Nationwide Series points leader Austin Dillon speaks during a news conference at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (AP Photo)
NEWTON, Iowa — Austin Dillon knows the Nationwide race in Iowa on Saturday night might be his best shot yet at a victory.
But it’s not necessarily because Dillon is running so well.
It’s mostly because Kyle Busch is staying at Pocono Raceway.
Dillon, who took over the Nationwide points lead last week despite going winless through 19 starts, headlines a field almost exclusively made up of Nationwide regulars. Brad Keselowski, who won the inaugural Nationwide race in Iowa four years ago, will be the lone Sprint Cup driver in the field as NASCAR’s top series runs Sunday in Pennsylvania.
Busch, who has won eight Nationwide races in 15 tries in 2013, won’t attempt the Pocono-Iowa double dip like he’s done in the past — much to Dillon’s relief.
“It’s kind of hard to win one when he’s winning every one of them,” Dillon said. “This is a great weekend, for sure, to come out with (Busch) not being here and with less Cup drivers, to take advantage of that. Getting the first one, to be honest, would be huge and propel us through the rest of the season.”
Dillon entered the weekend atop the Nationwide points standings for the first time in his young career, with a six-point lead over Regan Smith and 13 points ahead of Elliott Sadler.
It’s also the latest the No. 3 car has been in first place since 1999, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his second straight series title.
But despite six poles and 12 top 10s in just 19 starts, Dillon has yet to earn a victory. Few of those close calls stung as much as Dillon’s last trip to Iowa two months ago.
Dillon’s car was often so dominant that it rendered much of the race a bore. But his car also had a tendency to lose speed on long runs, and Trevor Bayne blew past him and cruised to victory under green.
“Having a night race, it’s going to be a little bit easier on our tires,” Dillon said. “Maybe (we’ll) take it a little easier earlier in a run if we’re leading, and just try and conserve what we have in the car.”
Keselowski will likely be the driver to beat this weekend. The reigning Sprint Cup champion has a pair of wins in just eight Nationwide starts, and he’s never finished worse than fourth in three career starts in Iowa.
But there might not be a NASCAR team more dominant at a single track than Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 car is at Iowa. The car has won four of its last five starts on the short oval, all under the eye of crew chief Mike Kelley.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won three times in a row in 2011-12 before departing for the Sprint Cup series, and Bayne followed with a win in June. Bayne, who is currently in ninth place, knows he’ll likely have to contend with Dillon again on Saturday night.
“You always have to get better. I feel like the No. 3 car was faster than us on short runs last time, and they know that we were faster on the long runs,” Bayne said. “They’re going to bring back something that they can work on for longer runs, so we’ve got to get better on our short runs.”
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