NEWTON, Iowa – For Team Messina Rookie Challenge contender Alex Bowman, most of the tracks on the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards tour are brand new adventures for the Tucson, Arizona driver.
In truth, very few tracks on the world’s most versatile tour have ever come across Bowman’s racing schedule.
It doesn’t seem to matter, however, as Bowman has proven to be a very quick study. Even his first attempt on a road course last week in New Jersey didn’t throw him off his game.
In fact, had there not been a mechanical issue on his No. 22 Cunningham Motorsports Dodge, after turning left and right in grueling 100-degree heat, he just may have gone straight to victory lane.
Bowman raced his way to the front last Sunday on the 2.25-mile New Jersey road course, passing eventual winner Andrew Ranger, and led 16 laps before going a lap down as a result of a throttle linkage problem. Just before that, Bowman was literally driving away from the field as if he had just discovered that he was some sort of natural-born road course specialist, even though he had never done it before.
Now it’s on to Iowa Speedway where he, unfortunately for his competition, has done it before.
“I actually raced there (Iowa Speedway) once in a USAC Midget and once in a K&N East car,” Bowman said. “Iowa will be the first place this year that I’ve actually been before.”
Bowman, who has won four ARCA Racing Series events in only 12 starts, has another ace in the hole for Iowa – Cunningham Motorsports, the winningest ARCA team since 2009.
The Cunningham team, led by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion crew chief Paul Andrews, has won 16 ARCA races over the last three and a half seasons with a variety of drivers. Two of Cunningham’s victories came with Bowman at the helm – at Salem in April, and most recently at Winchester in late June.
There’s more; Cunningham was victorious at Iowa in 2009 with Parker Kligerman behind the wheel, and again in 2010 with series veteran Tom Hessert at the controls. The combination of Bowman and Cunningham could prove to be the pair to beat when the Prairie Meadows 200 rolls off at Iowa Friday night.
“You almost expect to win with Cunningham Motorsports at certain tracks. When they go to Salem and Winchester, the car seems to win no matter who drives it,” Bowman said. “I know we’ll have a really good car for Iowa, and I’m familiar with the track for once, so I feel really good about our chances to win. The track itself is fairly simple to grasp; it’s a lot like Richmond with a bigger transition off two. But if your car is working good, you can run the wheels off it at Iowa.”
With the season exactly halfway over, it’s certainly not too soon to think about the championship points battle, which is shaping up to be a four-way fight down the homestretch. This is not to say that Chad Hackenbracht, currently fifth in points, with Hessert in sixth, are not still in the championship battle; they most certainly are.
Currently, Brennan Poole, driving for Venturini Motorsports, has a narrow 10-point lead over Chris Buescher, who drives for the Roulo Brothers.
Nine-time series champion Frank Kimmel trails in third, 160 behind the leader. Bowman is in fourth, 165 points from the leader following his 13th place finish at New Jersey.
“They (Poole and Buescher) are both definitely good racers. I really like racing with Chris. He’s a really clean racer and won’t get into you,” Bowman said. “He won’t use you up. You can race side by side with him all day. I think Brennan’s (Poole) record speaks for itself. He’s tough everywhere. But he hasn’t had a lot of bad luck this year, and everyone’s going to, sooner or later, have bad luck. He just hasn’t had it yet. Even at Winchester, the way the points lay out, we finished higher yet he earned 25 more points than we did. We’re definitely going to have to be on our game at Iowa, but that’s true everywhere in this series.”
In addition to the championship points battle, Bowman and Poole are locked in a tight Team Messina Rookie Challenge battle. Poole currently leads Bowman by just 16 points headed to Iowa.
Buescher was the 2011 Messina Rookie of the Year, and finished runner-up in championship points. He also has two full races under his belt at Iowa, finishing 11th in his Iowa debut in 2010, and third last year after leading seven laps.
“The progressive banking at Iowa makes for a great race. It’s sort of downsized from the mile-and-a-halves we go to but drives similar. Lots of two- and three-wide racing there, which is fun from the driver’s perspective, and makes for a great show for the fans.”
Poole, who drives the No. 25 Venturini Motorsports entry, actually has one race at Iowa in 2011, finishing 14th.
Poole acknowledges that in addition to the competition, Iowa Speedway presents its own challenges, especially as the track changes during the transition from daylight to nighttime.
“You’re definitely going to have to keep up with the track as it changes,” Poole said. “Crew chiefs are going to have to be on top of their games, keeping up with the adjustments. The drivers will have to give really good feedback too, and continually throughout the race. As the track changes, you’ll see cars moving around on the track, looking for a better line. Fortunately, there are always two grooves to run at Iowa. We’ll start out a little free, and as the sun goes away, it’ll tighten up on its own and gain grip. But you don’t want to end up way too tight, and that’s where the driver and crew chief must be exchanging good, accurate information.
“There’ll be a lot of challenges that go with that race. I’ve got great people around me and couldn’t be more confident in Venturini Motorsports.”
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