Iowa Speedway needs no fixing

NEWTON, IOWA - JUNE 16: A general view as cars race during the NASCAR Cup Series Iowa Corn 350 at Iowa Speedway on June 16, 2024 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Christopher Bell was understandably frustrated after his fourth-place finish in Sunday’s Iowa Corn 350 Powered by Ethanol at Iowa Speedway.

The weekend had started on a low note for the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Nineteen laps into Friday’s 50-minute practice session, Bell rocketed into the outside wall with a blown right front tire.

His car destroyed, Bell had to start Sunday’s race from the rear of the field in a backup Toyota Camry.

He spent most of Sunday’s race working his way through traffic, methodically moving forward, gaining speed as he ran. NASCAR’s loop data shows that Bell was fastest late in a run at 130.867 mph, and that was certainly the case during the 84-lap green-flag run to finish the race.

After passing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to move into the fourth position, however, Bell ran out of time.

Now for the background. The inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway was added to the schedule this year. After the date was announced, the 0.875 short track was partially repaved.

Admittedly, the look was unusual. The bottom two lanes in the corners were covered with new black asphalt. The top lane looked old and gray.

An extra strip of new pavement extended through the corner exit in the middle lane only, contributing to the patchwork look of the surface.

Bell, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski were the three drivers who participated in a Goodyear tire test at Iowa on May 28. Bell predicted at the time that passing would be difficult in the Cup race because of the increased speeds the new asphalt would produce.

“The track needs a little bit of work,” Bell said after Sunday’s race. “Hopefully they do a full repave, and it’ll be really good in about 15 years.”

That was the frustration talking. The irony is that Bell had just spent the entire race disproving his own thesis.

Beyond that, the Iowa Corn 350 showed once again how wrong conventional wisdom can be when it comes predicting the immediate future in stock car racing.

Before the race, most drivers looked askance at the repaving, predicting the bottom would be the dominant groove, and that passing would therefore be difficult. Friday’s ARCA Menards Series race and Saturday’s Xfinity Series event, however, gave strong indications that would not be the case.

As the track rubbered in, the racing line continued to move up, and in the Cup debut there was plenty of side-by-side and three-wide racing. Austin Dillon alone made 162 green-flag passes, leading the field in that category.

Third-place finisher Chase Elliott topped the chart in quality passes (within the top 15 positions) with 72. Race winner Ryan Blaney was fastest early in a run but dropped to fourth late in a run, a microcosm of the movement within the field that was a hallmark of Sunday’s race.

In his “Actions Detrimental” podcast on Monday, Denny Hamlin, like Bell, argued for completing the repaving project—but for different reasons. Hamlin suggested that resurfacing the top lane would produce even better racing than fans in the packed grandstands saw on Sunday.

There’s a danger in that. A repaved top lane might well become dominant, as has been the case at Bristol Motor Speedway in recent years as the traction compound in the bottom lane starts to dissipate and the racing line moves up.

On Sunday at Iowa, the line moved up naturally, and we enjoyed what was arguably the best short-track race since the introduction of the Next Gen car in 2022—with breathtaking speeds that exceeded 150 mph on the straightaways.

Accordingly, the best course of action at Iowa Speedway might be to do nothing.

If it’s not broken, there’s no reason to try to fix it.