How two tyres carried Ryan Blaney to NASCAR win at Iowa

Blaney's tyre durability was a pleasant surprise, especially as they had failed for many drivers throughout the weekend

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Ryan Blaney’s June began in heartbreaking fashion when Team Penske opted to gamble on fuel, only for him to run out on the final lap and lose the win at Gateway. Two weeks later, his team decided to roll the dice again by taking just two tyres. This time, it paid off as the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion won the series’ inaugural race at Iowa Speedway.

When the eighth and final caution came out on Lap 261 for Chris Buescher’s crash, Blaney’s crew chief Jonathan Hassler elected to change only two tyres while his main rival William Byron pitted for four. It was a risky move, especially as Byron and his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Kyle Larson had been fast all day; Larson won Stage 2 but a spin knocked him out of contention.

“To go out there on two tyre, really not have a lot of guys that are on two tyres, you know at some point those guys are going to be a little bit better than you are,” Hassler commented. “I was just hoping that it was really late in the run.”

The race resumed with 84 laps remaining. Despite pressure from Byron and Hendrick ally Chase Elliott, Blaney’s Ford was fast enough to keep both of them at bay and he led the rest of the way to secure his first win of the season.

“When Jonathan said two, I thought that was probably a good idea. We didn’t have a ton of laps on our lefts. Lefts weren’t wearing a ton. I knew there was a long run to the end,” Blaney explained. “You don’t know who else is going to take two. Some guys running 15th on back want to take two, get track position. I think only a few of us did. I didn’t know how they were going to fire off and handle. We weren’t on two all night before that point.

“Later in the run, I tried my best to save early because I knew when I got to lap traffic, that’s where I struggled in stage two. When I got to lap traffic when I was leading, the #9 (Elliott) and #5 (Larson) slowed me down because I used my stuff up early.

General view during the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Iowa Corn 350 at Iowa Speedway | NASCAR
General view during the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Iowa Corn 350 at Iowa Speedway | NASCAR

“I tried to learn that. Tried to keep a gap to the #24 (Byron) consistent, not push my stuff, to have something for the lappers. Honestly, I was starting to struggle a little bit with ten to go. I had to push harder to keep my pace. It was really working hard to keep the pace, keep the gap to Byron.

“It was a good call getting us to clean air. Four tyres, two tyres, I feel like we would have had a pretty good shot either way because I felt like I was better than Byron. Chase was really good late in a run. He was that way in stage two. I felt pretty good compared to Byron. Raced him earlier in the race, thought we were a little quicker than him.

“Good call getting us in clean air, trying to manage and hold on the last ten laps or so.”

Tyres had struggled all week

Blaney’s tyre durability was a pleasant surprise, especially as they had failed for many drivers throughout the weekend. During practice on Friday, five drivers—Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Austin Cindric, Ty Gibbs, and Tyler Reddick—suffered flat tyres, with Bell and Chastain both crashing as a result which forced red flags to be flown for cleanup. Chastain’s accident was so substantial that his car needed a second tow truck to pull it away.

Iowa had undergone a partial repave rather than applying a fresh coat across the entire racing surface. While certain sections were new in Turns and 4, the rest was the same as it was when when the track opened in 2006. Elliott compared driving on such an uneven surface to “hitting a big bump on the interstate,” exacerbated as Cup cars have low ride heights. This combined with a tyre compound that has been up-and-down in 2024 prompted fears of a repeat of Bristol in March.

The concerns were perhaps validated in Stage 2 as many of the retirements during the segment occurred because of tyres going down. Buescher, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, and Zane Smith made unscheduled pit stops after their tyres went flat, while Chastain’s downed tyre sent him into the wall. Michael McDowell also had his hopes of a top-10 finish dashed by a late flat.

In spite of this, Blaney and his #12 made it home without much issue.

“Tyres weren’t really wearing a whole lot,” Hassler stated. “I certainly felt like we weren’t in jeopardy of failing a tyre by doing two. I know maybe we left a little bit of speed on the table. I was confident we’d be able to get the lead. That obviously outweighed in terms of speed.”

Justin Nguyen
Justin Nguyen
Justin Nguyen is Total-Motorsport.com's resident NASCAR aficionado and is also the off-road reporter for The Checkered Flag.
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