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NASCAR-owned Iowa Speedway opens season on Sunday

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The Iowa Speedway will reopen just six months after its purchase by NASCAR.

New president Jimmy Small is among those eager to see how Sunday's Nationwide race will set the tone for the short track's future.

NASCAR took the rare step in November of purchasing the track for a reported $10 million, a steep drop from the $70 million it cost to build it less than a decade earlier.

The 28-year-old Small is the third person to run the Iowa Speedway in less than three years. He inherited a track that has remained popular with fans and drivers despite patches of instability.

"As far as challenges, I think the biggest one has been timing," he said. "We knew we only had a short amount of time before our first weekend here in just a few days now."

Points leader Chase Elliott, Trevor Bayne and Ty Dillon headline the list of drivers in the first stand-alone race of the Nationwide season.

NASCAR, which also owns the Road Atlanta course under its IMSA sports car banner, became Iowa's third owner in just eight years when it bought the track from Featherlite Inc., founder Conrad Clement and his family.

Although NASCAR officials made it clear that they won't schedule a Sprint Cup series race in Iowa in the immediate future, Small said the new owners see plenty of potential for growth.

NASCAR plans to kick start the track's new era this weekend with some initiatives based on fan feedback.

Country music duo Montgomery Gentry will perform on Saturday night following the K&N Pro Series race. Track organizers will throw a party for season ticket holders with a chance to win garage access, pace car rides and a seat in the driver's meeting -- which has been moved from the media center to a large suite in the grandstand -- before Sunday's Nationwide race.

"A lot of these initiatives that we're bringing to the table are still in their development phase. We believe we're on to something," Small said.

Iowa Speedway will host just three major race weekends in 2014. The track lost one of its Camping World trucks series races and combined the other with IndyCar's annual stop in Newton in mid-July.

The schedule, along with new NASCAR initiatives in Iowa this summer, will be up for debate next year. But NASCAR officials hope to brand the 0.875-mile oval as "fastest short track on the planet," according to Small.

"It's very racy. You can have two, two and a half, maybe sometimes three lanes in there. It has a bunch of character," said driver Ryan Blaney, who won a 2012 trucks race in Iowa and plans to run in Sunday's Nationwide race.

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