At first, it looked like it was the reigning champion’s day to enter Victory Lane at Iowa Speedway. But on an afternoon filled with controversy and varying pit strategy, Chase Elliott failed to win his first race of the 2015 season. Chris Buescher, who earned a win at Mid-Ohio last season, finally recorded a triumph on an oval track. The Roush Fenway Racing driver took the lead on the green-white-checkered finish, and sailed into Victory Lane ahead of Elliott for the organization’s 135th win. Buescher’s victory also marks the first season since 2012 that multiple drivers have won races for Roush Fenway Racing in a single year.
The 22-year-old was able to prevail after leading 94 of the 259 laps on Sunday afternoon. Elliott led a race-high 114 laps, but got into the wall during one of the late green-flag runs. The No. 9 car went to pit road to put on four tires under caution with less than 80 laps to go, though pit road miscommunication left him with just two. He started at the tail-end of the lead lap, but retook the lead on lap 220 before Buescher’s late move.
Daniel Suarez was able to lead 48 laps, but finished two laps down. Suarez’s Joe Gibbs Racing car was inside of the top 10 for the majority of the race, but ran out of fuel with two laps remaining.
Erik Jones started at the rear of the field in the pole-winning No. 20 car due to a driver change. Drew Herring was behind the wheel in qualifying. Jones was at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday on standby for Kyle Busch, whose wife is expecting their first child very shortly. Jones drove through the field and was inside the top five by lap 73. He finished third after struggling on the short runs throughout the day.
Entering Iowa, Ty Dillon held the championship lead for Richard Childress Racing by nine markers over Buescher. However, after running in the top five for the majority of the day, Dillon had a tire go down in the closing stages of the race. At one point, he was multiple laps down, but was able to race his way back onto the lead lap to finish 14th. Buescher now controls the standings by eight points over Dillon.
Elliott sits third in points (-31), followed by Darrell Wallace Jr. (-37), Brian Scott (-42), Regan Smith (-48), Elliott Sadler (-51), Ryan Reed (-80), Brendan Gaughan (-85) and Suarez (-87). The race lasted two hours, 32 minutes and 46 seconds, with nine cautions for 54 laps.
RFR finally proved it is back to its winning ways. The team has been inconsistent this year, yet all of its cars were running inside of the top five at one point or another. Obviously, Buescher was by far the strongest of the four-car team, but Wallace, Reed and Sadler showed potential for top-five runs as well.
Making their NASCAR Xfinity Series debuts, Brandon Jones and Ben Rhodes were strong throughout the day. Jones drove his RCR car inside the top 10 for the majority of the day, but fell back a bit on the long runs. Rhodes was running in the top 10 early on until he had a speeding penalty during the lap 60 competition caution while making his first pit stop in the division. The No. 88 car was lapped during a 60-lap green-flag run, but received the lucky dog on the sixth caution of the day. Both drivers came on strong during the GWC and finished inside the top 10.
Boris Said, who was making his first oval start at a non-plate track for JGR this year, struggled mightily throughout the weekend. Qualifying outside the top 20, he was mired back in the midst of the field to start the race, and did not improve very much throughout the course of the race. He finished 26th, three laps down in the No. 54 car after spinning out with Eric McClure on lap 162.
This is probably as ugly it will get during an oval race. On lap 9, JJ Yeley bumped rookie Brennan Poole‘s right-rear corner on the backstretch. Poole’s No. 42 car received major right-front damage, and had to go behind the wall for an extended period of time. When he got back on track, an opportunity for payback arose.
Poole hit Yeley’s JGL Racing car on the backstretch on lap 151, which destroyed the No. 28 car. NASCAR officials parked the HScott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi driver for the remainder of the race and called him to the NASCAR hauler. The two sides exchanged words following the race on Twitter. To make things more awkward, the teams are sharing a flight back to North Carolina.
@JGLRacing yeah I got intentionally wrecked by you guys! This is going to set me back and everything I have sacrificed to be here as well
— Brennan Poole (@brennanpoole) May 17, 2015
@JGLRacing sounds good!
— Brennan Poole (@brennanpoole) May 17, 2015
Underdog Performer(s) of the Race
Even after a spin, John Wes Townley was able to manage a top-15 finish for Athenian Motorsports. The 25-year-old is coming off a top five at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series on Friday evening, and ran well at Iowa, nearly finishing in the top 10. In his last six Xfinity Series starts, Townley has five top 20s.
Double Duty Interlopers
Landon Cassill and Yeley were the only drivers who flew to Iowa from Charlotte after competing in the Sprint Showdown. Erik Jones, Ryan Ellis, Brandon Jones and BJ McLeod each ran the Camping World Truck Series event on Friday evening before flying into Iowa.
The Final Word
The Iowa race once again proved that there is indeed a need for more standalone events. Enabling Xfinity Series regulars to win a race gives teams added exposure. This aspect was a big benefit to Buescher, who had Roush Performance on his car for the race. As one of just six standalone events, Sunday’s race provided a quality show for race fans, with solid racing throughout the day.
Elliott finally showed the speed that he had last season, which is a step in the right direction. However, losing the race on a pit strategy call prior to the final restart is a cause for concern. Elliott’s crew chief Ernie Cope has made similar decisions in the past. Even though Elliott’s future is solidified with Hendrick Motorsports, making the right call at the end of races in situations such as Sunday’s is going to be critical if he wants a shot at beating Buescher and Dillon for this year’s title.
The future of the sport, as a whole, was widely showcased in Iowa. Wallace, Blaney and Erik Jones were all racing in the top five late in the race during the final extended green-flag cycle. The side-by-side battles featured clean, tight racing. Though the final restart was the ultimate decider in who won the race, each of these drivers were incredibly strong during the day, which makes it more likely that all of them will continue to battle the Cup Series regulars for wins on a weekly basis.