NEWTON, Iowa — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t need a fortuitous push from a teammate to win at Iowa Speedway this time around.
He led 209 of 250 laps and won the NASCAR Nationwide race on Sunday, his third consecutive win on Iowa’s short oval.
Stenhouse, who won both races in Iowa in 2011 and took first last August after blowing an engine and being pushed across by Carl Edwards, picked up his third victory of the season. He also extended his lead in the points chase to 28 over Elliott Sadler, who was second.
“It feels good to win three in a row, and it was a lot of fun leading that many laps,” Stenhouse said.
Michael McDowell tied his career best by finishing third, followed by rookie Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch. Danica Patrick failed to finish for the second time this season and Travis Pastrana finished 26th in his third career Nationwide race because of an electrical issue.
Stenhouse’s 209 laps led tied the track record set by Kyle Busch in 2010. He also became the first Nationwide driver to win three in a row at the same track since Kyle Busch won three at Texas in 2009-10.
ALL-STAR FORMAT: It didn’t take teams very long to figure out their best shot at winning the All-Star race would be in the first 20 laps.
What few predicted, though, was that the new format would encourage drivers to take it easy for portions of Saturday night’s $1 million race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Now fans are upset winner Jimmie Johnson essentially sandbagged for 60 or so laps before turning it up for a final charge to his third All-Star race victory.
“Everybody knew if you could win that first segment, you could control the night,” said Johnson, who indeed won the first of four 20-lap segments.
Under the format for this year’s race, the winners of each of the first four 20-lap segments lined up 1-through-4 for the mandatory trip down pit road. Once there, it was a race to simply be the first drivers to get back on the track for the final 10-lap sprint to the finish.
So Johnson claimed the first segment, then faded to the back of field for next three segments. Matt Kenseth joined him at the rear after winning the second segment, and although Brad Keselowski was reluctant to follow the same strategy, he also went to the back when his team insisted it was the best strategy after the third segment.
Johnson, who claimed “when the rules came down, every crew chief in the garage area realized the importance of that first segment,” was reluctant to criticize the race format.
INDYCAR: Ed Carpenter became the 33rd driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, assuring race officials they will have a full field for the May 27 race.