DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By John Tejada, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — Ben Rhodes heads to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series event at Iowa Speedway this weekend in a familiar position, on the verge of making history.
The 17-year-old NASCAR Next driver was previously one win away from tying Ricky Craven’s 1991 record for most consecutive wins in a season, five, heading in to the event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a race eventually won by Jesse Little. Rhodes’ five wins on the season put him one shy of tying Dylan Kwasniewski’s mark for most checkered flags in a season since NASCAR lowered the age limit from 18 in 2007, six. On Friday night, he has the chance at another record, the only driver to win consecutive combination events at Iowa Speedway and the first to sweep the two season events at the .875-mile oval.
“We ran really well at Iowa earlier this year,” said Rhodes. “We’re going to try and go back with the same set-up, but the place changes so much. From race to race, the place always changes from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”
Friday’s event will be the 11th NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West combination event at the Newton track and the third year both series have visited the track twice. Since 2007, the first year the East and West ran at Iowa, no driver has gotten the overall win more than once. A victory on Friday would not only make Rhodes the first driver to sweep at Iowa, but also the first repeat winner.
With five races remaining on the 2014 schedule, Rhodes is in strong position to secure his first K&N Pro Series East championship. He holds a 62-point advantage over Cameron Hayley and a strong showing at Iowa could put one step closer to locking up the title before the season finale at Dover (Delaware) International Speedway.
The young driver admits, however, that he doesn’t worry about stats when preparing for a race.
“I don’t ever think about the stats. If I look at the stats, I start putting pressure on myself to perform and live up to those expectations. I just try and forget about it all and do my best. My best is my best. I’ve got to forget about the rest.”
The Race: The Autolite Iridium XP 150 will be the 11th all-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East-West combination race at Iowa Speedway, and the second at the track in 2014. It’s the 12th of 14 oval track events and 16 races, overall, on the 2014 schedule for the K&N East and ninth of 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 Ben Rhodes on May 17, 2014 at 93.287 mph (1 hour, 24 minutes, 25 seconds).
IOWA RACE NOTES
NASCAR Next Well Represented: Nine members of the 2014-15 NASCAR Next class will be in action in the Autolite Iridium XP 150 at Iowa Speedway. Ben Rhodes, in search of becoming the first repeat winner at Iowa and first driver to sweep the two season events, will contend with defending race winner Cole Custer. Joining Rhodes and Custer are Gray Gaulding, Ryan Gifford, Austin Hill, Jesse Little, Dylan Lupton, Brandon McReynolds and Kenzie Ruston. Four previous Iowa winners – Chase Elliott, Brett Moffitt, Corey LaJoie and Michael Self are alums of the NASCAR Next program.
Spreading Wins Around: Through eight K&N Pro Series West events this season there have been seven different race winners. Custer opened the campaign with a Phoenix triumph with Patrick Staropoli capturing the checkered flag at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. David Mayhew, the only series driver with multiple wins this season, took the checkered flag at Stockton (Calif.) 99 Speedway and was the highest finishing West driver in the Spring event at Iowa. Points leader Greg Pursley was the next series driver to visit Victory Lane, winning at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California, followed by Kyle Larson in Sonoma Raceway. A pair of first-time winners followed, with James Bickford winning at State Line Speedway in Post Falls, Idaho, and Colorado-native Chris Eggleston winning at Colorado National Speedway in just his second series start.
Double Duty: NASCAR Drive for Diversity pilot and NASCAR Next alum Daniel Suárez will compete in the Autolite Iridium XP 150 on Friday night and then head south to compete in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series event in Querétaro, Mexico. Suárez, who has two K&N Pro Series East victories this season, is the current points leader in Mexico as the series has two races left in its regular season. The Desafio, a five-race playoff to decide the championship begins on September 7, with Suárez looking to capture his first Mexico Toyota Series crown.
Good Omen For Little: Jesse Little captured his first K&N Pro Series East win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway earlier this season, possibly setting him up for success at Iowa. In 2007, Joey Logano won the K&N event at Iowa and both NHMS events. Max Gresham won in Iowa in 2010 and the following year at New Hampshire. In 2011, Brett Moffitt won in Iowa and the second NHMS event and last year Cole Custer won the second Iowa event and the race at New Hampshire.
On The Road Again: After running its first 12 events on ovals, the K&N Pro Series East will run its next two events on road courses at Watkins Glen (New York) International and Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Virginia. The series will close out its season back on ovals with an event at Greenville (South Carolina) Pickens Speedway and Dover (Delaware) International Speedway.
Eggleston Riding The Wave: Chris Eggleston will attempt to make his second K&N Pro Series start of the season and third of his career in the Autolite Iridium XP 150 on Friday. Eggleston won the NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 from Colorado National Speedway last time out and will be making his Iowa Speedway debut. Eggleston’s lone other start came back in 2011 at Colorado.
Iowa Home Tracks Update: Defending Adams County Speedway champion Jason O’Brien is off to a quick start at the Corning, Iowa track with three wins, nine top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 11 starts in the Coors Light Silver Bullet Late Model division. Chris Speiker and John Hampel trail in second and third, respectively. The half-mile dirt oval is situated 130 miles southwest of Iowa Speedway.
LAST TIME OUT – EAST: JEGS 150 presented by Germain Toyota at Columbus Motor Speedway
Sergio Peña held off Cameron Hayley and the rest of the K&N Pro Series East field, surviving a late restart to win his first series event in three years and fourth of his career.
• Hayley earned his third runner-up finish of the season after leading 59 of 150 laps.
• Ben Rhodes finished third, increasing his points lead to 62 tallies over Hayley.
• Jesse Little scored his second consecutive top five and fourth consecutive top 10. He now has three top fives and six top 10s on the year.
• Scott Heckert won his second career pole and led the first 56 laps before giving way to Cameron Hayley on Lap 57.
LAST TIME OUT – WEST: NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 at Colorado National Speedway
Colorado-native Chris Eggleston won his first K&N Pro Series West event in just his second series start, and first since 2011, holding off Dylan Lupton for the victory. The 25-year-old driver from nearby Erie, Colorado, has recorded about a dozen Super Late Model wins in the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I, and won the track’s Legends Division championship last year.
• Dylan Lupton recorded his second runner-up finish of the campaign in the NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150. He now has five top fives and eight top 10s in eight events this year
• James Bickford claimed his second straight top-five finish.
• Pursley maintained his series points lead following a fourth-place finish.
• David Mayhew won his 10th career series pole and led the first 20 laps of the event.
NEXT TIME OUT – EAST: Watkins Glen International
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East shifts gears from oval racing and heads to its first road course event of the season in the Bully Hill Vineyards 125 at Watkins Glen (New York) International on August 8. It will be the first stand-alone event for the K&N Pro Series East since the 1999 season when Ryan Truex beat out Matt Kobyluck for the victory at the 2.45-mile course.
NEXT TIME OUT – WEST: Evergreen Speedway
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will take a one-week break before heading to Monroe, Washington, for the NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 at Evergreen Speedway on Aug. 16. Dylan Lupton took the checkered flag in last year’s event, beating out Greg Pursley and Derek Thorn for his first series victory.