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June 12, 2024

Iowa Turning Point: Is Kyle Larson just unstoppable at this point? Will Joey Logano claim Iowa’s first race — again?


iowa speedway general shot
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Here’s what’s happening in the world of NASCAR with Sonoma Raceway in the rearview and Iowa Speedway (Sun., 7 p.m. ET, USA) right around the corner.

THE LINEUP ️

1️⃣ Is Kyle Larson just unstoppable at this point?

2️⃣ Will Joey Logano claim Iowa’s first race – again?

3️⃣ Farm fresh: Previewing Cup Series’ first action at Iowa

4️⃣ Plenty of past Iowa winners in Sunday’s field

5️⃣ Catch the pack – news and notes from around the garage

kyle larson steps out of car
Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

1. Is Kyle Larson just unstoppable at this point?

Despite a season with its share of hurdles, Kyle Larson continues to outpace the field – is his second title inevitable this year?

Like nothing ever happened.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Kyle Larson’s competitors about racing against him is just how nonchalantly easy he makes everything look both on and off the track, not unlike his crew chief Cliff Daniels’ former driver — a certain seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Larson’s racing plate tends to be a little more full than the rest of his premier series peers, between his loaded dirt racing schedule and, new for this year, a little jaunt over in Indianapolis that you might’ve heard about. That foray into open-wheel racing on the grandest stage was a dizzying schedule full of hiccups that wound up in one of the most frustrating Sundays of Larson’s life and a full race missed at his full-time job to take him out of the points lead. After what felt like weeks of discourse about his playoff waiver status as fallout stemming from his Coca-Cola 600 absence, Larson’s playoff eligibility was restored last Tuesday and he promptly went out and emerged victoriously at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday.

And through it all, he remained unflappable as always, barely breaking a sweat despite a steamy environment in Napa Valley and the entire motorsports world focused on him for a month-plus.

ANALYSIS: Kyle Larson comes alive late in Sonoma win | All of Larson’s Cup wins

Nothing about this sport is ever written in stone, but paths to a championship trophy don’t get much clearer than Larson’s trajectory toward holding the Bill France Cup at the end of the 2024 season. He essentially spotted the whole field an entire race, and yet he’s still leading them all by 14 points in the standings. To accomplish that in this age of Next Gen parity is jaw-droppingly impressive and hard to fathom anybody else being able to accomplish.

Needless to say, he’s probably going to be the guy to beat again this weekend at Iowa Speedway, too.

No. 5 opened at 11-2 odds to win Sunday’s Iowa Corn 350 powered by Ethanol (7 p.m. ET, USA, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App), tucked just behind dirt rival Christopher Bell, a 19-5 favorite to win. While Bell’s Iowa resume is perhaps the best in the field, NASCAR hasn’t held races there since 2019, and it got a bit of a facial in the lead-up to the inaugural Cup Series race with a targeted resurfacing. Both Larson and Bell (along with Brad Keselowski, to represent Ford) ran a test at Iowa recently, surely a pivotal advantage those three — all three of them 2024 winners, interestingly — will have over the field.

Both drivers are on a roll lately, but be real – does it feel like anything at all is going to get in Larson’s way at this point? We’re witnessing greatness in real-time and this part of the season was around when things really clicked for Larson in 2021 as he turned on the afterburners en route to 10 wins and his first title. Despite Sonoma being just his third 2024 victory, double-digit wins still aren’t out of the question for him — Sonoma was his third win that year, too.

He followed up his first victory in wine country that year with a trophy the following race at Nashville Superspeedway to claim a win on Father’s Day for the second consecutive time the series raced on the day for dads, a somewhat rarity. The series hasn’t raced on Father’s Day since Larson’s 2021 win.

And guess what Sunday is.

joey logano at iowa
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2. Will Joey Logano claim Iowa’s first race – again?

The “King of The New” can add to his lore with a win Sunday night at Iowa … as well as clinch a much-needed provisional playoff spot.

Joey Logano only has the fourth-best odds to win Sunday at Iowa, but there’s a reason all eyes shifted to him after everyone left the West Coast — he’s the unparalleled driver to beat whenever there’s any sort of “new” wrinkle to a race weekend.

Sonoma repave? Busch Light Pole coming right up. A few weeks ago on a fresh surface at North Wilkesboro? Sure, and here’s $1 million to go with it. Throw some dirt on Bristol and see what happens? Joey Logano still holding the victory sword in Victory Lane at the “Last Great Colosseum” is what happens.

Same for the first Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway and the inaugural Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in 2022. Perhaps the quick adaptability comes with the territory of being a 34-year-old veteran approaching 600 Cup starts, but it’s still beyond impressive and feels like more than an anomaly that No. 22 has won three of the past eight races on “new tracks.”

But this is nothing new to Logano. In fact, the Connecticut native has always been a quick study; look no further than his full-time status in the Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing as an 18-year-old rookie in 2009.

And if he’s able to win Sunday, it’ll be something of a full circle moment for him – Logano won the literal first-ever NASCAR race at Iowa Speedway, claiming victory there in May 2007 in his only start in any series in Newton en route to a championship in what is now the ARCA Menards Series East.

(Note: Logano does have some national series laps at Iowa under his belt but no starts, having qualified the No. 22 Team Penske Ford for the May 2013 Xfinity Series race, pictured above, before rain forced his departure and an up-and-coming future Cup champ raced it for him.)

Not only is Iowa a fresh entrant to the Cup schedule, its surface got some touching up and offers plenty of unknowns on top.

“Until you get there, you don’t really know. It’s probably the most interesting repave-ish thing that we’ve seen,” Logano said in a team release. “I can’t really form an opinion until I make laps on it, but it’s definitely unique. Good or bad, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Going off the tire test at Wilkesboro, I thought that was gonna be a single-lane race that wasn’t gonna have any passing, and I was completely wrong about that. The track was up to the wall, so who knows? Maybe things have changed. You just don’t know.”

Logano, who has the fifth-best average finish on short tracks (10.77) in the Next Gen car, has just one top-10 finish in the last eight races — with an All-Star Race win sandwiched in there, mind you — but getting things turned around certainly seems like it’s going to happen this weekend in the Hawkeye State.

And running well?

That’s nothing new for him at all.

3. Farm fresh: Previewing Cup Series’ first action at Iowa

Kim Coon and Skip Flores break down everything to watch as the NASCAR Cup Series hits Iowa Speedway for the first time.

4. Plenty of past Iowa winners in Sunday’s field

Iowa Speedway was a previous constant on the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series schedules and many of today’s Cup Series stars won there on the way up.

DriverXfinity Series winsTruck Series wins
Brad Keselowski30
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.30
Christopher Bell20
Kyle Busch10
Ryan Blaney11
Chase Briscoe10
Chris Buescher10
William Byron11
Ryan Preece10
Erik Jones12
Austin Dillon01
John Hunter Nemechek01

5. Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

Paint Scheme Preview: Iowa

NASCAR betting: Opening odds for Iowa

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