Eric’s Take: It’s time to run a Cup race at Iowa

NASCAR Xfinity Series Iowa 250 presented by Enogen

Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Ford, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Iowa 250 presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway on June 17, 2018 in Newton, Iowa. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about how to improve the on-track product in NASCAR, especially the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

And we’ve tried a number of experiments. We tried high-drag packages at Indianapolis and Michigan. That didn’t work. We tried low downforce at Kentucky, which ultimately became the package we have today. I think it’s safe to say that hasn’t worked.

And we tried the high-drag and restrictor plate package — some drivers are calling it the “snorkel package,” at the All Star race at Charlotte this year. While that package impressed in short, 20-lap runs, the verdict is still out on how it will react during a full race. We did get a sampling of it in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, however, as the same package was run at Pocono and Michigan the last couple of weeks after a successful debut at Indianapolis last year.

But the package stunk at Pocono, and while it produced close racing at MIS, a look at the finish the year before would tell you that the package there didn’t really need any tinkering. And while Indy was a huge improvement last year, there really wasn’t anything that could have been done to make the racing worse there. So any improvement would have been welcomed.

What I’m saying is the more we tinker with the aero package and restrictor plates and whatever else NASCAR decides to do, it’s just a band-aid. Putting PJ1 down in the turns is a band-aid.

And while I think that NASCAR spends too much time listening to the demands of the fans, I think one thing the fans have been screaming for lately needs to be listened to — we need more short tracks.

I don’t think anyone disagrees that short track racing is some of the best racing we get in NASCAR. But how do we increase that short track offering? North Wilkesboro isn’t coming back — it would probably be cheaper to build a new track than to resurrect that one, unfortunately. I don’t see a lot of tracks being built lately, and most facilities are tearing down stands rather than building them.

The argument that I heard against more short tracks is generally that there just aren’t any short tracks that could handle a Cup race.

But we saw one this weekend, and if you tuned into either the Camping World Truck Series race Saturday or the Xfinity Series race Sunday, you saw a great race — or two if you watched them both. Iowa Speedway was built with the help of a Hall of Fame NASCAR driver in Rusty Wallace. Wallace took one of his favorite tracks, Richmond, and built a bigger version of it — it is a 0.875-mile D-shaped oval with variable banking of 12 degrees to 14 degrees in the turns.

Let’s not ignore the fact that Iowa Speedway’s asphalt has also aged — the best ingredient for great racing — and the cars run all over it looking for grip. But this track has put on great shows since it was built.

Not only that, Iowa Speedway was built after the SAFER barrier revolution. So not only was it the first NASCAR track where the entire outer wall was fitted with “soft walls,” but there’s not even a concrete wall there. Every inch of wall at the track is SAFER barrier.

Sure there aren’t enough seats to hold a Cup race there — the track has half the seats of Richmond at only 30,000. But it wouldn’t take much to add to the seats that are there to increase capacity. How great would it be to see a NASCAR track increasing capacity?

I have not personally been to Iowa Speedway — I hope to make the trip next year — so maybe I’m speaking out of turn in saying the track could host the Cup Series with only a few modifications. But I know the intent when the track was built was to host larger series than the AA and AAA NASCAR “leagues,” and the track has hosted the Verizon IndyCar Series as well, though it doesn’t bring in the fans NASCAR does.

Either way, with NASCAR’s five-year agreement coming to a close soon with its current race tracks, I think the time is right to take a good hard look at adding Iowa Speedway to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, even if it means taking a date away from another track. This place could host some excellent Cup races, and might just be the thing the series needs to get fans back in front of their TV sets, or maybe even out to the race track.

Eric’s Take is a new series on The SuperSpeedway that will be featured each week.

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