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Should Iowa get another Cup run in 2025? Who are the drivers to beat?

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NEWTON − Two days after the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Iowa Speedway, the fan turnout was fantastic. Which begs the question: Will 2024 be a one-off, or will stock car racing’s premier series return to Newton in 2025?

NASCAR won’t announce its official schedule until halfway through the college football season, but a combination of fan turnout and exciting racing appears to be cementing Iowa’s status for at least another year. The first half of that equation is a conclusion; the second half is yet to be determined.

The sport’s top drivers hesitated Saturday to predict a breathtaking Iowa Corn 350 (6 p.m. CT Sunday, USA Network) after a partial redesign of the track removed some potential lanes of door-to-door racing that have been on hold for years has passed have made the product here in NASCAR’s second- and third-line series so fun to watch.

But they generally believe Iowa deserves another Cup run in 2025 after what they saw and experienced this weekend. A sellout crowd was expected for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, and it will be packed Sunday night in a race that will end under the lights.

“It’s crazy how quickly these things can sell out when you have a race in an area that NASCAR hasn’t been to in a while; Cup race, first time here,” said reigning NASCAR champion Ryan Blaney, whose No. 12 Ford will start on the second Sunday. “The excitement level is through the roof for a Midwest racing fan. That’s healthy. You want to go to songs that have a healthy fan base. This place certainly has that. So yes, I would love to see us back here next year and for many years to come.”

Fellow Ford driver Chase Briscoe, who won the last Xfinity race here in the summer of 2019, added: “Iowa should always be on the schedule. It’s such a good part of the country for motorsports.

“It’s a very cool circuit. Selling out doesn’t detract from the fact that we’re likely to come back. Hopefully we can keep coming here if they keep selling the restaurant and it gets good TV numbers.”

That was the only caveat Joey Logano, a two-time Cup Series champion who won in a K&N Series event here in 2007, said about Iowa. Short track racing hasn’t been great in the Cup Series this year, and it remains to be seen if Sunday’s race produces results.

“We’ll probably have to wait and see what happens on Sunday,” Logano said. “I would say, the fact that the fans show up? Then yes.”

Xfinity Series veteran Justin Allgaier thinks it would be difficult to take the track off the Cup Series schedule after a year.

“As someone who has come here since it opened, it would be really disappointing,” Allgaier said. “Resurfacing is difficult to do. I think it has potential. We just have to figure it out. But even if the new pavement isn’t exactly what we want, I hope we get some time to do it.” allow it to work and restore.” It will take a few more years before we come to the conclusion that this is not the time when we need a cup race.”

Kyle Larson will be the pole sitter Sunday night after his No. 5 Chevrolet turned the fastest qualifying lap after a rain shower on Saturday. Larson is a two-time winner of the Knoxville Nationals, so he has experienced the warm welcome that Iowa can offer to all forms of racing.

We’ve seen IndyCar have great success among fans here as well. It seems like a no-brainer for Iowa to get another crack in 2025. But if for some reason that doesn’t happen, Iowans should take advantage of this Father’s Day opportunity in the auto racing spotlight.

“Midwest fans, not just Iowa but all the other states in this region, are really into racing – sprint cars, midgets and dirt late models,” Larson said. “All of us, including the drivers, wanted a race here.

“We probably all wish it had happened sooner so we could have raced on the older tarmac, but either way I think it’s great for this fan base.”

Larson still keeps an eye on Knoxville Nationals

Larson has already become a legend in Iowa with his two titles at the Knoxville Nationals, including last summer’s A-main in sprint car racing’s biggest annual event. He went back and forth from Newton to Knoxville this weekend to also compete in the World of Outlaws events.

Larson appeared on track to win Friday’s A-main but blew an engine while leading with six laps to go in his No. 57 winged sprint car.

“Of course, it’s disappointing when a part breaks. But at the same time, I think everyone there is more focused on Knoxville Nationals,” Larson said. “We had a lot of speed. We were able to move from 10th to the lead and pass some really good cars. So I probably wasn’t as disappointed as you might think because we were fast. And hopefully that means we’ll be quick when we come back in August.”

What a story it would be if Larson could win the first ever Cup race in Iowa and come back and win the finals of the Knoxville Nationals on August 10th. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if Larson recorded his fourth Cup victory of 2024. season on Sunday.

Who are the drivers to beat?

Much has been made of the partial repair in Iowa, where multiple punctures occurred during Friday’s practice as teams tried to reclaim the spot. Tire blisters were also common during Saturday’s Xfinity race. While there is frustration that drivers may not be able to move around the track as much as normal, there is also an element of unpredictability from Sunday.

“Normally we have so much data and so much information,” said Daniel Suarez, driver of the No. 99 Chevrolet, which starts Sunday on the 13th. “We’ll go to qualifying (Saturday) and try to find out.”

Suarez normally watches old races to learn about a track, but said watching the 2019 Xfinity race here sucks. Even Larson said most of a recent seven-hour testing session here was largely inconsequential. Drivers should be watching Saturday’s Xfinity race closely to try to find what works and what doesn’t.

An informal survey of drivers on Saturday yielded a wide range of potential winners.

Briscoe said he thought the No. 5 Chevy of Larson, No. 45 Toyota of Tyler Reddick (starting eighth) and No. 11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin (starting 12th) were among the top favorites. He noted that Alex Bowman, in the No. 48 Chevy, “was in a league of his own” during long runs during Friday’s practice session. But Bowman qualified poorly (33rd out of 36). Suarez liked the speed he saw from Chase Elliott (whose No. 9 Chevy will start ninth) and teammate Ross Chastain (whose No. 1 Chevy will start 17th).

Chastain would be a great story with a win on Sunday. He won the 2019 Trucks race here but was subsequently disqualified for a car height violation following his watermelon-smashing victory celebration and winning press conference. In a TV interview with NBC on Saturday, Chastain revealed that he kept the trophy from that race five years ago.

Another driver to watch is Christopher Bell, whose No. 20 Toyota will start from the back despite a strong qualifying run, after a hard crash during Friday’s practice forced him into a spare car. Bell, Hamlin and Larson were among the early betting favorites.

Stewart-Haas Racing also showed good speed this weekend, led by Briscoe’s No. 14 Ford and Noah Gragson’s No. 10 (he was fastest in Friday’s practice), but Suarez expressed concern about SHR’s speed on the long term based on data he saw.

“There are still so many (many) unknowns, so that’s exciting for race fans, even drivers,” Larson said. “There are probably more drivers in the field who feel like they have a chance to have a good race. Because if this place were worn and bumpy, your Hendrick and Gibbs teams would be the ones dominating.

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Kyle Busch talks about recent racing incidents and his winless NASCAR season

The two-time Cup Series champion has struggled to find his place at Richard Childress Racing in 2024. He spoke Saturday at Iowa Speedway.

A big weekend for Kyle Busch

One of the most intriguing and polarizing drivers in NASCAR is Kyle Busch, a two-time Cup Series champion whose winless streak has now lasted more than a year. Busch’s last two races have involved on-track incidents, including with Larson at Gateway and last week with Chastain on the final lap at Sonoma Raceway.

Busch is coming off an Xfinity Series win here and desperately needs a good result in his No. 8 Chevy with Richard Childress Racing. He is currently one spot outside the cutoff to make the 16-driver play-off.

Busch’s cars are not as good as some of its competitors. Others benefit from it. Busch spoke about that dynamic Saturday at the track. He will certainly be one to watch Sunday at Iowa, where he qualified seventh.

“The good ones, like Denny and a few others, take their time and know that the pass will get made eventually. And there are other guys where you control them and control them because you’ve encountered them before,” Busch said. “And they will run as fast as they can until they meet you again. That’s just the nature of how you race people, I guess. And then the nature of how fast you run, guys. Sometimes you have to pick and choose those battles. You’d like to think you could race side by side with some of these guys, but sometimes that doesn’t work out.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow served 29 years at The Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Sports Network. Chad is the 2023 INA Iowa Sports Columnist of the Year and NSMA Co-Sportswriter of the Year in Iowa. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.