NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — This weekend's NASCAR Nationwide race in Iowa promises to be a rare treat for series regulars, who have perhaps their best shot to win.
Joey Logano is the lone Sprint Cup driver scheduled to race Saturday night at Iowa, with the top circuit running in Pocono Raceway. Though Logano is coming off a win at Dover last weekend, it appears likely that a Nationwide driver could win for just the third time in 12 starts this season in what happens to be the first stand-alone Nationwide race of the season.
"That makes it a little bit easier," Justin Allgaier said. "But at the same time, and I think we've seen it in all the stand-alones, it's like the less Cup guys you have, the more challenging the races are. Because the Nationwide regulars, everybody steps up their game and pushes that much harder."
This could be the most wide-open Nationwide race at Iowa since the series started running on the .875-mile oval four years ago.
Not only is the field nearly bereft of Cup drivers, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. isn't here, either.
Stenhouse dominated in Iowa, winning three races out of four in 2011-12 en route to a pair of series points titles. But he's in Pocono after earning a Sprint Cup promotion with Roush Fenway Racing.
Stenhouse's replacement in the No. 6 car is among a handful of serious contenders: Trevor Bayne is just 10th in the points chase through 11 races, but he's finished sixth and fourth in his last two races.
Elliott Sadler broke Stenhouse's three-race winning streak last August after finishing third and second in his previous two races in Iowa. But he's finished 13th and 28th in the last two races to slip to seventh in the points chase.
The top two drivers in the current Nationwide standings are Regan Smith and Sam Hornish Jr. Smith has never run here, while Hornish and Danica Patrick are the only drivers to race here in both stock and open-wheel cars. But Hornish ran the inaugural IndyCar race in Iowa in 2007, and he's since added a pair of top 10s in three Nationwide starts in Iowa.
Iowa could also be the best chance yet for Kyle Larson to break through in the Nationwide series.
Larson has as many laps at Iowa as any other track he'll run this season, having raced on Iowa's short oval in the USAC Silver Crown, National Midget and K&N Pro Series circuits.
"I've done well in everything I've run here. So I'm looking for to this weekend and getting to race without a lot of Cup guys," Larson said. "I like this track a lot ... it's got a lot of character. It's a really enjoyable race track."
Even though Logano will have to shuttle back and forth between Iowa and Pocono, he has to be considered the favorite. With Ryan Blaney unavailable, Team Penske pegged Logano for Iowa over Brad Keselowski, the reigning Sprint Cup champion.
Logano won the first NASCAR-sanctioned race in Iowa, a K&N Pro Series race in 2007, and he's looking forward to returning even though it might not be an ideal situation.
"I do enjoy running Nationwide races, to be honest with you. Does this race, going to Iowa, make perfect sense to run? No, it doesn't. I'm not gonna lie about that," Logano said Friday from Pocono. "Penske as a team, we want to win races any way we can and give ourselves the best shot, no matter what it is."