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Noah Gragson Paces “Tire”ing NASCAR Cup Series Practice at Iowa

Noah Gragson leads NASCAR Cup Series practice at Iowa Speedway Tire issues repave

Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP for Ford Performance

Noah Gragson, the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang Dark Horse paced Friday afternoon’s practice session for Sunday’s Iowa Corn 350 at Iowa Speedway.

The 25-year-old racer turned a fast lap of 22.862 sec. (137.783 mph), which was more than two-tenths of a second faster than any other competitor. Gragson’s fastest lap came on his 39th of 40 laps in the session.

RELATED: NASCAR Cup Series Iowa Corn 350 Practice Results

Ty Gibbs, Alex Bowman, Justin Haley, and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-five fastest drivers in single-lap speed in the session.

While Gragson, who is searching for his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory, was the fastest in the session, that wasn’t the top story of the day. Instead, the story of the 50-minute one-hour-and-four-minute session was a rash of tire failures. In all, five drivers experienced flat tires in the session, but none suffered as big of a penalty for it as Christopher Bell.

Bell will have to go to a backup car ahead of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Iowa Corn 350 at Iowa Speedway as he suffered a cut tire 19 laps into his practice run on Friday afternoon. With the incident happening in Turn 4, Bell pounded the outside wall hard.

Video: Christopher Bell Pounds Wall in Iowa Cup Practice After Cutting Tire

The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Rheem Toyota Camry XSE had turned the fastest lap of the session at the time of his crash. After contacting the wall hard, Bell radioed to his team, “That one hurt.” Sure, the crash hurts physically, but mentally it has to hurt as well as Bell came into this race as one of the three drivers who were able to get laps in the Next Gen car at Iowa Speedway in the recent Goodyear Tire test.

“Yeah, I’m okay. I think I hurt pride more than myself, personally,” Bell said after being checked and released from the infield care center.

The advantage of being in that session led Bell and his crew chief Adam Stevens to know what they needed to be fast at the 0.875-mile short track straight off of the truck. But the tire issues that plagued Bell and others shocked the driver as he says it wasn’t an issue at all at the Goodyear Tire Test.

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

Unfortunately, the crash will wipe out any early weekend advantage that Bell and his team had gained, and Bell will have to start from the rear of the field on Sunday.

Prior to Bell’s incident, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ty Gibbs also suffered a cut right front tire on his No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Monster Energy Toyota Camry XSE during his 24th lap on track. Fortunately for Gibbs, the tire went down on the straightaway, which allowed him to keep the car from contacting the wall.

Gibbs, who took his car back to the garage after the cut tire, returned to the track later in the session, and was able to complete another 21 laps, and ended up second-fastest in the session. Bell says the fact that two of the Joe Gibbs Racing teams ran into tire issues was a troubling sign.

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

The tire issues weren’t limited to the Toyota Racing camp, though.

With under 20 minutes left in the session, Ross Chastain also cut a left rear tire on his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet. Like Gibbs, Chastain was able to avoid any damage to his car, but was unable to get his car back to the pit area.

This led the track safety team to have to lift the car off the ground with the tow truck, where they were then able to place a dolly device under the car to get it back to where Chastain’s team could work on it. After 15 minutes of the safety team working to get Chastain’s car back to pit road, NASCAR added 15 minutes to the session.

And with 10:20 remaining in the session, the Ford Performance group joined the tire failure party as Austin Cindric collided with the wall in Turn 2 after suffering a right front tire.

And with just under three minutes left in the session, Tyler Reddick also had a right front tire go down. He was able to catch the tire issue without incident, and stopped his car on pit road at the end of the session.

With this being the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series event, and the track having a partially repaved surface, Goodyear conducted a tire test last month leading into this event. There were no issues reported with tires at that test, however, there is certainly a problem brewing early in the race weekend. Hopefully, Goodyear can offer a solution for teams before Sunday’s Iowa Corn 350.

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