Amanda Vincent, NASCAR correspondent
With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series setting its sights on Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend for All-Star festivities, the Nationwide Series heads to Iowa Speedway in Newton for a stand-alone, rare Sunday afternoon affair -- the Pioneer 250.
With the Cup guys in Charlotte, the Nationwide Series regulars will take center stage, or at least most of the space on that stage. Only four drivers are slated to make the trip from Charlotte to Newton to compete in both Sprint Cup and Nationwide competition this weekend, the most notable being Kurt Busch in the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota entry.
Iowa is a driver's racetrack.
That suits defending series champion and driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just fine. After all, not only is Stenhouse the defending series champion, he's also the defending winner at Iowa Speedway. Stenhouse swept both Iowa events in 2011 en route to his Nationwide title.
Only three drivers have won in Nationwide Series competition at the still young Iowa Speedway. Of those three, Stenhouse is the only one planning to race at the track on Sunday.
"I look forward to going back to Iowa Speedway," Stenhouse said. "As soon as you get to the track, you can feel the high energy of the fans. Iowa is a driver's racetrack. It would be awesome to win three races in a row at a single track. Roush Fenway has strong short and intermediate track programs and Iowa Speedway has similar qualities of both types of tracks. We feel confident that we will have another strong run in our Cargill Beef Ford."
Without much distraction from Sprint Cup regulars, the championship battle brewing between Stenhouse and No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet driver Elliott Sadler is sure to get the lion's share of attention come Sunday.
Sadler may not have an Iowa win to his credit, but that doesn't mean he hasn't run well at the track. He has two Iowa starts in Nationwide competition under his belt, with both resulting in top-five finishes.
"Last season was the first time I had the opportunity to race there, and we walked away with two good finishes," Sadler said. "After last week's unfortunate finish at Darlington Raceway, I think the entire team is hungry for a win at Iowa."
Sadler heads to Iowa 23 points behind series leader Stenhouse, so taking over as points leader this weekend will be a tall order. But the possibility is there for tightening up the points battle, maybe even making fans to forget about the lack of Sprint Cup stars in attendance.