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Kind of a big deal

Iowa Speedway gaining notoriety, even in the offseason

Published: Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 11:29 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 11:52 a.m. CDT
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(Shane Lucas/Daily News File Photo)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates in Pizza Ranch Victory Lane after winning the Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 at Iowa Speedway on May 20. Stenhouse led 209 laps in the race, which ended with his third consecutive victory at Iowa Speedway.
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(Mike Hockett/Daily News File Photo)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Timothy Peters celebrates in Pizza Ranch Victory Lane after winning the American Ethanol 250 on July 14. It was Peters' first of two victories in the 2012 season.
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(Mike Hockett/Daily News File Photo)
IndyCar Series driver Marco Andretti congratulates 2012 Iowa Corn Indy 250 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay in Pizza Ranch Victory Lane.
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(Mike Hockett/Daily News File Photo)
A packed crowd was on hand for the 2012 U.S. Cellular 250 on Aug. 4.

third start.

Interestingly enough, Peters couldn’t defend his win from a few months earlier and actually slipped behind Ty Dillon in the overall points standings that night. Iowa Speedway giveth, Iowa Speedway taketh away.

Now take a quick breath. That was just two races on the track’s schedule in the past year. Before getting into the NASCAR Nationwide Series races, which are widely considered the track’s biggest draws each season, let’s also take a look at all that was accomplished during the weekend for the Iowa Corn Indy 250.

Although Iowa Speedway doesn’t exactly fit the perfect mold for open-wheel racing, the IndyCar Series seems to love it in Newton. Nearly all of the IndyCar Series drivers, and drivers of almost every series, describe the track as short track racing with a superspeedway feel. And with downforce adjustments placed on IndyCar drivers for this year’s race, it made things just a bit more challenging for everyone.

But enough technical talk for now. Looking simply at the weekend’s events, IndyCar invested some serious thought into Iowa Speedway this year. The track was the site of the series’ first-ever heat race qualifying, which was deemed a success by the track, series and drivers for its originality and larger-than-normal attendance for a qualifying session.

Race day turned out to be a stormy one that shifted the schedule a bit, but the title card didn’t disappoint for the fans that stuck around. Not only did pole-sitter Dario Franchitti get knocked out of the race before the first lap was even completed, but Ryan Hunter-Reay held off local favorite and 2011 champ Marco Andretti to earn his second of three consecutive victories that helped him clinch his first IndyCar Series championship with a spectacular come-from-behind effort.

Even with the overall success of those three races, it’s a widely accepted fact that the Nationwide Series still creates the most excitement at the track. It brings some of the sport’s most recognizable stars and biggest up-and-comers each race, and neither one disappointed this season.

The second of the two races, August’s U.S. Cellular 250, almost seemed surreal considering Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t win for the first time in four attempts at the track. That honor went to Elliott Sadler, but speedway fans also got to see Des Moines native Michael Annett take fourth and 19-year-old Grimes native Brett Moffitt finish ninth in an impressive series debut.

Going back even further, the 2011 edition of the U.S. Cellular 250 was still a regular topic of conversation among the drivers. Stenhouse earned his second-straight victory in an almost unthinkable finish that featured Stenhouse being rear-ended over the finish line by teammate Carl Edwards after Stenhouse blew his engine. Stenhouse cemented his legacy as a local favorite with that race, and that finish will likely still be talked about even when he makes his jump to the Sprint Cup next season.

However, it was Iowa Speedway’s first Nationwide race that took the track’s most recent award. The Pioneer Hi-Bred 250, which took place on May 20, allowed Stenhouse to complete the Iowa Speedway hat trick. It was his third win in as many tries at the track and his third win in the series for that season. However, Stenhouse hit something of a rough patch after that before recovering to win his second-straight Nationwide Series crown.

Nearly another case of Iowa Speedway giveth, Iowa Speedway taketh away.

I can write all about how the competition alone at Iowa Speedway has earned a Sprint Cup race for the track, but after a season’s worth of asking questions about it, I realize getting racing’s premier event to Newton isn’t as cut-and-dry as how entertaining races are. Even if a track produces good race after good race and is lauded by the drivers and series alike, there is a still a whole lot of red tape to cut through in order to land a Sprint Cup event.

So, fans of Iowa Speedway, the only thing you can do is wait. However, at least you’ll probably have something decent to watch while you do.

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