NASCAR Midweek Thoughts: Almirola, Iowa, Larson and More

Source: Twitter (@KazGrala)

An off week for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series did not keep the NASCAR world quiet, as Iowa Speedway hosted two NASCAR events this past weekend.

Iowa’s Future in NASCAR: Over the past few years, fans have clamored for a Cup event at Iowa Speedway, a ⅞ mile track that has hosted NASCAR Truck Series and Xfinity Series events since 2009. Iowa’s first 2018 weekend produced entertaining short track racing in both series, but that may not be enough to bring the Cup cars to the speedway.

According to Adam Stern of SportsBusiness Journal, Iowa Speedway executives have stated that the track is making a negative profit. This, of course, is not good news for the many fans who are longing for Cup to go to Iowa in the near future. Would a Cup race hurt the speedway, or help alleviate its losses?

A Cup date that coincides with Xfinity and/or Trucks could bring in a good deal of fans. The track would also enjoy a better revenue share if it played host to a Cup event. However, if Sunday’s Xfinity event is any indicator, attendance may be poor.

The stands were nowhere close to full. Many factors could have played into this: a late start on a Sunday evening; sweltering heat; Father’s Day; etc. The excuses will flow, as they do with TV ratings, but can NASCAR avoid the many possible problems if Cup were to be included?

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You look good, @iowaspeedway. 💯 #NASCAR #Iowa250

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Would there be a triple/double header, or would Cup standalone? Would there be one, two, or possibly three weekends of NASCAR action? Will any of the three series double? Will there be an attempt to coincide with the IndyCar weekend? Would there be a few night races to avoid excessive heat, or could the dates move into the spring or fall? Can the track be renovated adequately for Cup? Will the speedway even benefit financially?

All of these questions are must-answers if NASCAR is going to give Iowa a Cup date. Personally, a Saturday night standalone race with Trucks and Xfinity having one separate date seems to be the best option. But even then, the track has to be on board, and invest in renovation. It feels like it needs to happen soon if it will happen at all, but is Iowa truly destined to have a Cup race? As the talk picks up, more ifs and buts appear. Only time will tell.

Aric Almirola’s Hidden Struggles: Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) certainly has much to be happy about concerning the 2018 season. Kevin Harvick has won five times, and Clint Bowyer has won twice in his second season with the powerhouse team.

Harvick has led 958 laps, Bowyer 308 laps, and veteran Kurt Busch 263 laps. This trio has combined for 18 top-5s and 28 top-10s. Their dominance peaked at the latest Cup race at Michigan, a 1-2-3 finish for SHR, with Bowyer claiming victory. SHR is no three-car team though.

Aric Almirola, newcomer to the four-car operation, has been applauded by many around the NASCAR circle for his early season performance, especially compared to his results in 2017 with Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) and Danica Patrick’s results with the same #10 car last year that Almirola is currently driving.

Almirola is a comfortable eleventh in points, and boasts an impressive average finish of 12.0. However, this quick glance at his season does not reveal his true performance. Almirola has no top-5s in 15 races, 6 top-10s, and just one lap led in the Daytona 500.


His season has been consistent, having only finished outside the top 20 once, at Texas. But it seems the team has been unable to run up front at the beginning of races, which limits the stage points they accumulate. The one race that the #10 showed winning pace was Richmond. Almirola finished 2nd and 3rd in the two stages thanks to a blazing long-run car. But the car went away as nighttime hit, and he finished 17th.

An even deeper look into the statistics shows how Almirola has not been able to keep pace with his three teammates throughout the entirety of a race. The driver of the #10 has had an average running position inside the top 10 only three times this season. Harvick (10), Busch (9), and Bowyer (7) all eclipse this mark greatly.

Driver rating, a formula combining many race stats, also shows Almirola’s struggles compared to his teammates. Not once has he had a rating above 100 (out of 150), while Harvick has had over 100 11 times, Busch 5 times, and Bowyer 6 times. The #4, #14, and #41 consistently outrun their fourth teammate.

A plethora of other statistics are available courtesy of Racing-Reference’s insightful Loop Data. The story is clear though. The #10 team is a step behind the SHR leading trio.

Yes, the #10 team is used to bringing up the rear at SHR. But, former #41 crew chief Tony Gibson’s move to Production Manager in 2018 has equalised the SHR cars coming out of the shop, one of his main goals. Bowyer and Busch seem to be closer to team leader Harvick, but Almirola is a ways off. Consistency may land him in the playoffs, but the lack of elite pace will likely relegate him to an early departure from NASCAR’s playoffs this autumn.

Kaz Grala and Brett Moffitt seeking sponsorship: It’s a modern day epidemic in NASCAR. Young, talented drivers putting out impressive results with small teams struggling for sponsorship. Both Brett Moffitt (3rd in Truck points) and Kaz Grala (16th in Xfinity points) are unsure if they will even be racing with their teams a few weeks from now.

Moffitt’s win at Iowa on Saturday, his second of the season, has brought to light the struggles his team, Hattori Racing Enterprises (HRE), is having obtaining sponsorship. The driver said that the team is “uncertain about Chicago” in terms of sponsorship. The Trucks race at Gateway this upcoming week, before heading to the Chicagoland Speedway.

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We did the damn thing last night! Happy Father’s Day Dad!!!

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For Moffitt, a championship run is certainly the goal. While HRE may not stand equal to the likes of veterans Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton, or young star Noah Gragson, Toyota power under the hood and a focused effort has led them to success in 2018.

Thanks to their two wins, the team can qualify for the playoffs if they run the final 7 races of the regular season. That will be dependent on sponsorship, and hopefully with their Iowa victory, HRE can find the funding they need to fuel a title run.

Meanwhile, in the Xfinity Series, 19-year old Kaz Grala has put on a great underdog story the past four races. To begin the season, Grala drove the #24 Ford for JGL Racing. But, after 10 races, only one top-10, and sitting 19th in the standings, the #24 operation was shut down due to a lack of funding (the other team car, the #28 of Dylan Lupton was shut down just a few weeks later).

Grala, though, was able to keep running, with the help of family team Fury Race Cars (FRC) and cars they brought over from JGL. Over the last four races, Grala and the new #61 car has finished 10th, 16th, 12th, and 10th. At Michigan, Grala led 5 laps and was in a position to win if rain came.

This surprising success has moved Grala up to 16th in the standings, just 26 points out of a playoff spot. Unfortunately, the team does not have sponsorship to continue on as of now.

In an interview with NASCAR America prior to the Iowa event, Grala stated that the team has “exceeded [his] expectations,” but Sunday’s race was the “final planned race” for FRC. He did say that they will see if they can “find sponsorship to continue.”

This means that FRC will have to find sponsorship during the Xfinity Series week off if they are to enter the race at Chicagoland two weeks from now. This is another unfortunate circumstance that sees a race team putting out impressive results, yet unable to find sponsors. Hopefully both Moffitt and Grala can continue their seasons, and obtain the sponsorship their respective teams need.

Kyle Larson to World of Outlaws?: No, the young phenom is not headed to the World of Outlaws anytime soon. But he did hint on Twitter that he would like to run full time with the WoO before he was 40.

Larson is definitely not shy about his love for dirt track racing. Back in January, Larson stated that “the Chili Bowl is bigger than the Daytona 500” for him. This could concern NASCAR faithful, especially Larson fans. The thought of NASCAR’s most successful young star leaving the sport at an early age certainly is not making NASCAR happy either.

However, Larson is very dedicated to the NASCAR season, as shown by his social media interaction. Don’t expect the 25-year old to suddenly leave anytime soon, and don’t panic just yet.

Catch Larson and the rest of the Cup stars on the Sonoma Raceway road course, this Sunday at 8:30 BST (3:30 EST) on Premier Sports (FS1).