During the last few seasons, Iowa Speedway has been one of those tracks under consideration for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. During this weekend’s events, including Sunday’s (June 17) XFINITY Series race, fans and drivers were buzzing about how great the action was… and that was without some gimmicky aero package.
Once again, this short track did not disappoint for NASCAR’s second-tier series. Though Justin Allgaier dominated Sunday’s race, it wasn’t without its crusaders who were looking to steal the lead throughout. Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Austin Cindric all battled with Allgaier in some outstanding competition up front. For much of the third stage, Bell was halfway underneath the No. 7 as their side-by-side action for laps on end brought fans to their feet.
In the end, Allgaier was not going to be denied the victory. He’s the first XFINITY Series regular to win twice this year.
Three-wide racing filled the entire 250 laps during Sunday’s race. It was a solid event from start to finish, one of those rare races that had no lull in the action.
The contenders up front in Sunday’s race were the ones who have seemingly been the talk of the town all year long. But a little further back, you also had that right mixture of seasoned drivers facing off against the young guns. Some new names took advantage of no Cup drivers in the field including Riley Herbst, Ty Majeski and Justin Haley (all three earning career-best finishes).
The whole no Cup drivers ban is a good argument and today’s race had the right evidence to back that up. The regulars produced solid racing action that would normally be shunned to third and fourth during a Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski show.
For the second straight weekend, Bell had himself a race. The No. 20 Toyota had to start from the rear of the field after not taking a qualifying lap and worked his way up through the field pretty quickly. That didn’t surprise anyone but the formulaic rise was exciting to watch, putting Bell inside the top 10 after stage one and inside the top five after stage two.
From there, Bell was looking to become the first driver to win an XFINITY Series race at Iowa from outside the top 15. He battled with eventual winner Allgaier all throughout the day and painted us a picture of what the championship battle might look like.
“I feel like we were better than the No. 7 all day, just couldn’t pass him,” he said after the race. “One time, I did get alongside of him in lapped traffic there and then the yellow came out. Not being able to get the lead and control the restart [made the difference].”
Brandon Hightower earned his second straight DNF of the season Sunday after spinning on lap 234. Hightower was the only driver listed out of the race via accident while his JP Motorsports teammate Josh Bilicki had a fuel pump go out towards the halfway point of the race. Since running 15th at Daytona with Stephen Leicht back in February, this team hasn’t cracked the top 20. Leicht and the organization went their separate ways just a week before the XFINITY Series race at Charlotte and has since struggled to find a replacement ride.
Speeding penalties seemed to have their grip on the race at Iowa. Ryan Truex, Tyler Reddick, Herbst, Majeski and Ryan Reed were just some of the drivers caught by the stopwatch. Most recovered well, settling inside the top 10. But especially in the case of Herbst, who rallied to sixth, you wonder what might have been had they not lost track position.
Points leader Elliott Sadler had an awful afternoon. During the first stage, he tagged the wall after a right front tire went down and had to make an unscheduled green-flag stop. The damage was extensive, slowing Sadler the rest of the race and he simply went into survival mode. The 28th-place run was his second straight disappointing finish after 12 straight top-10 performances to start the year.
Underdog Performance of the Race
It wasn’t the win the team was looking for but it was the strong run they needed to survive. In the fourth start of his four-race deal with Fury Race Cars, Kaz Grala put another strong performance in the books. However, that 10th-place finish could close the book for at least this chapter of his ride.
In those four races, Grala only failed to finish inside the top 15 once, and that was a 16th-place finish at Pocono. It just baffles my mind on why he hasn’t been able to land a sponsor that would help him continue his racing career.
As the series leaves Iowa, Grala sits 16th in the playoff standings with a 35-point deficit. If he is able to continue, I’d expect to see Grala flirt closer to the cutoff line and possibly push his way in. The team is hopeful they have more sponsorship coming although no additional races have been confirmed as of this writing.
Double Duty Interlopers
ARCA Racing Series driver Herbst made his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut Sunday behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. It was his second race of the weekend as he finished 13th at Madison on Friday night in the ARCA race. Herbst ran inside the top 10 most of the day, swapping paint with series veterans and then charged back from a late-race speeding penalty. In the end, he earned a sixth-place finish which makes him the best finishing double-duty driver.
Along with Herbst, Justin Haley was making his XFINITY debut driving the No. 23 for GMS Racing. Much like Herbst, I feel he exceeded the expectations everyone laid out. Haley just barely missed getting a top 10 by finishing 12th and ran consistent all day long.
“We had a great car today, these guys did a fantastic job. Iowa is a great place and the fans here are incredible. It’s just one of those places that you’ve got to go to. We’re in the middle of corn fields — how could you not enjoy this? … Doing it on Father’s Day, it was really cool having my daughter here.” – Justin Allgaier
“Man, I just needed to be in front of him (Allgaier). Our Rheem Camry was really good. It was really good on the bottom, both corners, but I just didn’t have enough to clear him. Hopefully, we put on a good show for the fans. We were side-by-side for half the race.” – Christopher Bell
“It was cool. I just learned all day, that’s what I came here to do. Then I made a mistake by speeding on pit road, which put us back to 17th with 50 to go … all in all, it was a good day. I’ve got to thank Drew (Herring, driver coach) for being a big help. He’s how I got to this point right now.” – Riley Herbst
The weather is the final word here. It was really, really hot this weekend at Iowa Speedway which resulted in tough physical conditions on track. There were even a few drivers having to get some medical attention following the race. The hot weather also produced concerns on why NASCAR planned to start Sunday’s race during the afternoon instead of on Saturday night, as in years past. Considering the heat of Iowa in June night racing then could have reduced the risks for drivers. It could have also produced a better crowd as fans may have been deterred by the heat.
Overall though, that was the only downside from a fantastic race weekend. The racing, fans, and atmosphere at Iowa were great. Tell me why this track doesn’t have a Cup race yet?
The XFINITY Series has the weekend off while the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races in Sonoma and the Trucks hit St. Louis. The XFINITY Series returns on June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway for the Overton’s 300. Justin Allgaier is the defending winner of this race, which ran in September last season and will look to earn his third victory of 2018.
The green flag is slated to wave at 3:30 p.m. ET and will be seen live on NBCSN.