ONE: Johnny Sauter Remains Truck Series Championship Favorite
When Brett Moffitt and Johnny Sauter got together at Iowa Speedway early Saturday for their media availability, Moffitt was asked about his outlook for the upcoming race that night and what his goals were. The answer was simple.
“Beat him (Sauter),” Moffitt said with a chuckle. “He’s set the bar. It’s certainly the goal. They’ve had really fast trucks all year. We need to go execute.”
And that’s exactly what Moffitt did Saturday night. Leading a race-high 76 laps, the driver of the No. 16 Toyota simply dominated the final stage and outlasted an aggressive, last-lap crossover move by Noah Gragson to score his second 2018 victory and his first at his home track. Meanwhile, Sauter ended up fifth after struggling with the handling on his No. 21 Chevrolet.
“This was a frustrating day, to say the least,” Sauter said of his eighth top five in nine races this season. “We just had no grip whatsoever, but our truck was fast, so if we had been able to figure out how to tighten it up, I think we would have been contending for the win. With that being said, there’s nothing bad about a top five and this team is continuing to show our strength.”
You can say that again. Despite the “frustrating” race, Sauter and crew chief Joe Shear Jr. managed to make the most out of an ill-handling truck in the form of yet another top-five run. He still holds a solid 71-point lead in the championship standings, though much of that advantage will be wiped out when the series enters its playoffs at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in a couple months.
But when a driver is disappointed by a fifth-place finish on a day where the handling was never to their liking, it’s bad news for the rest of the competition.
TWO: The NASCAR XFINITY Series title race is still wide open
When the checkered flag dropped over the XFINITY Series race at Iowa Speedway, Justin Allgaier became the first series regular to score multiple wins this season. And while his victory at Dover doesn’t count toward his playoff eligibility, no issues in post-race inspection means he’s added a win that helps solidify his spot in the championship battle.
But the thing that became quite evident, especially in the standalone event devoid of Cup drivers, is that there is no real, clear favorite to win the championship. Obviously, you have to point at JR Motorsports as a strong organization that will likely have at least three of its teams in the playoffs, and there’s also Christopher Bell, who put on an impressive show, racing from the rear of the field to finish runner-up on Sunday. You can’t, however, count out drivers like Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, Brandon Jones and even Ryan Truex, who have yet to find their way to Victory Lane this season.
The bottom line is that there are several drivers who have already shown they’re capable of fighting for the title. And when the series gets its playoffs going, it will be something to watch and see who can rise to the top and assert themselves when it matters most.
THREE: Kaz Grala Deserves A Full-Time XFINITY Series Ride
After scoring a single win during the 2017 Camping World Truck Series campaign, Kaz Grala made the jump to the XFINITY Series to run the No. 24 Ford for JGL Racing. Scheduled to run the full season, the 19-year-old made just 10 starts before parting ways with the organization, following a disappointing 37th-place finish at Dover. Aside from a fourth-place finish in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Grala failed to crack the top 10 and had been steadily dropping in the point standings.
Fast forward to the next race at Charlotte after an XFINITY Series off-weekend and Grala emerged with a brand new team in Fury Race Cars. In less than two weeks, the organization managed to prepare and field a car that was competitive on race day each week.
The guaranteed four-race deal was enough to buy Grala time on the track to figure out what his next move will be. His finishes in those four events? 10th, 16th, 12th and 10th, giving him an average finish of 12th. By comparison, his stint with JGL to opening the season brought a dismal 22nd-place average result, and that includes the fourth-place run at Daytona.
“This was a heck of a way to end our four-race stretch with Fury Race Cars,” Grala said after the Iowa race. “You can’t be disappointed any day that you’re in the top 10, especially in the situation we’re in, so I’m pretty excited about that. I really hope I have some good news to announce soon in regard to more races this season.”
Sure, an average finish outside the top 10 isn’t exactly burning up the track and turning heads, but when you consider the circumstances around the team’s formation and how quickly it was competitive, it’s easy to see why Grala deserves the chance to continue to run the remainder of the season. The question is whether he can find a ride or the financial backing to do so.
FOUR: Iowa Speedway Should Have a Cup Series Race
Every time the NASCAR Camping World Truck or XFINITY series teams head to Iowa Speedway, the conversation manages to turn toward whether the track should host the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. While there are plenty of detractors that would rather let the two lower series continue to shine at the 7/8ths-mile oval, many are also very outspoken about their preference to see Cup teams descend on the small track, essentially nestled in an Iowa cornfield.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) June 17, 2018
Once again, a pair of fantastic races at Iowa over the weekend heightened that conversation. A track that features three- and sometimes even four-wide racing, not just on restarts but also throughout the events didn’t disappoint. In fact, both the Truck and XFINITY series races featured close-quarters racing all through the field and victories by Moffitt and Allgaier that came down to late battles before the checkered flag flew.
Need a visual to prove my point? Done.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) June 17, 2018
Don’t get me wrong. It’s incredibly important the the Truck and XFINITY series maintain as many of their standalone weekends as possible; however, it would be nice to see at least one Cup race at the 7/8-mile track, even if it’s just a single-season experiment that doesn’t happen again.
With all of that said, though, it’s hard to look at the stands for the weekend’s Truck and XFINITY series events and expect NASCAR to jump at the opportunity to bring Cup to the track. If fans want more racing at Iowa Speedway, they’ve got to show they support the racing that currently visits the track. Otherwise, there’s a slim-to-none chance Cup ever races there.
FIVE: This Weekend Brings an Opportunity For a New Face in Cup Series Victory Lane
After taking Father’s Day weekend off, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back in action at Sonoma Raceway. In one of just two road course races the series sees each season, this weekend marks a great opportunity for someone who hasn’t won this season to do so.
One name that stands out to me is Aric Almirola. Sure, he hasn’t exactly been spectacular in recent years, posting a 23.3 average finish in six starts at the track. But given his substantial performance improvement this season since joining Stewart-Haas Racing immediately puts him into the conversation.
Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman share the distinction of having the best average finish at Sonoma among the drivers who have not won yet this season at 12.5. Clint Bowyer actually leads the way in average finish at 10.7 but already has two wins to his credit this year.
Of course, any road course conversation wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t add AJ Allmendinger to the mix. Obviously, Watkins Glen has been kinder to the JTG-Daugherty Racing driver than Sonoma has, but he has a knack for being in the right place to capitalize.
The point is that for fans looking for someone to change up who’s standing in Victory Lane, this weekend may just be the opportunity they’ve been looking for. And a victory by a driver who’s winless in 2018 has the ability to shake up the back of the standings near the playoff cutoff line too.