Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has won at Iowa in a number of different fashions. Add dominant to that list. In an event that was a far cry from his crazy win last summer courtesy of Carl Edwards’ bumper, Stenhouse set the tone early and never looked back, leading 209 laps en route to a convincing third consecutive win at the Iowa Speedway. Elliott Sadler, Michael McDowell, Austin Dillon, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 5.
Stenhouse’s closest title contender in Sadler rebounded from a hugely disappointing finish at Darlington, winning the pole and scoring a runner-up result that saw last year’s 1-2 finishers take the top 2 positions on the scoring pylon. It was a strong showing for a number of Nationwide Series regulars, who proved able to handle the challenge posed by Cup regulars Busch and McDowell for the afternoon. Stenhouse extended his 2012 lead to 28 markers over Sadler heading to Charlotte.
It was a remarkably clean race for a short-track event, with wrecks on the day confined to a rash of tire failures due to melted beads from brake heat. At least four cars suffered hard contact with the wall courtesy of blown right front tires.
Nothing more needs to be said about *Stenhouse* and *Sadler*. Unless something changes, 2012 is act 2 of the dance these two started a season ago.
*Austin Dillon* has scored plenty of top 5 finishes in his rookie NNS season, but as was noted by the commentators throughout, this race was nonetheless a step forward. Between his aggression-making passes and general command of his car and track presence, Dillon and the No. 3 car looked as sure as it has all season racing for the top 5. Dillon still showed some rookie green (he struggled for numerous laps to get behind a race car to clear debris from his grill mid-race), but should the two title leaders slip, there’s reason to believe the defending Truck Series champ will be right there to take advantage.
No ifs, ands, or buts… *Justin Allgaier’s* strongest showing of 2012 was seen on Sunday afternoon. Frankly, the sixth place finish has to be considered a disappointment given the amount of time the No. 31 spent in the top 3 over the course of the race. That aside, Allgaier and team proved to be the class of the garage for Turner Motorsports, delivering arguably their best effort since winning at Chicago last summer. Needless to say, the sixth place finish was the best of the season for the former ARCA champ. Can’t help but wonder if Kasey Kahne and James Buescher’s absence this weekend meant something for the No. 31 squad?
Speaking of Buescher, even though he didn’t make the trip, a number of Truck regulars did, and delivered. *Parker Kligerman* and *Brendan Gaughan* finished eighth and 10th, respectively, after racing trucks in Charlotte on Friday.
*Erik Darnell* brought home his second top 20 finish in three weeks driving the No. 40 car. Perhaps more important than coming home 18th was how Darnell earned that spot… only two laps off the pace. One has to go back to Texas in the fall of 2010 to find the last time Darnell ran that well in a non-plate race.
East Series regular *Darrell Wallace* didn’t make a huge splash, but delivered a quiet ninth place finish that resulted in a squeaky clean race car.
*Travis Pastrana* scored a career-best result in the East Series race Friday at Iowa, and followed that up with a showing on Saturday that was again poised and composed, keeping the No. 99 out of trouble and able to make laps. With high attrition on the afternoon, a top 20 finish was all but in the bag for the X-gamer in his third NNS start. That is, until the No. 99 slowed to a crawl on lap 200, bringing out the caution a lap later as the car was unable to pick up fuel. The team worked with Pastrana to determine if it was an electrical issue, but was forced to the garage (the problem ended up being a fuel line issue). Pastrana would wind up 26th.
*Johanna Long* finished a distant 22nd on the afternoon, four laps off the pace. The car came home in one piece and the young Floridian didn’t get into any trouble, but take a look at the past history of the No. 70 car at Iowa (Shelby Howard and Scott Wimmer had combined to score three consecutive lead lap, top 15 finishes on the short-track) and it’s hard to view the result as anything other than a shortcoming.
*Joey Gase’s* return to the Nationwide Series with Means Racing was over before it started; the No. 52 car’s motor expired only 50 circuits in for the former Go Green Racing regular.
It was hot on Sunday afternoon in Newton; that, combined with brake heat that only short-track racing could provide, led to a rash of tire failure wrecks over the course of 250 laps.
*Tri-Star Motorsports* continued to struggle through an ugly stretch of their season, with both *Jeff Green* and *Tayler Malsam* enduring hard crashes due to blown tires (Green is continuing to serve as a substitute driver for Eric McClure, who was injured in another vicious wreck at Talladega a few weeks back). *Danica Patrick* failed to make it to the halfway point of the race after having a tire expire entering turn 1 on lap 113.
*Sam Hornish Jr.’s* day was far from a disaster in 12th, but considering how the event started, it had to hurt more than his crash. Hornish got the early jump at a track in Iowa that already owes him one (batting relief for Brad Keselowski a season ago, Hornish was among the class of the field driving the No. 22 a season ago before suffering a brake line failure; he led 39 laps but finished 24th), passing Elliott Sadler on the initial restart and leading lap 1 (and 29 after it) before yielding to the eventual winner Stenhouse. But with a top 10 in the bank coming to the checkers, Hornish blew a tire and pounded the wall, forced to limp his battered machine around for a good half mile to the checkers (post-race replays showed that the car had to be extinguished due to fire).
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Casey Roderick* Though it’s still disappointing to see Benny Gordon forced to sit out a short-track race, Roderick did an admirable job wheeling the No. 24 car to a top 20 result at Iowa, the first for the No. 24 team outside of the plate races in 2012. The top 20 was only the second of Roderick’s brief Nationwide Series career… and his career best not driving for Randy Hill Racing (of note, the No. 08 team start-and-parked with Tim Andrews behind the wheel).
Start-and-parkers occupied 9 of 43 starting positions in Sunday’s race, taking home $105,724 in purse money.
Cup regulars scored 2 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 3 of the 43 starting positions in Sunday’s race, and took home $93,461 in purse money.
130 of 430 starting positions occupied (29.5%)
$2,808,902 dollars won
4 of 10 trophies collected (40%)
*The Final Word*
• There’s something refreshing and encouraging about seeing full grandstands every once in a while for a Nationwide Series race. Another job well done by the folks at the Iowa Speedway.
• 9 entries in a 43 car field had parked for good by lap 13. Put a positive spin on that one.
• To elaborate on a point made earlier, isn’t it interesting that as soon as Brad Sweet and Steve Arpin are taking over rides for Kasey Kahne and James Buescher, the No. 31 car is not only the best finishing car for the Turner camp, but, more importantly, the class of the fleet? There’s no doubting Allgaier’s talent as a race car driver goes beyond what his results have shown in 2012… he’s a proven winner and will go down in ARCA lore as the driver that ended the longest title streak in series history, the man that brought down Frank Kimmel in 2008. Maybe one race just produced a result that saw the team’s most experienced driver cash in. But after seeing just how significant the gap was between the team’s cars on Sunday, the question has to be asked: is Allgaier, for all his upside, really getting the focus he should in this camp? Shame there aren’t too many standalones left on the schedule to watch this play out on.