On this week's edition of the NASCAR Roundtable, we preview this weekend's standalone NASCAR Xfinity and Truck races at Iowa Speedway.
The NASCAR Truck and Xfinity Series have a standalone event at Iowa Speedway this weekend. Do you think standalone events hurt or help these two divisions and its drivers?
Jim: Standalone events are what used to separate the series regulars from Cup drivers in the Xfinity points standings, especially when the series had an abundance of them. They are good opportunities for Xfinity regulars to showcase their talent. Cup drivers tend to shy away from the Truck series of late. But the lack of standalone events has greatly decreased the variety of different tracks on both series' schedules. That alone, in my opinion, is a net loss for NASCAR as a whole. It will never get back to where it was, but it would cool to see NASCAR try at least one different standalone event each season.
Kenny: Standalones help. In a huge way. Many (but not all obviously) have been held at venues that don’t host Cup races. For fans in that region, that’s huge. For teams and sponsors, it’s just as big. Truck and Xfinity races get lost in all the noise when held as companion races with Cup. Having their “own” weekends gives them the spotlight they deserve.
Nick: No question that they help. NASCAR needs more standalone events to give these two series back their identity and give these rising stars more chances to capture the checkered flag. It's good when they are partnered up with Cup as well because there's more of a spotlight on the series, but there are way too many events like that now. They need to go back to the way it was a decade or so ago.
Tim: I think the standalone events are crucial for the identity of the two series. I know the economics of racing make it a challenge, but it would be nice to see a standalone or two at some of the historic tracks that helped both series get off the ground years ago and back to their short track roots.
Last year we witnessed Ryan Preece win for Joe Gibbs in just his second NXS start. Do you think we could see another surprise winner at Iowa and who might that be?
Jim: I could definitely see a first-time winner in the Xfinity Series race at Iowa and I think there are several possibilities, including Austin Cindric, Ryan Truex and Kaz Grala. But my money will be on Daniel Hemric, who done just about everything but win this season. He's been running very consistent and up front and I think he will finally knock the door down to Victory Lane.
Kenny: If Christopher Bell doesn’t win I’ll be surprised. He led 152 laps in the No. 20 in this race last year only to get swept up in someone else’s crash; then Preece scored the win with the same team when the series came back for a second stop. Surprise winners? Ryan Sieg finished second to William Byron here last year and Ryan Truex has been consistent of late.
Nick: These standalone events tend to produce some interesting winners. Ryan Truex, John Hunter Nemechek, Daniel Hemric and Austin Cindric would be my lead picks to get their first win this weekend. Cindric in particular will be back in a Penske car where he has two top fives and five top tens in his young career.
Tim: I agree with Jim Utter in that Daniel Hemric would be my pick to score his first win in the series. He’s run so well this season I don’t think a win would be a ‘surprise’ per se, but I think it would be as good a ‘feel good’ story as Preece’s win was last year for a lot of racers and fans.
Johnny Sauter has been the strongest by far in the Truck series this season. Who do you think could challenge Sauter's domiance in the second half of the season.
Jim: If anyone is going to have the type of run Sauter is having the most likely candidate is Noah Gragson. Kyle Busch Motorsports appears to have the speed to match GMS Racing but the advantage Sauter has right now is experience. Now in his second season and having picked up his second career victory, Gragson could conceivably give Sauter a run for his money in the second half. Gragson has the team capable of doing it, the question will be has he advanced as a driver enough to take full advantage.
Kenny: The guy with the most experience that could make a similar run would be Matt Crafton, but I’m not sure ThorSport is past the growing pains that came with the switch from Toyota to Ford. Noah Gragson, on the other hand, has a win and a fast KBM truck. That’s a pretty good combination.
Nick: I honestly don't think anyone is going to be able to do what he's done with seven top fives in the first eight races, including four wins. As the others have stated, Noah Gragson and Matt Crafton are probably the best bets. I'd also throw in Brett Moffitt, who has four top fives so far this year (second only to Sauter).
Tim: I think Noah Gragson has the best shot to challenge Sauter this season. He has the equipment from Kyle Busch Motorsports and he’s already won in the series so he should be there until the end of the season. I also think if ThorSport can get their new Fords figured out, Matt Crafton could really come on strong in the season half of the season.
Clint Bowyer became the fourth driver to score multiple wins this season. Does his second win put him into the conversation as a championship contender?
Jim: Bowyer is certainly trending in that direction. Even though he won a rain-shortened race at Michigan, he was running up front the entire race and if the event went the full distance I still believe Bowyer would have played a significant role in the outcome. His team seems to be hitting its stride The longer Bowyer and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz work together, the better the combination seems to get.
Kenny: Two wins in the first half of the season, under this playoff format, would put anyone in the conversation. Bowyer is having a very good season so far. And folks probably don’t remember 2012 when he finished SECOND in points. I know I did.
Nick: He's making an argument for himself, that's for sure. Personally, I don't see him as a Championship 4 threat just yet, but if SHR continues their dominant form, it would be foolish to overlook him.
Tim: While he hasn’t shown the strength equal to Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., he does have two wins and that shows he can be in contention for the win and run up front enough to be a factor in many races. The format of the playoffs allow Bowyer, and several others, to certainly be in contention for a championship if he keeps running as well as he has been recently.