Trevor Bayne edges Brad Keselowski for Iowa Nationwide pole

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A buzzer-beater lap from Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne enabled him to take the pole position for tonight’s NASCAR Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway.

With less than one minute to go in the final round of qualifying, Sprint Cup regular Brad Keselowski took the provisional pole from Bayne with a lap of 23.577 seconds around the 7/8-mile oval.

But there was just enough time for Bayne to take one last shot and he made it count.

As time ran out, the former Daytona 500 champion completed a hot lap of 23.558 seconds to secure his first Nationwide Series pole of the season and the seventh of his career.

“We’ve really been working on our short-run speed,” Bayne told ESPN. “We really feel that qualifying and short-runs are where we’ve struggled the most this year in getting that track position. We didn’t make it to the final round last time we came here to Iowa and I’ve had a pole here before, so I kinda know how to qualify here but we’ve struggled with that short run speed.

“So coming back, we came with a totally different package and Chad and these guys have found some speed in this car. We’ve been in the Top 3 lap times in practices and sometimes that speed can fool you, so going into qualifying, I wasn’t really sure. But somehow we put together three pretty good runs and we were able to get the pole.”

But while Bayne appears to have the pace needed to contend, he and the rest of the field will have to deal with different conditions come race time this evening.

“Everything changes at night here,” said Keselowski. “You take the tape off the front end and the car loses a little bit of downforce, so that’s a big change. The track is going to gain grip when it gets to nighttime, but it’s kind of offset by the downforce change. Those are things you just gotta battle through as a NASCAR driver.”

Regan Smith and Brian Scott will make up the second row on tonight’s grid, followed by Michael McDowell and Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott in Row 3.

Bayne, Smith, Scott, and Indianapolis winner Ty Dillon will compete for the final $100,000 Dash4Cash prize as well. However, Dillon was unable to make the final round of qualifying and will be starting 15th.

Green flag for tonight’s 250-lap race at Iowa is scheduled for shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT IOWA – STARTING LINEUP
U.S. Cellular 250

1. 6-Trevor Bayne
2. 22-Brad Keselowski
3. 7-Regan Smith
4. 2-Brian Scott
5. 20-Michael McDowell
6. 9-Chase Elliott
7. 54-Sam Hornish Jr.
8. 11-Elliott Sadler
9. 60-Chris Buescher
10. 5-Josh Berry
11. 16-Ryan Reed
12. 31-Chase Pistone
13. 62-Brendan Gaughan
14. 42-Dylan Kwasniewski
15. 3-Ty Dillon
16. 01-Landon Cassill
17. 43-Dakoda Armstrong
18. 99-James Buescher
19. 29-Kenny Wallace
20. 39-Ryan Sieg
21. 19-Mike Bliss
22. 93-Kevin Swindell
23. 84-Chad Boat
24. 44-Hal Martin
25. 40-Matt Dibenedetto
26. 28-J.J. Yeley
27. 4-Jeffrey Earnhardt
28. 51-Jeremy Clements
29. 14-Eric McClure
30. 17-Tanner Berryhill
31. 55-Jamie Dick
32. 10-Blake Koch
33. 52-Joey Gase
34. 87-Josh Reaume
35. 89-Morgan Shepherd
36. 70-Derrike Cope
37. 72-John Jackson
38. 23-Carl Long
39. 46-Matt Frahm
40. 93-Mike Harmon

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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