Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide event at Iowa Speedway, the U.S. Cellular 250 Presented by Enlist Weed Control System, will feature some of the biggest names on the circuit.
Points leader Austin Dillon as well as his trailers Regan Smith, Elliot Sadler and Sam Hornish Jr. will highlight a field of Nationwide regulars that will take to the 0.875-mile track located just off I-80 in Newton.
One name that the fans might not have heard much of yet, but probably will very soon is 20-year old Kyle Larson. Larson is enjoying a fantastic rookie season on the Nationwide circuit, which includes 11 top-10 finishes in 19 starts. His experience at Iowa Speedway makes him one of the favorites this weekend, and gives him a good opportunity to lock up his first career Nationwide victory.
“For the pavement tracks that I’ve run at, Iowa is probably the most laps that I have run. I have run quite a bit there,” Larson said. “It’s unique. It’s starting to get a lot of bumps around the track, which gives the track character. It’s just a lot of fun racing there. It’s a short track that races like a mile and a half. It’s a short track that a lot of us enjoy.”
Larson, a native of Elk Grove, Ca. grew up racing on dirt tracks in sprint cars. Although the Nationwide Series doesn’t exactly speak to his racing roots, he seems to be more comfortable with the regularity that the schedule of the Nationwide Series presents.
“The lifestyle of the Nationwide Series is almost easier that what I’ve been doing the last couple years, because I’ve been racing sprint cars over 100 times a year, always on the road,” he said. “So at least with the Nationwide Series, I can fly back to Charlotte for a couple days. So it’s almost easier.”
An easier schedule? Sure. But easier racing? Definitely not. Larson had eight top-five finishes and two wins in 14 races as a 19-year old on NASCAR’s K&N circuit, but he’s finding wins at this level much harder to come by. Although the youngster has done very well in his 19 races, he still has eyes for that first victory of the season, and he sees this weekend as a great opportunity to accomplish that.
“I feel like we’re getting closer. It’s tough though. We’re usually about a fifth to 10th place car, and then there have been some races where we have done really well and came close to winning,” Larson said. “I think everything just has to go right to win a race in the Nationwide Series. It’s so tough, especially with the Cup Series guys that come and run. The good thing with Iowa Speedway this week is that it’s almost a stand-alone event with the Cup Series in Pocono. So it gives us regulars a better shot at winning.”
Even as a rookie, Larson has begun to figure out and pinpoint his weaknesses and what he needs to work on. He admits to not having a great feel for these pavement-style tracks and the cars in which he drives, but his recognition of his strengths and weaknesses will go a long way in helping with his development.
“I need to be consistent. I got way behind in the beginning of the year. I just wasn’t having the finishes I wanted. I’d get up in the top-10, and then I would get excited and wreck or have a lot of bad luck,” Larson said. “I also need to give better feedback on the car. I need to work on that. It being my first year, I don’t have a full-on feeling for how the car is supposed to handle and how I want to drive. So that’s where I get behind. The Cup guys have been doing it forever, and they know what to feel. That’s why theyre kicking out butts every week.”
Dillon currently sits atop the points standings, ahead of Smith by just six. Sadler and Hornish Jr. are basically tied for third at 13 and 14 points back, respectively. Larson sits in seventh at 44 points back, which is not insurmountable, but it will take a victory soon to close that gap.
Larson will have his opportunity to close the points gap on Saturday, Aug. 3, when the U.S. Cellular 250 will take place.gap on Saturday, Aug. 3, when the U.S. Cellular 250 will take place.