raced in both events but explained that he wouldn’t be able to get in any practice laps for his Nationwide team, which he thought “wouldn’t be fair to the team.” Cole Whitt will fill the seat for the second week in a row.

Looking Forward: Iowa

Stats (entered drivers):

Most Wins: Elliott Sadler (1)
Most Top Fives: Elliott Sadler (4)
Most Top 10s: Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier (4)
Most Poles: Elliott Sadler (3)

Top Average Finish: Elliott Sadler (2.8), Parker Kligerman (8.0), Michael Annett (10.2), Kenny Wallace (10.2), Justin Allgaier (11.3)

Iowa Nationwide Debuts: Regan Smith, Brian Vickers, Joey Logano, Harrison Rhodes, Nelson Piquet Jr., Kyle Larson, Max Papis, Juan Carlos Blum, Dexter Stacey, Kevin Swindell, Alex Bowman

Season Debuts: Ken Butler III, Max Papis, Tim Schendel, Drew Herring

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Kevin
06/07/2013 10:55 AM
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What happened to Hal Martin driving the #44?