"I love dominating those races," laughed a care-free Ricky Stenhouse Jr., after doing just that in the Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway on Sunday afternoon. "Man, this one was fun."
At the start, polesitter Elliott Sadler had got a little unstable at the start and it was Sam Hornish Jr. who slipped past to install himself into the lead while Sadler was left to try to fend off the attentions of Stenhouse for second.
Both of them got ambushed in a three-wide move by Justin Allgaier, and it wasn't until lap 18 that Allgaier was disposed of and Stenhouse managed to squeeze past the outside of Sadler to lay a firm claim on second.
Some lapped traffic aided Stenhouse to catch the leader, and on lap 31 Stenhouse dived down the inside of Hornish into turn 2 to take the lead, promptly showing just how fast his race car was by pulling out several car lengths on the Dodge. Sadler had fallen off the chase for the lead, not thrilled by the handling of his car after being caught out by some overnight changes to the set-up.
The race ran caution-free until lap 73, although there was a near-miss well before that when Morgan Shepherd slowed on the race track and had to navigate his way back to pit lane without tripping anyone up. The green flag running was a boon to Kurt Busch who climbed into the top ten, having started from the back of the field as he hadn't been in Iowa for qualifying as he had been racing in the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday.
The yellow when it came was for a blown right front tyre for Jeff Green, sending him into a hard hit with the wall in turn 1. There would be similar race-ending tyre issues to come for Danica Patrick (into the wall in turns 3 and 4 on lap 115) and Taylor Malsam (the same fate on lap 180). There was also a final caution of the day on lap 202 for Travis Pastrana's car crawling to a halt with an electrical problem, on the second series start for the X-Games star.
With the exception of the occasional lap during pit stops or at restarts, Stenhouse remained in charge: when he did drop out of the lead he so quickly blasted his way back in front that he looked like a cat playing with a crowd of mice. Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier did what they could to keep the leader honest, and Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch joined them in the chasing pack, while Michael McDowell never seemed to be far away from the fray. However, early leader Sam Hornish lost pace and dropped back after the first round of pit stops and then had an unscheduled and slow pit stop on lap 170 that dropped him down the running order.
Having charged all the way from the rear of the field to lead at the restart on lap 188, Kurt Busch appeared to be the only realistic threat to Stenhouse with the pace and the sheer will to try wresting the lead away from the youngster. But Busch blew this best chance of the race by getting loose into turn 2 two laps later, not only losing touch with Stenhouse again but also dropping behind Sadler again and tangled in a three-way fight with Allgaier and Dillon for third.
With the lead not in doubt, it was all about the best of the rest - and Sadler was up to the task as the chequered flag came out. Stealthy Michael McDowell challenged Kurt Busch for the third place on the final lap and Busch ended up in a lengthy sideways slide that he was lucky to save in order to cross the line in fifth place, now behind not just McDowell but also the hard-charging Dillon.