The teams from the NASCAR Nationwide Series are now on the way to Newton-Iowa for Saturday night's running of the U.S. Cellular 250 at the Iowa Speedway. This beautiful seven-eighths of a mile oval, designed by Rusty Wallace and Associates, has been the scene of some outstanding racing in front of sell out crowds and the same is expected for the Nationwide Series race Saturday night. In fact, don't be too surprised if the Iowa race turns out to be one of the better events during the upcoming motorsports weekend.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
The Iowa Speedway event is the second race in the Nationwide Insurance Dash 4 Cash, a bonus program designed to reward NASCAR Nationwide Series championship contenders. Drivers Justin Allgaier, Jason Leffler, Reed Sorenson and Michael Annett are eligible for a $100,000 bonus to be paid to the highest finisher of the four in the race. Sorenson, who won the first Dash 4 Cash bonus at Daytona, has the possibility of winning $1 million over the course of the four select races.
Speaking of the four drivers in the Nationwide Insurance Dash 4 Cash program, they will be busy on Friday participating in a very special competition for charity. Allgaier, Leffler, Sorenson and Annett will be visiting the Living History Farms, located in Urbandale-Iowa, to take part in a series of Iowa style contests that includes a horse drawn carriage showdown, cow milking and corn shelling. The winner will receive a $4,000 gift to be donated to the charity of his choice.
The Nationwide Series will be bringing a very tight championship points race to Iowa this weekend. Following a strong run at the Lucas Oil Raceway last weekend, Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr reclaimed the series' points lead. However, it's only a three point advantage over Turner Motorsport's Reed Sorenson. Stenhouse became the third different points leader in the last three races.
With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing in Pocono-Pennsylvania on Sunday there will not be a huge influx of double duty Cup drivers on the entry list of the Iowa race. In fact, there's only two of them: Carl Edwards and Joe Nemechek. The schedule of racing on both sides of the country during the same weekend is going to be very tight for these drivers. However the concept of rented helicopters, private jets and the difference in time zones should get them through that process.
Edwards will be a major part of the weekend story lines for a completely different reason. After literally weeks of rumors, regarding which Sprint Cup team he will be driving for in 2012, the official announcement came on Thursday morning that he has signed a new multi year contract to remain with Roush Fenway Racing and the Ford Motor Company.
Brad Keselowski, like Edwards, has also been racing the full time Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series schedules this year. However he will not be in Iowa on Saturday due to injuries sustained in a crash during a Wednesday test session at Road Atlanta. The Roger Penske Racing driver hit the one retaining wall at the track that does not have a SAFER barrier attached to it at approximately 100 MPH following an apparent brake failure. He was airlifted to a nearby Atlanta hospital where he was treated for abrasions and extreme swelling in his right foot. Thankfully, the X-rays on the foot injury turned out to be negative.
While he fully plans to drive in Sunday's Cup race at Pocono, Penske Racing decided that double duty in Iowa was out of the question. Driver Parker Kligerman, who drives for Penske in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, will be sent to Iowa to practice the Nationwide Series car on Friday. Sam Hornish Jr will be taking care of the qualifying and racing duties on Saturday.
The entry list for Saturday's race includes three up and coming drivers. Joe Gibbs Racing will again have development driver Drew Herring in their #20 Sport Clips Toyota and, for the second race in a row, Michael McDowell will be behind the wheel of Gibbs' #18 Pizza Ranch Toyota.
Kevin Harvick Inc is sending west coast driver David Mayhew to Iowa to drive their #33 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Rheem and Menards. For those of you who are not familiar with that name, Mayhew is a very talented driver who has been doing very well this year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. Racing fans who dwell out here on the "left coast" has watched the progress of this young driver since he began driving late models while still in high school. We are all very proud of him.
You will also hear a lot about "Danica Mania" this weekend. It now appears that Danica Patrick is very close to signing a contract that will bring her to NASCAR's Nationwide Series full time in 2012 driving a Dale Earnhardt Jr owned Chevrolet campaigned by J R Motorsports. Patrick will also be making her Sprint Cup debut next year and will drive in some selected races in a car owned by Stewart Haas Racing. Part of the final negotiations reportedly involves a ways and mean to compete in the Indianapolis 500, an event near and dear to this driver's heart. It's also been reported that an official announcement is pending the securing of an official release from Andretti Autosport, her current Indy Racing League team.
It's sad to note that severe financial restraints may curtail, and possibly conclude, the illustrious NASCAR Nationwide Series career of Morgan Shepherd and his Victory In Jesus team. The 69 year old ageless wonder, truly one of the most inspirational people in NASCAR racing, will be at the Iowa race and plans to race the following two events after that. Sadly, the August 20th road course race in Montreal could be his last ever run. The problem is the high cost and tires and especially the even higher cost of racing engines. Shepherd said this week if they could find a sponsor to help with the engine expenses then they would be handle the rest. Unless someone steps up with some financial help soon the team will likely shut down operations and be sold. Here's hoping something turns up for this very popular driver. Morgan Shepherd should leave NASCAR racing because he decided to retire and not because he was forced out by finances.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The U.S. Cellular 250 is 250 laps/218.75 miles around the Iowa Speedway's seven-eighths of a mile oval.
The race has 43 entries vying for 43 starting spots. That means all entries will get to race and the go or go home qualifying procedure will not apply for Saturday night's race.
This will be the fourth NASCAR sanctioned event at the Iowa Speedway this year. The previous events were complete sell outs and Saturday night's race is expected to do the same.
The U.S. Cellular 250 will be broadcast live by the ESPN2 Network, beginning with the "Countdown" show, at 7 pm eastern time.