NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — In less than a decade, Iowa Speedway has established itself as one of the most important tracks for young NASCAR drivers.
So, is it poised to make the leap to the Sprint Cup series like so many of the racers who’ve passed through its gates?
But officials at the NASCAR-owned track are more open to the possibility than they used to be.
The idea of Iowa as a Cup venue came up again earlier this month when defending champion Kevin Harvick said that the series should add the Rusty Wallace-designed short track to its schedule.
Iowa Speedway President Jimmy Small said Saturday that while track would “love” to host a Cup race, its focus remains on the second-tier NASCAR Xfinity series, the IndyCar series and other motorsports events.
Iowa hosts the first of two stand-alone Xfinity races Sunday.
“There are seriously zero discussions about Cup ever coming out here right now. But the scheduling process is year-to-year, so you don’t know what is going to happen,” Small said.
When NASCAR made the rare move to buy the track in 2013, officials tempered the expectations of local fans by reinforcing the notion that a Cup race was not in their immediate plans.
But Harvick’s recent sentiments echoed those expressed previously by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who both won at Iowa in what used to be the Nationwide series.
Small has also softened his tone considerably since taking over the track.
“We’re flattered. Any time it comes up it just speaks to the type of race track we have here. It’s short track racing. It’s fast,” Small said. “If they think we’re capable of something like that, it’s certainly flattering to us.”
But Small also acknowledged that getting the 35,000-seat track ready for a Cup race would be a “challenge,” adding that track officials haven’t even discussed the logistics involved in hosting a top-tier race.
For now, Iowa is focused on its first second-tier race of 2015, which will be run almost exclusively by drivers competing for the Xfinity championship.
Drew Herring was the fastest during qualifying for Sunday’s NASCAR Xfinity race at the Iowa Speedway as a fill-in for Erik Jones. But Jones, who was in Charlotte to back up teammate Kyle Busch for the Sprint Cup All-Star race, will start from the back because he didn’t qualify his own car.
“I did my part. Now it’s up to him,” Herring said about Jones.
Daniel Suarez was second, followed by Brian Scott, Chris Buescher and Brandon Jones — who will make his series debut Sunday.
Points leader Ty Dillon was ninth.
Jamie Dick, back in the No. 55 car since being diagnosed with diabetes in March, finished qualifying 30th with his backup car.
Dick was hit in the helmet by a lead weight that flew off of Ross Chastain’s car and destroyed Dick’s windshield during a practice run early Saturday.
“Any time we have found that a weight coming out of a race car, especially on the race track, we’ve been pretty harsh about it. We have to be,” said Wayne Auton, the director of the Xfinity series, said when asked about possible penalties for Chastain.
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