Apart from the cornfields in Iowa, one emerging component of the state can be found in Newton. The state is home to one of the most unique and newest short tracks in the country in Iowa Speedway, a .875-mile course designed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace.
On a track similar to Richmond—one of Wallace’s favorite tracks—the Xfinity Series will try to light up Iowa on Sunday afternoon. As the highest NASCAR series to race at the track, there’s a lot riding on the 3M 250 for the track. Before the engines are fired in Iowa, here’s a look at everything NASCAR fans need to know.
When: Saturday, May 17, 2015, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Iowa Speedway
TV: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Motor Racing Network
2. Bye Bye Big Boys
It took nine races to get here, but the Xfinity drivers finally get to compete against each other without Sprint Cup regulars in the field. That means NASCAR fans can finally feast their eyes on a full-time driver in the Xfinity Series celebrating in Victory Lane for the first time since Daytona.
There is no Sprint Cup race held at the track, but that hasn’t stopped Brad Keselowski from sweeping the fall races in Iowa over the last two seasons. Both Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon finished in the top 10 at the track twice in 2014, so two championship contenders should be running up front on Sunday.
3. Ben Rhodes Skips Graduation for Xfinity
How much would you give up to live out your dreams? For Ben Rhodes, an 18-year-old driver from Louisville, Kentucky, getting his first start in the Xfinity Series means he’ll have to skip his high school graduation.
“I’m very eager to get in the race car and prove myself,” Rhodes said of the opportunity, via Mark Story of The Lexington Herald-Leader. “At the same time, I know I am in with the All-Star group. They are going to perform. They are going to win a bunch of races. I’ve got to try to impress them. I don’t know if I will win races, but I’ve got to try to impress them.”
Rhodes will be making his first start for Dale Earnhardt Jr’s team JR Motorsports in the No. 88 car. Typically driven by Kevin Harvick and Earnhardt himself, the No. 88 machine will be Rhodes’ ride for only 10 races. At 18, Rhodes has already graduated to the Xfinity level—that’s a huge accomplishment 2014 K&N Pro Series East champion.
4. Pressure to Put on a Show
While it’s great that the Xfinity drivers get a chance to compete on their own stage, there is some pressure that goes along with being the only show in town. The series is hoping to draw a massive crowd and prove that they don’t need the big names in the sport to attract fans.
This is my challenge to fans who want more stand alone XFINITY Series races on short tracks with no Cup drivers-buy a ticket Sunday to Iowa
— Pete Pistone (@PPistone) May 14, 2015
In fact, Harvick wants to see an event held for the premier level at Wallace’s track. Iowa may still be a ways off from hosting a Sprint Cup event, but the level of excitement and the fan base that shows up can go a long way to helping that cause.
5. Two-Horse Rookie Battle
Similar to Elliott and Dillon last year, two rookie drivers have emerged as the class of this year’s Xfinity Series. Those drivers are none other than Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez, who are separated by just one point in the Rookie of the Year battle.
Bubba stands alone at the top and is also fourth in points with two top 10s. Despite one DNF for Suarez, the Mexican driver has a top-five finish and three top 10s to push Wallace in the rookie standings. Heading into Iowa, a track where neither driver has raced in a stock car, Wallace has the upper hand after finishing 13th last year in the Trucks race in Newton.
The only driver currently in the field for the Xfinity race on Sunday that has won at the track at the NASCAR level is Erik Jones. It may have been in the Camping World Trucks Series, but Jones has proved in the last year that he can compete at any level.
Coming off Friday night’s photo-finish loss to Kasey Kahne, Jones was pissed that he didn’t come away with a win.
“It really hurts, it really really hurts.” pic.twitter.com/76fH5xMKp1
— Erik Jones (@erik_jones) May 16, 2015
Now he gets a second chance in Iowa with no Sprint Cup regulars in the field. Even against other rising stars like Elliott, Dillon and Wallace, expect Jones to come away with the checkered flag for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Ben Rhodes isn’t skipping his graduation for nothing. Last year at the K&N Pro Series East level, Rhodes won the first race in Iowa in a field that included Suarez and Cole Custer. He then added another top 10 at the track in the August race by finishing seventh.
Driving in a JR Motorsports machine that Junior and Harvick typically drive, Rhodes should have no issues with speed or his equipment. Look for the high school graduate to make a run toward the front and contend for a win in his first Xfinity race.
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