On a perfect summer evening for a race, it came down to three perfect laps and one perfect move at Iowa Speedway’s season finale.
Brad Keselowski, the lone NASCAR Sprint Cup driver in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race, proved he had the dominate car on the Newton track Saturday night. But on the final restart with four laps remaining in the 2014 U.S. Cellular 250, the race’s defending champion did not have the lead.
Michael McDowell pushed to the front of the pack on the restart following the fifth caution of the 250-lap event. Keselowski, who led 143 laps of the race before the final sprint to the finish line, never allowed McDowell a clear run.
“Brad definitely had the best car. But on those restarts, everybody’s got a shot,” McDowell said. “I tried my best. I gave it all I had. But I just got a little too loose on (turn) three and Brad got a run on the outside.”
Keselowski went to the outside of McDowell on the high line on Iowa’s Turn 3 and had the lead coming down the frontstretch. Keselowski was gone and on his way to his third win in five races at Iowa Speedway.
“A really good battle,” said Keselowski of the final short run of the night with McDowell. “He had me there for a minute. Somehow I slid back by him. I’m not really sure how it worked out. These wins aren’t easy to come by and I’m really proud of the effort everyone put into it.”
McDowell fell to third when Trevor Bayne got past him. The part-time Nationwide Series driver for Joe Gibbs Racing made his own move on the final lap in Turn 2. McDowell held off his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. and Bayne to claim second place.
Bayne ended up third but had a big payday. Bayne was one of four Nationwide Series drivers eligible for the final Nationwide Dash 4 Cash bonus.
Earlier Saturday, Bayne was paired with James Dennis of Henry, Ill., who was one of four racing fans winning the fan sweepstakes contest. Bayne and Dennis each walked away from Iowa with a $100,000 check.
Hornish, who won May’s Nationwide Series race at Iowa, was fourth and Ty Dillon was fifth. Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott ran eighth and maintains a two-point lead over Regan Smith, who was sixth in Saturday’s race.
Cedar Rapids natives Landon Cassill and Joey Gase finished 13th and 24th respectively.
Bayne knocked Keselowski off the pole with a last-second qualifying lap Saturday afternoon.
“I’m proud of our team this weekend. I felt like we were in this thing from the beginning to the end of the weekend, whether it was practice, qualifying, the short runs, the long runs,” Bayne said. “We were a top-5 car this weekend. We hadn’t been able to put together a whole race weekend like that yet this year. This is a boost and we learned a lot and build from this.”
Dillon, who came into the U.S. Cellular 250 off his first career Nationwide Series win, had a tough go of it during qualifying. He said finishing fifth was “a good recovery.”
“We were fighting from behind all night. We had a pit stop that went bad for us. We came in (to the pit stop) fifth and came out 12th,” Dillon said after the race. “That last caution we came in and took two tires. The guys recovered well and got me out in sixth. Danny (Stockman Jr., his crew chief) made a great adjustment putting two tires on it.”
Keselowski, McDowell, Brian Scott and Smith all took two tires on their cars on the final pit stop. Hornish, who had been running second to Keselowski, had a four-tire pit stop that dropped him back in the pack.
Bayne led the first 31 laps of the race keeping just ahead of Keselowski. Keselowski, who said after the race that this was probably his final trip to Iowa Speedway, claimed the lead for the next 22 laps. Elliott Sadler was out for seven laps, then Hornish pushed the front.
The battle was on between Keselowski and Hornish. And between Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series owner championship race.
“Yeah, this probably the last time I come to Iowa and it’s good to leave with a win. We really want to win the owner championship for Roger (Penske),” Keselowski said. “I’ve enjoyed the success I’ve had here. Iowa is a special place for me. The fans here and the support here are unrivaled for any other Nationwide race.”
Keselowski flew from Pennsylvania to Iowa on Saturday just before qualifying rounds then flew back to compete in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway.
“This isn’t a race that Penske circles and says we want to send a Cup driver to. It’s just the way it works right now with our development drivers in the trucks series. The race is a conflict,” Keselowski said. “We’ve got strong drivers coming up in the development crop. It’s important to me personally to see drivers get opportunities like that and I know we’re working towards that at Penske.”
It was the final race weekend of the 2014 season at Iowa Speedway. One Nationwide Series fan walked away with $100,000 in the Dash 4 Cash sweepstakes. James Dennis joined his “driver” Bayne in a post-race interview Saturday. The two were randomly paired Saturday afternoon.
“It hasn’t sunk in entirely yet,” Dennis said of this bonus check. “I couldn’t watch him all the time during the race because I thought I might jinx him. I just let him do his job and he did it well.”
Dennis joked with Bayne about how close he came to allowing Dillon to take the Dash 4 Cash away on the final laps of the race. Asked what he was going to do with the money, Dennis said, “it’s going in the bank. I’ll wait for the check to clear so I know it’s real.”
Contact Sports Editor Jocelyn Sheets at (641) 792-3121 Ext. 6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org