Weekend Preview: Iowa Speedway
July 25, 2019
By Holly Cain
NASCAR Wire Service
XFINITY RETURNS TO IOWA
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell and Stewart-Haas Racing driver Cole Custer have already set a historic pace of triumph this season and we’re only 18 races into NASCAR’s Xfinity Series championship run. All indications are that Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) could well be the next chapter in a dominating year for the pair plus championship leader Tyler Reddick. This threesome accounts for 13 wins.
With five victories each, Bell and Custer have tied a historic mark for success – joining Jack Ingram and Sam Ard (1984, seven wins each) as the only pair of drivers to each earn five or more trophies through the opening 18 races of a season.
There’s no reason to assume this pace will slow either. Bell is the two-time defending champion at Iowa and could join Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as the only two drivers to win three consecutive Xfinity Series races at the track. Stenhouse did it in 2011-12.
In four starts at the Iowa .875-mile oval, Bell has two wins, a runner-up, a pole position and led an amazing 434 laps. He’s led at least 150 laps twice – finishing 16th after leading 152 laps in his 2017 Iowa debut and leading 186 laps in this June’s victory.
Championship leader Reddick, who holds a 56-point edge over Bell in the standings, has never led a lap at Iowa and has only a pair of top-10s in five starts. The Richard Childress Racing driver was 15th last month here. Custer, who is third in the points standings, has four top-10 finishes and was runner-up to Bell earlier this summer.
Keeping them honest all season and especially this weekend, will be perennial championship contender Justin Allgaier, who won five times last season, but is still looking for his first victory of 2019. The JR Motorsports driver joins Bell as a former Iowa winner – the only two past winners in Saturday’s field. He won the season’s first summer Iowa race in 2018 and has finished second and third in the two races since. He’s the highest ranked driver in the series right now (fourth) without a win yet.
“It all comes down to one race at Homestead, so you never really know what you’re gonna have until there, but I think at this point you’re just trying to keep your own momentum up and try to get to Homestead,” Custer said of the fast early season pace. “We’re just trying to build as many Playoff points as possible and then from there when we get to Homestead we’ll settle it there.”
Eight races remain until the Playoffs. The top 12 ranked drivers will be eligible to contend for the trophy. Currently that includes Reddick, Bell, Custer, the winner of the season-opening Daytona race Michael Annett, Allgaier, Austin Cindric and rookie Noah Gragson.
OF NOTE: Kaulig Racing driver Justin Haley will have a new leader atop his pit box this weekend, crew chief Alex Yontz, will handle crew chief duties following the unexpected death of Haley’s crew chief Nick Harrison last Sunday. Harrison was beloved in the NASCAR community and as you would expect, Haley and the team are highly motivated to honor him with a win at Iowa on Saturday. Yontz and Haley worked together at Michigan earlier this season, scoring a 10th-place finish.
“Nick [Harrison] and I had a really fast car at Iowa a few weeks back,” Haley said. “This will be our second time there this year. Hopefully we will be just as fast and maybe get a win for Nick and see what else we can do this weekend.
“We’ve got some road courses after that, so I am really excited. We are going to the race track this weekend in honor of Nick, and we are going to go win one for him.”