DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By Shon Sbarra, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — Being first is nothing rare for Cole Custer as he looks for another first in the Casey’s General Stores 150.
The 16-year-old NASCAR Next driver has four NASCAR K&N Pro Series wins to his credit in just 19 starts including one at Iowa Speedway in Newton last August. If Custer can find his way back to Victory Lane at the .875-mile track on Saturday, May 17, he’ll become the first two-time winner of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East/West showdown event in its 10th edition.
Custer dominated the Iowa event last August like no driver before him. After starting from the pole position, he led all 150 laps and beat runner-up Eddie MacDonald to the line by 2.679 seconds.
“We had a super car that night,” he said. “I was just proud of my guys on how we rebounded from the first Iowa race that I thought we should’ve won.”
In the June 2013 Iowa visit, Custer started second on the grid and led 19 laps before settling for a sixth-place overall finish and fourth among East entries.
The key to navigating the nine-year-old track designed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace is handling the bumps in Turn 4.
“When you’re not used to the bumps, the car wants to step out a bit and get a little loose,” Custer said. “Once you get the bumps figured out, it’s just a matter of getting off Turn 4. Iowa is a great track to race and I’m looking forward to it.”
The wick gets turned up a bit in these combination races and Custer enjoys the challenge and expects another solid outing.
“When the East and West come together for these Iowa races, the competition is definitely up a notch or two. The field is just so deep in talent,” said the driver of the No. 00 NAPA/Haas Automation Chevrolet. “I think we’ll be able to bring an even better car than we had last time.”
Custer already is in a special group of nine drivers to have won both K&N Pro Series East and West events. The Ladera Ranch, Calif., product has K&N East wins at Iowa, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. He opened the 2014 season with a K&N West win at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.
“I saw that list. It’s really an honor to be mentioned with those drivers,” he said. “Being able to accomplish that is definitely a highlight.”
Other K&N East and West race winners are: Chuck Bown, Ricky Craven, Brian Ickler, Dylan Kwasniewski, Joey Logano, Andrew Ranger, Ken Schrader and Peyton Sellers.
The Race: The Casey’s General Stores 150 will be the 10th all-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East-West combination race at Iowa Speedway, and the first of two at the track in 2014. It’s the sixth of 14 oval track events and 16 races, overall, on the 2014 schedule for the K&N East and fourth of 12 oval track events and 14 races, overall this season for the K&N West.
The Procedure: The starting field is 36 cars, including provisionals. The first 28 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials. The remaining eight spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps (131.25 miles) and be run in two segments with a midway break at or near the conclusion of Lap 75.
The Track: Iowa Speedway is a .875-mile paved oval with the turns banked 12-14 degrees, four degrees of banking in the backstretch and 10 degrees in the frontstretch. The track opened in 2006 and the first NASCAR-sanctioned race was a K&N Pro Series combination event on May 20, 2007 won by Joey Logano. NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events were added in 2009.
The Records: The one-lap series qualifying record at Iowa was established by Kyle Busch on May 17, 2009 at 135.484 mph (23.250 seconds). The 150-lap race record was set by Corey LaJoie on Aug. 3, 2012 at 88.883 mph (1 hour 28 minutes 36 seconds).
IOWA RACE NOTES
Big Group: Nine members of the 2014-15 NASCAR Next class will be in action in the Casey’s General Stores 150 at Iowa Speedway. Cole Custer won at the track last August and returns in search of becoming the first repeat winner of the K&N Pro Series combination event. Joining Custer are Gray Gaulding, Ryan Gifford, Austin Hill, Jesse Little, Dylan Lupton, Brandon McReynolds, Ben Rhodes and Kenzie Ruston. Four previous Iowa winners – Chase Elliott, Brett Moffitt, Corey LaJoie and Michael Self are alums of the NASCAR Next program.
Sharing The Wealth: Three K&N Pro Series West events this season have produced three different winners. Custer opened the campaign with a Phoenix triumph while Patrick Staropoli won at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway and David Mayhew took the checkered flag at Stockton (Calif.) 99 Speedway.
Habit Forming: Daniel Suárez leads NASCAR touring series drivers with five wins this season. The Drive for Diversity product opened the K&N Pro Series East season with a pair of wins and has added three victories in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series. The Monterrey, Mexico driver sits fourth in the K&N East’s season standings and looks to rebound from a 32nd-place finish at Richmond after his day was undone by electrical system issues.
Busy Weekend: The first of two scheduled NASCAR Nationwide Series starts for Ryan Gifford comes on May 18 at Iowa Speedway on the same weekend the Winchester, Tenn., driver battles in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series combination race in the nation’s heartland. That was a successful mixture last August as the Drive for Diversity product scored a sixth-place finish in the K&N Pro Series race and a ninth-place showing in his Nationwide Series debut.
Busy Month: The K&N Pro Series West is on the hop in May. After starting the month at Stockton and heading to Iowa, the series heads to Southern California on May 24 for a date at Kern County Raceway Park. The inaugural race at the half-mile oval for the K&N West was held last October.
Riding The Wave: K&N Pro Series East points leader Ben Rhodes has a streak of three straight podium finishes and top fives in five of his last seven starts dating back to last season. The Louisville, Ky., driver finished fifth and 10th, overall, last season at Iowa.
Consistent Performance: K&N Pro Series West points leader Greg Pursley has yet to win in 2014, but Iowa Speedway is a place where that can change. The 2011 series champion has a pair of K&N West wins as the top-finishing West driver at the .875-mile track, but fourth-place overall finishes on three occasions are his best results in nine starts.
Iowa Home Tracks Update: Defending Adams County Speedway champion Jason O’Brien is off to a quick start at the Corning, Iowa track with four top-five finishes in four starts in the Coors Light Silver Bullet Late Model division. Chris Speiker and Justin Zeitner trail in second and third, respectively. The half-mile dirt oval is situated 130 miles southwest of Iowa Speedway.
LAST TIME OUT – EAST: Blue Ox 100 at Richmond International Raceway
Cole Custer started from the outside pole position and led the final 52 laps to collect his third career K&N East victory. The 16-year-old Californian has three series wins in 16 starts.
- Ronnie Bassett Jr. finished fifth for his second straight top-five finish.
- Ben Rhodes finished second and held on to the points lead.
- Austin Hill rebounded from a 22nd-place finish at Greenville for a fourth-place effort and his third top-five finish of the year.
- Nick Drake won his first career pole award and led the first 48 laps – the first in his series career.
LAST TIME OUT – WEST: Stockton 150 at Stockton 99 Raceway
David Mayhew outdueled Greg Pursley and led a race-high 107 laps en route to his first win of the season and the fifth of his career. It was the first win for Mayhew since March 2012 at Phoenix.
- Giles Thornton scored a career-best finish of third.
- Brandon McReynolds claimed his second straight top-five finish.
- Pursley maintained his series points lead following the runner-up finish.
- With a fifth-place showing, Thomas Martin recorded his best series finish in 19 career starts.
NEXT TIME OUT – EAST: Bowman Gray Stadium
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East shifts gears from the expanse of Iowa Speedway to the tight quarter-mile oval at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., in the NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 on Saturday, May 31. Ben Kennedy claimed the win last season ahead of Dylan Kwasniewski and Brandon Gdovic. It will be the series fourth straight season to visit the historic venue.
NEXT TIME OUT – WEST: Kern County Raceway Park
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West makes a quick turnaround and heads to the half-mile oval at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, Calif., for the Armed Forces 150 on Saturday, May 24. Last October in the series inaugural event at the newly opened track, Greg Pursley took the checkered flag followed by Michael Self and Eric Holmes. The series will return to the track on Aug. 30.