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Blaney earns Nationwide pole in Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — Ryan Blaney became the youngest winner in the history of the NASCAR Truck Series at Iowa Speedway two years ago.

On Sunday, he’ll attempt to become the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Nationwide race on Iowa’s short track.

The 20-year-old Blaney won’t be the only kid pushing a podium finish.

Blaney will start from the pole for Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway after finishing first in qualifying on Saturday.

Blaney won a pole for the first time in the Nationwide Series, and he did so less than 24 hours after a disappointing 22nd-place finish in the trucks race in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday night.

“It’s been a busy 24 hours,” Blaney said. My team “did a great job of getting everything ready, for me to just come to jump in the car and have it close to where we need it to be.”

Sam Hornish Jr. will join Blaney on the front row, followed by Michael McDowell, Regan Smith and Dylan Kwasniewski.

Series points leader Chase Elliott will start sixth in the Nationwide’s first stand-alone race of the season – which will feature three drivers aged 20 or younger in the top six starting spots.

Elliott, a point ahead of Elliott Sadler, graduated from King’s Ridge Christian School in Georgia on Saturday morning and flew right back to Iowa for qualifying.

“I definitely think it was worth it to go home and be part of that,” Elliott said. “It was definitely weird to be here, and then gone, and then back just for qualifying. It’s a little odd, but other than that we’re happy to get back.”

The rest of the field might wish Elliott stayed in Georgia.

Elliott has already won twice this season, at Texas and Darlington, and he has led the standings for well over a month. He’s also won at Iowa before, taking first in a K&N Pro Series race in 2012, and his No. 9 Chevrolet was the fastest car in two of the three practice sessions.

Elliott said Saturday that he’s looking forward to directing his focus on racing rather than school.

“I was checked out way before they gave me that paper,” Elliott joked. “To not have to go home and be worried about doing homework and getting stuff done on Monday morning will hopefully be an improvement.”

Sunday’s race will also feature a pair of hometown drivers coming off their best runs of the season.

Fairfax, Iowa native Landon Cassill scored his first top 10 of the year when he finished eighth at Talladega two weeks ago. Joey Gase of Cedar Rapids finished a career-best 11th at Talladega despite having his engine run out of water on the last lap because it had overheated so often.

“We had to take a baseball bat to the car a few times, but that was all right,” Gase said. “It was really great to get our name out there.”

Cassill will start ninth, while Gase will be 29th.

This will be the first of two Nationwide races this season at Iowa, which was bought by NASCAR in the offseason. The second will be held on Aug. 2, and NASCAR announced Saturday that it will be the final event in the four-race “Dash 4 Cash” program that could award up to $1 million to a series regular.

The move is part of a push by NASCAR to make Iowa a featured track for a series often overshadowed by the top-tier Sprint Cup series.

“This is where we want to make names, where we want the Nationwide Series to be on a pedestal,” Iowa Speedway president Jimmy Small said.