NEWTON — All race car drivers want as much time behind the wheel on a track and in a race as possible. Ryan Gifford will be on the 7/8-mile oval track of Iowa Speedway plenty this weekend.
The 25-year-old Winchester, Tenn., native draws double duty during the Speedway’s 2014 season opener. Gifford has done it here once before.
Saturday, Gifford is driving the Rev Racing No. 2 Toyota in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Stores 150, then turns around on Sunday to drive the No. 98 Biagi-DenBeste Racing entry in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series Get To Know Newton 250.
Gifford knows Newton. He made his Nationwide Series debut here last August, rallying from a 23rd-place starting spot to post a top-10 finish in his first start in the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
“I’m excited to back at Iowa Speedway. I learned a lot last year here. I learned how to drive the track in a Nationwide car,” Gifford said Thursday. “Yes, I drove both races (K&N and Nationwide) last year when I was here. It’s not as tough as you might think. I just have to make sure I get hydrated following Saturday night’s race, get some sleep and be ready to go on Sunday.”
Last August following his debut Nationwide Series race at Iowa, Gifford said,
“I’m just super pumped,” said Gifford following the race. “I feel like I learned more in these past 250 laps in a race car than I have in a long time. These Nationwide cars are so much fun to drive and difficult too; I mean you really have to be on your toes. I can’t thank Drive for Diversity and Menards enough for putting me in this race.”
“Man, I wish I could go back out here and run some more, it’s so much fun. It was cool having this opportunity and the RCR crew kept working with me and I just tried to drive the wheels off it and we finished all the laps and got a top-10 finish,” Gifford said of his first taste of Nationwide racing.
Even though Gifford has joined Biagi-DenBeste Racing in 2014, he admitted he is still pumped about getting opportunities to step up into the Nationwide Series racing. Gifford was named to the 2014 NASCAR Next group, which is his second straight year on the young up-and-coming drivers.
“It’s such huge honor to be recognized. You work hard to get to this point and it’s exciting to be named as one of the top young drivers coming up,” Gifford said.
Gifford’s first focus of the weekend is the K&N Pro Series East-West crossover event — the Casey’s General Stores 150 on Saturday night.
“I’m comfortable in the K&N races. I know the car well. The K&N Series is very competitive. We’re all striving to prove ourselves to be able to move up to the next level,” Gifford said.
“But, the Nationwide Series is super competitive with really talented drivers, young and veterans and even some of the (Sprint) Cup drivers running in the races.”
Transitioning from the K&N car to a Nationwide car is still new for Gifford. He said there are differences in how to drive at the two different levels. He pointed out that the Nationwide cars run on different tires than his K&N car.
“I learned in the Nationwide Series races you’ve really got to race hard on restarts becasue the tires don’t really fall off as much as our cars do. Being back at Iowa, is really fun for me. It’s a great track and has great racing fans,” Gifford said.
Gifford became the first African-American in K&N series history to earn a pole when he accomplished the feat in the inaugural race at Martinsville in 2010. He scored his first K&N Pro Series win last season at Richmond.
So, on Saturday night in the Casey’s General Stores 150 look for Gifford in the Rev Racing No. 2 Toyota with the K&N Pro Series drivers compete under the lights at Iowa Speedway. Sunday afternoon, Gifford is in the Biagi-DenBeste Racing No. 98 Fordaentry in the Get To Know Newton 250.