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June 15, 2024

Fantasy Update: Tire failure puts Christopher Bell behind despite speed


Christopher Bell looks on from the garage area at Iowa
Sean Gardner
Getty Images

Iowa Speedway was introduced to the Cup Series in grand fashion during the 50-minute practice session on Friday. Five drivers experienced tire woes, with Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric getting the worst of it and having to go to backup cars for Sunday’s Iowa Corn 350. Some drivers remain confused because there were zero tire issues during last month’s Goodyear tire test. With the track gaining more grip on Friday, lap times were nearly a second quicker in practice compared to the test.

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RELATED: Set your Fantasy Live lineups

Dustin Albino’s race-day lineup:

Starter 1: Kyle Larson
Starter 2: Brad Keselowski
Starter 3: Denny Hamlin
Starter 4: Christopher Bell
Starter 5: Kyle Busch
Garage pick: Chase Briscoe

NEXT IN LINE: Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, William Byron

RISING: Stewart-Haas Racing unloaded off the hauler fast in Friday’s practice and that continued into qualifying. Noah Gragson led the way in practice, continuously jumping to the top of the leaderboard. And while he fell to 23rd in qualifying, Josh Berry and Chase Briscoe picked up the pace. Briscoe will start sixth on Sunday and was ranked in the top 10 in single-lap and 10-lap averages. Berry, a short-track standout, earned his second top-five starting spot of his career and will take the green flag from third spot.

Tyler Reddick has never been considered a short-track ace, though he does have consecutive top-10 finishes in 2024 at tracks measuring less than a mile in length. The No. 45 Toyota was at the top of the chart on 10-lap speeds during Friday’s practice, though did experience a flat tire in the waning minutes of the session. Reddick was the fastest Toyota driver during qualifying in eighth.

FALLING: Leaning on past success, Bell entered this weekend at Iowa among the pre-race favorites. That looked like a good bet early in practice, as Bell was quickest until he became the second driver to experience tire issues. Unlike a few other drivers, his tire cut exiting Turns 3 and 4, meaning the No. 20 Toyota shot up the track, clobbering the outside wall. The Adam Stevens-led team unloaded the backup car and qualified 10th. Bell knows it’s a long race and believes plenty of strategies will play out, so the No. 20 team will have the chance to make it through the field. But having to start from the rear could mean he fails to earn stage points.

Multiple drivers said Alex Bowman’s No. 48 car was among the best cars in the field during practice. Briscoe stated that Bowman was in a “league of his own” over the long run. For all the goodwill Bowman built up on Friday, he will have an uphill battle on Sunday, qualifying 33rd for the 350-lap race. Unless the No. 48 team pulls off strategy during the opening stage, it’s highly likely that he will miss out on stage points.

FEATURED MATCHUPS:

Kyle Larson vs. Denny Hamlin: Larson and Hamlin are among the perennial pre-race favorites. Nothing has changed entering Iowa, with Larson scoring his fourth Busch Light Pole of the season, already matching the most he’s had in a single season (2022). And for someone who had never turned laps at Iowa prior to Friday, Hamlin has been sporty, sitting fifth on 10-lap averages. It seems like the No. 5 car is a slight step ahead of the No. 11 car this weekend, so let’s bank on Larson.

William Byron vs. Martin Truex Jr.: Aside from getting his 2025 plans out of the way on Friday, this weekend has been a struggle for Truex. That’s surprising for one of the best current short-track competitors, but the No. 19 Toyota was 33rd in practice on single-lap speed, 32nd on 10-lap average, and qualified 31st. Byron didn’t flash as one of the best cars in practice but will start fourth. But he’s at least been above 30th all weekend.

Ryan Blaney vs. Joey Logano: Up until Larson went out as the final car in qualifying, it looked as though Blaney would win the pole. He will start second and is a tremendous short-track racer. As is Logano, who will start 12th. The two Team Penske drivers were virtually equal in practice and need good days on Sunday. Maybe put both car numbers into a hat and make a blind pick, but I’ll go with Blaney since he had a better qualifying session.

Chase Elliott vs. Christopher Bell: Even though Bell will have to start at the rear of the field, expect the No. 20 car to be a contender. He is great at Iowa and barring another tire issue, it’s hard to think he won’t be a factor in the race. Elliott has consistently been a top-10 car throughout the weekend, but I’m not wavering from Bell. The No. 20 team has a bunch of data points from the tire test last month that can be applied to the backup car.

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