NASCAR had to partially repave Iowa Speedway before inaugural Cup race, frustrating drivers

NASCAR fans in the greater Des Moines area have waited a long time to get a Cup Series date and now they’re hoping against hope for a good race.

It’s going to take the right circumstances to produce that kind of show on Sunday night at Iowa Speedway.

For one, the current Cup Series car does not yet deliver on short tracks, especially those with just one usable racing groove, which leads us to the second challenge. The track received an unorthodox partial repave of just the bottom racing groove, meaning that it’s going to be a fight on restarts to get to the bottom and passing will be at a premium.

“It will be for sure,” Hamlin agreed. “Looks like you’ll be able to force whoever is on top of you onto the not so good grip. It’s very interesting that they paved so much of it but they didn’t pave all of it. It will be very interesting to see how it plays out.

“I still haven’t seen where the strips are exactly but we’re all going to be fighting for the blackest pavement.”

There is some good news there because Chase Elliott reviewed the in-car from Kyle Larson, when he tested the track back in May and found it to be ‘wider than what was described to me,’ and that it should be possible to go side-by-side.

“Originally, I thought it was just like literally the width of a car and I was like, ‘Man, this is just silly. Why did we even repave it?’” Elliott said. “It looks like you could potentially at least have a second groove, which would be better than one. But anything outside of that bottom area of fresh asphalt, it’s too aged at this point.”

That would be fine if all of it was aged out, because then drivers would slide around and Goodyear could bring a tire that drivers would have to manage over the course of long green flag runs.

Christopher Bell was also at the test and did not come away impressed.

“It just completely ruined the corners, and it’s going to make it a one-groove racetrack,” Bell said. “… If you have to do that, they absolutely needed to repave the whole thing. Because now literally the top half of the track is completely useless and it will remain useless until it gets repaved.”

Kevin Harvick, speaking on his Happy Hours YouTube show called it ‘one of the biggest F-up of the year.’

NASCAR has owned Iowa Speedway since 2019 and that June was the last time a national touring race had taken place at the 7/8th mile with 12-14 degrees of banking. The track had always produced compelling Xfinity Series races and even for the IndyCar Series.

By all accounts, NASCAR wanted in a perfect world for the racing to take place on that surface, but an inspection last fall revealed structural concerns that might not hold up due to the load of the much heavier Cup Series cars.

Repaves have to be done in warmer weather conditions to let the surface sit and NASCAR just ran out of time to have a full repave before the test in May.

The point was articulated earlier in the week by NASCAR’s vice president of competition Elton Sawyer.

“The one thing that over time that with this facility, obviously the winters are hard there in Iowa, and it took a toll on the surface. Our goal all along when we announced this race back in October of last year was to not repave.

“But as we started scheduling events, whether it was a tire test and looking at the facility, and once we got into the early part of the calendar this year, it was apparent that there were some areas we were going to have to take a look at and do some repaving. Again, our goal all along was not to do that. We wanted our fans to see that track and a race where the surface had been worn, but that just wasn’t going to be the case.”

NASCAR did not want to risk the pavement being pulled up in its first Cup race and racers can understand that, but they just wish the whole track had been paved instead.

Ryan Blaney articulated that point.

“In my mind, you either leave it or you pave the whole thing,” he said. “… You had two choices, and I would have been fine with both choices. And they went with the third choice. That doesn’t really make much sense to me.”

On the bright side, Sawyer says he feels good about the structural concerns of the track where the old pavement and the new pavement intersects.

“Now, aesthetically, it looks a little different than what we would normally go into a facility (and see),” Sawyer said. “But we’re confident the repairs are to a high level, and it’s not going to be an issue and we’re still going to have some multi groove racing around the racetrack. We’re looking forward to getting out there and getting cars on the racetrack and seeing exactly how things unfold.

“But as we lead into the weekend, we don’t anticipate any issues with the surface.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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