Auto Racing

Iowa Speedway crowd size not so hot, but Newton racing was feverish

NASCAR's Xfinity Series put on good show under the sun

NEWTON — It probably stood to figure that the only car with racing stripes painted to look like ears of corn would be on the hood of the winning car at Iowa Speedway Sunday.

If the track had known Justin Allgaier would win Sunday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race here (sponsored by Brandt Professional Agriculture), maybe it could have marketed that to get more people from around our state to the race. Of course, it’s not like there aren’t all sorts of reminders at the track that you’re in corn country.

In fact, the first thing you see when you come out of the tunnel leading into the track’s infield are stalks of corn. If “corny” needed a definition, that would be it.

Anyway, things aren’t what they once were here, attendance-wise. Then again, they aren’t what they once were through much of NASCAR and auto racing, and many other pockets of American sports for that matter.

The reasons why more of this track’s 30,000 seats were unfilled than not for Sunday’s race are several. You could start with the rather-oppressive June heat. Sitting outdoors in 90-something temperatures with no protection from the sun isn’t everyone’s cup of ethanol.

“I don’t know if it was record high,” Allgaier said, “but man, it was brutal hot.”

The fact no marquee names were among the 40 drivers in the field didn’t help. In the early days of this series coming here, starting in 2009, you had a few dynamos of the top-level Sprint Cup (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup) series also running the Nationwide Cup series, the Class AAA of stock car racing.

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Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards were here more than once. Busch won in 2010. A budding stock car star-to-be in Brad Keselowski won here three times.

Also, the novelty is gone. In 2009, when the Nationwide Series debuted here, temporary seating was brought in as the Iowa race sold 56,087 tickets. The next year, it was 55,988.

Reacting quickly to that phenomenon, NASCAR gave Newton two Nationwide (now Xfinity) races per year after that. A second Xfinity event here this year is July 28, making it two races within a six-week period. Those who travel a few hours or more for this — and there are many — aren’t likely to do it twice in a summer.

But here’s the deal: This would still be a great place to have a Cup race. There is nothing to indicate it will happen anytime soon, if ever. But for those in this state who love this stuff, you can still hope and dream.

If a Cup race did somehow come here in 2030 or whenever, filling the permanent seats and thousands of temporary ones would be no problem.

The top wishers for an Iowa Cup race — other than Newton’s merchants — seem to be the drivers. For as big-business as this stuff is, drivers talk about fun. This .875-mile track typically has better Xfinity races than the many 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks NASCAR uses, like Kansas and Chicagoland.

“Just all in all a fun day,” Allgaier said. “I love the Iowa Speedway. I love the racing-ness of it and being able to move around and try to find that lane that works the best for your car the best.”

“How many tracks have three-wide (three cars running side by side at the front, low, middle and high) for an entire lap?” analyst Regan Smith asked with 45 laps left during FS2’s telecast of the race. “This is so much fun to watch.”

Keselowski, watching on TV from somewhere, tweeted:

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Allgaier beat Christopher Bell by 0.745 seconds, but it was closer than that from laps 206 to 249 when Allgaier and Bell ran 1-2 in the 250-lapper. That came on the heels of Brett Moffitt of Grimes, Iowa, winning the 200-lap NASCAR trucks series race here Saturday night by 0.333 seconds.

Close races and a winning car with corn painted on its hood. So, a pretty good weekend here. Other than, you know, “Man, it was brutal hot.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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