Gragson Paces Iowa NASCAR Cup Series Practice Plagued by Tire Issues

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

NEWTON, Iowa – Iowa’s partial repave was the talk of the NASCAR Cup Series garage area coming into Iowa Corn 350 weekend, but after Friday’s lone practice session, tires have become the main concern.

By the time all was said and done, more than a handful of drivers had issues with their tires being unable to cope with the mix-and-match between the old and new Iowa pavement.

Noah Gragson finished the 63-minute practice session at the top of the board with a lap of 22.828 seconds, 137.988 mph, in his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

“With it being a new repave it definitely created some challenges and a guessing game coming into this race, but I felt good on the Ford Performance simulator and it felt really close to how we unloaded in real life,” said Gragson. “We were just a little loose and got better throughout the practice. I started pretty loose in, but once we got that under control it felt like the car had a lot of speed and then came into the garage. 

“Obviously, it does have a lot of pace, so I’m really excited to see what we can do with it here for qualifying. There’s still a long way to go this weekend, but the car feels pretty good and everybody on this Bass Pro/Winchester team has been working hard. 

“We’ve kind of been in a slump the last four or five weeks since Darlington, but we’ve got a really fast race car and continue to work well with each other and it’s a good place for us to try and turn it around.”

Ty Gibbs was second fastest after being the first driver to have issues with his tires. Early in the session, Gibbs cut a tire on his No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, but luckily did not hit anything and was able to limp his car back to the garage. His team was able to bolt on a new set of tires and send him back out on track, where he posted his fast time.

“It just seemed like it went down,” Gibbs said. “There’s not really any telling about what happened. We made some setup adjustments that are probably going to help that out, but didn’t really know anything about it until it went down.”

Alex Bowman finished the session third, followed by Justin Haley, Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain. Harrison Burton, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, and Chase Briscoe to round out the top-10.

Shortly after Gibbs had his issue, his JGR teammate Christopher Bell, who ran the tire test at Iowa a month ago, ran into problems of his own. Bell posted the fastest lap of the session up until the point when he had issues, cutting a tire and ending up making hard contact with the Turn 4 wall.

As a result of the impact, Bell will be relegated to a backup car for the remainder of the weekend.

“I just did the tire test here three weeks ago and we did 50 lap runs all day long, so I don’t know,” Bell said. “That’s a bummer. The Rheem Camry was really fast and I don’t think we’ll be racing that one. We’ll see what the backup is like.

“It’s definitely an eye opener that it’s happened to two of us so far in the first 10 minutes of practice. Not a good sign, but I’m sure it’s not something that can’t be fixed for the race.”

The next driver to run afoul of the tire gods was Ross Chastain, who had his tire let go entering Turn 1, but he was able to keep it off the wall and limp it around to the backstretch.

Bringing a bit of levity to the situation were the NASCAR safety crews, as they elected to try and rig the car up with a pair of tow trucks and they placed the car on a dolly to haul it back to pit road to keep from damaging the underbody of his car by towing it back normally.

While they tried to figure out how to rescue Chastain’s stranded Chevrolet, the red flag was displayed for 13 minutes – a time loss that was added to the tail end of the session to make up for it, hence the 63-minute total practice length.

“The left rear tire went down out of nowhere,” Chastain said of his tire issues. “Really fortunate to get it slowed down before we hit the wall.

“[Goodyear] will figure it out and they’ll give us recommendations. The 1 team and Trackhouse and Team Chevy will reacclimate to what we just learned and go back out and rip some more laps.”

One of the last two drivers to run into tire problems late in the session was Austin Cindric, just two races removed from his win at Gateway, who cut a tire out of Turn 2 and slammed the outside wall, sending him to a backup car.

Cindric noted afterwards that he had “no indication” or trouble brewing with his No. 2 Team Penske Ford before it happened.

“We certainly weren’t one of the only teams to have tire issues, but it definitely seems like there are some limitations,” Cindric said. “It was a good lesson to learn maybe before the race, but there’s a lot of work for the team to get ready for qualifying tomorrow. It’s unfortunate, but I’m glad we’ve got time to get one ready for qualifying.”

Last, but not least was Tyler Reddick, who luckily caught his tire going down before it caused him problems and was able to get to his crew for a fresh set before running into trouble like so many others.

Teams will have the night to pour over data from practice before the next track activity on Saturday.

Qualifying is scheduled for 1:05 pm ET Saturday to set the field for Sunday’s main event, which will go green at 7:00 pm ET. Both will be televised on USA Network.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.