Of course there will be the Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland, the first of 10 races in the Chase for the 2012 championship. Several storylines, from who will come out strongest out of the gate to how Kyle Busch will take missing the Chase, are sure to form over 400 miles Sunday afternoon.
And of course there will also be that race’s predecessor, a Chicagoland Nationwide Series event that will see Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. continue to battle for the season championship, with Cup regulars Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch hoping to play spoiler along with young newcomer Alex Bowman.
You know, I’m sure those will be good — maybe even great — races. I know I’ll be one of the first to tune in, free time permitting. But honestly, the Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway is going to be people’s favorite race of the weekend. Here’s why.
The American Ethanol 200 (seriously? They’re sponsoring another race?) will already have one thing going for it when the trucks hit the track Saturday evening: it’s not Chicagoland. Call me a hater, but I’ve never been incredibly impressed with the mile-and-a-half circuit in Chi-Town; I very rarely think of its race as among the most exciting of the season. Conversely, while Iowa is certainly no Bristol, it’s a shorter track that tends to put on a decent show, a few races excluded.
It’s also a night race. Of course, night doesn’t always equal excitement, but there certainly is some allure to a race run under the lights that one doesn’t always see as part of a daytime Saturday event. Consider also the tight points battle in the series, which may cause some tempers to flare should things get a little rowdy.
Oh, right, the points battle. Before you say it — yeah, I know, the championship race is tight across all three series at the moment. But knowing that definitely doesn’t make the competition in the Truck Series any less interesting. If you haven’t been keeping up this year, here’s a quick rundown: Timothy Peters, in his Red Horse Racing ride, who has always been a solid competitor in the series but lacking a truly big season before now, currently leads the standings by six points over Turner Motorsports’ up-and-comer James Buescher and by nine points over Richard Childress’ grandson and RCR rookie Ty Dillon. While certain drivers in other series’ championship hunts may be in a lame duck situation (leaving their team at season’s end) or have some other hindrance, all three of these racers pretty much have nothing stopping them on the way to the top of the podium. A win for Buescher or Dillon, and they could find themselves suddenly atop the standings. It’s that close.
Moreover, the American Ethanol 200 is a standalone race, although the top two series are only a short plane ride away in Illinois. As with many such events, this race provides a chance for many drivers to showcase their skills sans the impending threat of a regular in a higher series coming down to spoil the fun. All told, the 38-truck entry list has no drivers who compete regularly in Cup or Nationwide, the exception being Buescher, who’s driven in 17 Nationwide races in 2012 although he is considered a Truck Series regular. Ten different drivers are coming to Iowa having made fewer than three starts in the series in 2012. Half of those ten will be trying to make their first series start.
These standalone races often give a young racer a chance to shine when he or she might otherwise be shunted off to the side in favor of the more popular drivers. Iowa is one of the final such chances for a driver to do so, the other chances being Kentucky and Las Vegas later this month. So you can be sure to see a lot of guys really go for it.
Take Drew Herring, for example. A young gun who first made his entrance into NASCAR with a handful of Nationwide starts in 2010, Herring caught the eye of Joe Gibbs Racing, the team for which he ran four races in 2011. Now, he gets his first shot at a win in 2012 with Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 18 truck. It’ll be his first start in the series, but expect Herring to be a fast learner.
How about Brad Keselowski Racing’s duo of rising stars? Ryan Blaney makes his third start in the series in the team’s primary No. 29, while David Mayhew returns to Truck competition driving the No. 19. Many folks have been impressed with Mayhew especially after some great runs with Kevin Harvick’s Truck team last season, and you can bet he’ll be poised to finish well at the track where he scored a pole and third-place finish last season.
Turner Motorsports has already broken in Kyle Larson with a few runs in the No. 4 truck — with good results — so don’t be surprised if late-model standout Augie Grill does the same as Larson and scores a great finish. A two-time Snowball Derby champion and winner of over 60 different races over his career, Grill will take to Iowa as a NASCAR rookie, but given his equipment, he’ll probably be able to land a solid top-10 finish at least. He and Herring are joined by Chris Sevey, Ben Reynolds and Ryan Lynch as drivers attempting to make their first series start.
And finally, there’s the chance for redemption. In four races at Iowa, who has the best average finish? Well, besides Mayhew and Colin Braun, who have one start at the track apiece, it’s Matt Crafton, who has never finished lower than sixth there — his last series win even came there one year ago. Crafton hasn’t had a horrible season in 2012, but a win would certainly do wonders for that Thorsport bunch. And speaking of Thorsport, Johnny Sauter has never even finished outside the top 5 at the track, though a win has avoided him so far. Sauter already has a win in 2012 at Texas in June, but with a 12th-place spot in the points, more couldn’t hurt.
Oh, and Timothy Peters, the series points leader, won there in July. So there’s that.*
*Disclaimer:* OK, all in all, everyone watches racing for different reasons and will be excited by different aspects of each race. What I think will be the most interesting storylines of this weekend may not be for everyone else.**
*Disclaimer 2: But, seriously. This race is gonna rule.
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