This past weekend’s races at the Iowa Speedway were arguably two of the best we’ve seen across the board in NASCAR this season. There has been a buzz from so many drivers, fans and media wanting the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to have a date with the track starting in 2020. However, should the track get a Cup date or is it fine the way it is to, running only Trucks and XFINITY cars twice a year?
There are those who argue that Iowa deserves a date in the future, but then there’s the opposite argument that says it’s good for only the Truck and XFINITY series to have their own featured event for a weekend.
Meanwhile, Sonoma Raceway, the site of this weekend’s MENCS race, has been a challenging track for many throughout the years.
One driver who has always adapted well to the road courses has been AJ Allmendinger. Every year, we know he’s a favorite to run up front at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen with his road course racing experience from his days running open wheel and sports cars. Allmendinger has not had the best start to this season, with the exception of Martinsville, where he scored a solid top-10 finish for his No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing team.
Q: Do you think Iowa deserves a Cup race in the future? – Mike T., Racine, Wisconsin
A: Iowa has definitely been one of those tracks that has aged extremely well over the years. Whether it is a short track or not, it provides some of the best, pure racing in NASCAR and we have seen that in recent races at the track. Does it deserve a Cup race? I think so, and I do think drivers and teams would be excited to go there for the first time in the Cup Series.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) June 17, 2018
Since Rusty Wallace, the designer of the speedway, opened the track in 2006, the track has proved to be one of the best on the NASCAR circuit. However, NASCAR hasn’t been the only series to race there, as IndyCar also makes an appearance at the track once a year.
Many IndyCar teams consider Iowa a short track because it’s the smallest track they race on, but for NASCAR teams, I’m not sure you can call it a short track. Yes, it’s less than a mile long, but at the same time, it doesn’t really race like a short track. It’s more like an intermediate, short oval with multiple grooves and room to pass. You don’t really see those typical short track moves like the bump-and-run, so Iowa isn’t truly a short track. Entertaining, but not in the same category as Bristol, Richmond or Martinsville.
As for the Cup Series acquiring a race at the track, I do think it’s possible, but attendance would be something to note. The track was not built to seat 70,000-80,000 people like most on the Cup circuit. Even though attendance is down these days, Cup races still get that many people coming to the track to watch. Iowa only holds 30,000. Of course, for Indycar, XFINITY or Trucks, that’s plenty with attendance the way it is these days, unfortunately. We all wish these were like the old days where XFINITY and Truck races would have packed grandstands and we wouldn’t have this issue. However, we know if the Cup Series gets a date, Iowa will most likely, if I had to guess, be sold out for the very first race at least.
So, the question to be answered originally is if Iowa deserves a Cup date. I do think they deserve one. Can this be done? I’m going to go out on a limb and say in 2020, the year that we have an opportunity for new tracks to be added to the schedule, we will see a Cup race at Iowa Speedway. That’s still two years from now, so a lot can happen between now and then, but I think the track will definitely manage.
I don’t have a doubt in my mind that if we do see a Cup race at the track, it can be as good as the XFINITY or Truck series races were this past weekend. I compare it to those races because they were both the most entertaining of the year in my opinion. As Iowa ages more and more, we’ll see racing continue to improve, and I think in 2020, we’ll see the Cup Series put on a good show as well.
Q: What do you think AJ Allmendinger’s chances are this week? — Tracy K., New York, NY
A: Every year, we always talk about Allmendinger being a favorite at the road course races. Not because of the car he’s in but because of his skill when it comes to these types of tracks. Other than Daytona and Talladega, this weekend and the August race at Watkins Glen International are probably his two best shots to steal a win and lock into the playoffs. We saw him do so at Watkins Glen in 2014 when he got the thrilling first win of his career, edging out Marcos Ambrose.
— JTG Daugherty Racing (@JTGRacing) June 19, 2018
Since that race, though, Allmendinger has not had much success when it comes to road courses. His best finish at Sonoma has only been seventh which came way back in 2009. He only has one other top-10 result at the track and three out of the last four races, he has finished 30th or worse. These results have not been because of a lack of speed but rather due to mechanical issues. At Watkins Glen, he has two top 10s in a row, with a best finish of fourth since his win back in 2014.
With those given stats, could Allmendinger be a favorite this weekend? I’d put him in my top 10 for sure but I wouldn’t go as far to say he’s the favorite. Drivers have vastly improved their road course racing skills over the years. No longer is it a matter of survival or being a “road course ringer” like it was 10-15 years ago. The emphasis now seems to be based on car, skill and aggression. Allmendinger has the skill and the aggression for sure, but I’m just not sure he has the car compared to some of the front-runners like a Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr.
Yes, Allmendinger is arguably the most experienced driver in the field when it comes to road course racing, but is he the best road course racer right now? I don’t think so, but he’s in my top five for sure as road racers. With that said, I do believe he will have a shot to win this weekend. With the right strategy, and a fast car free of mechanical issues, he will be right there with the top drivers.
A top 10 result would be an excellent day for JTG Daugherty Racing with the way the season has gone so far. But we know Allmendinger is hungry for a win again and to be back in the playoffs like he was a few years ago. His aggression and skill could allow him to sneak out a win this weekend, and don’t be surprised if he does.