Saturday, September 19, 2009

ASA-North and USARacing Pro Cup Action at Iowa Speedway

With all the attention paid to NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, sometimes I find it a bit refreshing to take a step back and review some of the smaller racing series that don't often get much attention but are still the places where young racers learn to race.

Such is the case with the ASA Late Model Division and the USARacing Pro Cup series (formerly the USAR Hooters Pro Cup series). Yesterday, I had the pleasure (yes, the pleasure) of watching these series race at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.

The ASA Pork 100 was entertaining from start to finish. As with all of the lower divisions of racing, there was not a whole lot of parity in the field, and only 10 of the 32 cars entered had a legitimate shot of winning, but there were good battles all over the track. With Iowa being a compound-banked oval, drivers could race without having to fight for the bottom. However, the high side appeared to have an advantage off the corner, allowing the lower-horsepower ASA Late Models more momentum going down the straights. Dillon Oliver survived the restart with four laps to remaining to go on and took the checkered flag.

The USARacing Pro Cup Pork 200 was thrilling as well, but the parity issues found in the ASA series were even moreso in this race: only 21 cars started the race, and only about 8 were legitimate contenders. These 8 did not disappoint, however. They stayed bunched up on the restarts, but after about 15 laps, the dominant cars were definitely the no. 22n of Derek Kale and the no. 22s of Drew Herring. Following a restart around lap 70, Kale and Herring were pulling away from the field, when Kale suddenly loses an engine.

For the next 50 laps, it appears to be a one-man show with Drew Herring, but after a caution around lap 120, we have a new challenger: J.P. Morgan (no, not the financial giant), who started in the back in his no. 23s. Herring and Morgan treated Iowans to a thrilling battle for the next 70 laps, with not one driver able to gain more than a car-length on another. Finally, with about 10 laps to go, Morgan pulled ahead of Herring for the final time, and went on to win the race.

If Morgan hadn't passed Herring and they had still been racing close coming to the checkered, I have no doubt the race would not have ended cleanly.

The amazing thing is the USARacing series was all but defunct over this past winter, as Hooters decided they no longer wanted to be involved in the series they founded. The series was saved in January by a new investment group, and are working diligently to bring the Pro Cup series back into glory. They have put on some great races in the past, with many three-wide finishes in their 14 race season. The cars are basically the same as NASCAR Nationwide Series cars, with the full amount of horsepower and all 3,300 pounds, but on a budget. If this series can increase it's car count (by the end of the Iowa race, 12 cars remained on the track) and parity, fans would get their money's worth at any USARacing Pro Cup Series show.

Two tigers have been unleashed this week in the Sprint Cup Series: Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kyle Busch. Montoya's Earnhardt-Ganassi team has kept the reigns on him this season, forcing him into a plan to make the chase. Montoya has shown he can win (cough, Indy), but his team has kept him from taking unnecessary risks to reach victory lane in an effort to simply gather enough points. They have executed this plan brilliantly and flawlessly (except for one race, cough, Indy), and now that he's in, expect big things. At New Hampshire, he won the pole and has been fastest in every practice session.

Kyle Busch, on the other hand, is not in the Chase. Though he has won four races this year, he simply was not consistent, and his team did not prove worthy. The past few weeks, he was also playing the points-racing game (something the I-hate-losing-so-much-I-won't-even-talk-to-you-even-when-I-finish-second Kyle Busch actually agreed to), and came up just a few points short of the magical 12th position. With that pressure off, he will be looking to make up for that as much as possible and steal the show from the chase drivers, especially Mark Martin, who begins the Chase in the top seed in Kyle's old car from Hendrick Motorsports.

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