NEWTON, Iowa — Iowa Speedway produces some of the most consistently entertaining racing in NASCAR.
That sentence was proven correct once again over the weekend as Brett Moffitt survived a crazy move by Noah Gragson to win Saturday night’s Truck Series race and Justin Allgaier used the outside groove to his advantage on Sunday in the Xfinity Series. Both races were fun and competitive — don’t let the box score that shows Allgaier leading 182 laps fool you.
And don’t let the weekend fool you into believing something else, either. Iowa produces the type of racing that the Cup Series desperately needs but it appears its chances for a Cup Series race have come and gone.
If NASCAR truly wanted to have a Cup race at Iowa Speedway it already would. Iowa is the only track on the NASCAR schedule that’s directly owned by the sanctioning body. That doesn’t mean a schedule shuffle would be easy — someone would have to lose a date for Iowa to get one — but NASCAR’s direct investment allows for some more influence if necessary.
But the soonest Iowa could get a Cup Series date is 2020. And even that may be optimistic. The schedule for 2019 in all three NASCAR series is set and Iowa is only present in the Xfinity and Truck Series. While the 2020 schedule isn’t complete it’s the final season of a five-year sanctioning agreement between host tracks and NASCAR. A contract or two would have to be broken.
Why would there be any interest in breaking a contract? Television audiences dwarf at-track audiences every weekend. But the discrepancy between Iowa’s TV audiences and in-person attendance is striking.
If we’re being generous, there might have been 15,000 people at the track each day. Iowa’s listed capacity is 30,000 and it’s a big stretch to say the grandstands for each race were half-full. Yeah, it was hot over the weekend. But people attend sporting events in the heat all the time.
And let’s be honest for a second; the surrounding Des Moines area isn’t New York City or another city where there are a lot of professional sports teams and major events that could pique fans’ interest over a NASCAR race. At about 35 miles east of Des Moines, Iowa isn’t exactly located in a population center. But that’s still less than an hour’s worth of travel time each way for most people in the city. Distance isn’t an excuse.
If the track can’t get to half-capacity for Truck and Xfinity Series races now that its novelty has worn off, what’s to say the same thing wouldn’t happen for the Cup Series?
On the other hand, the location of the track also presents some schedule challenges. It’s located less than 300 miles away from both Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway, tracks that host a combined three Cup Series races and are owned by International Speedway Corporation, the company chaired by Lesa France Kennedy. Can the Midwest and Upper Midwest really sustain four races?
Facilities at the track would probably need a little investment for the Cup Series as well; they’re adequate for support series races but inadequate for the major leagues. There’s just one set of garage stalls, meaning truck teams were working on their vehicles behind their haulers in an empty infield lot.
If NASCAR really wanted to try the Cup Series at Iowa, the track is the perfect spot to try a mid-week night race. There’s a municipal airport behind turns 3 and 4 and the track’s small capacity and proximity to the state’s biggest city along with its lack of a previous Cup race make it a viable experimental site.
But that experiment should have happened in 2014 or 2015 after NASCAR bought the track in 2013. Trying it now is too late.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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