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NASCAR’s long-awaited Cup race in Iowa hit the spot

They came from near and far. A hearty bunch, casual fans and diehards alike. Some who had been to a NASCAR race before and others experiencing their first.

But they all were roaring with energy for a weekend of racing at a beloved racetrack that was finally getting NASCAR racing back, and doing so with a long-awaited Cup series race.

There were friends, like Rusty Topal and Donte Blanchard, attending their first race. It had never worked out before to attend one, but when Topal’s brother passed off the tickets he got, it was an easy decision. Topal came from South Dakota. Blanchard from the Quad Cities.

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They both agreed having NASCAR back in the area was a big deal, pointing out all the license plates from the neighboring states. And before the weekend was even over, Topal said his wife already planned for it to be an annual event for them.

Jon Iaccino traveled from three and a half hours away, Rockford, Illinois, for Sunday night’s race. He, too, wanted to see the inaugural Cup series event and admitted he wouldn’t have made the trip if it was a standalone Xfinity Series weekend.

Rochelle Boykin came from California. A new event on the NASCAR schedule was something she wanted to be in attendance for, and she had enjoyed previous trips to Iowa Speedway for an NTT IndyCar series races.

Ryan Blaney’s dominant win was a popular one. Lesley Ann Miller/Motorsport Images

And then there was Nicole Chapman, who came from Portland. A big Ryan Blaney fan, she attended the reigning champion’s charity event earlier in the weekend and was just as excited as others for a new Cup race.

Blaney ended up dominating and winning the race, ad doing so not only made Chapman’s night but that of the 80 family and friends Blaney had in attendance.

“They’re all camping,” Blaney said at the start of the weekend. “We bought a lot of tickets that’s for sure. It’s nice to have a track to where part of your family is from and they come out and support. They did the same thing 10 years ago when we raced Xfinity here and it’s nice that they all came back out and are hanging out all weekend.”

Chris Buescher felt the same type of enthusiasm when arriving at the racetrack. Cup teams are given a block of time at the start of each weekend to walk the racetrack, giving them a chance to have an up-close look at the details of the facility and racing surface.

“We’ve been here three hours at this point and we’ve got fans yelling over the fence at everybody walking by saying, ‘Thanks for coming. We’re glad you’re here. We’ve been waiting for this,’” Buescher said. “It’s Friday and very early in the weekend and we’ve already got people yelling out and showing support, so that’s really cool for this entire place.”

It was a recurring theme throughout the weekend; the locals were happy to have NASCAR there as has been said for years if a Cup race were to be put on the schedule. During the pre-race innvocation, the prayer included how the fans’ patience had been rewarded. Rusty Wallace, the track designer, told the crowd before the command that “we’re finally here” after nearly 20 years.

Team Penkse’s Joey Logany liked what he saw in Iowa. David Rosenblum/Motorsport Images

“They love it. They love NASCAR,” Joey Logano said of the fanbase, which he interacted with on Saturday morning in the midway where SiriusXM NASCAR Radio set up a live recording of his Behind the Wheel segment. “I noticed that close to 20 years ago the first race that I ran here. It was packed for a Pro Cup race, and they sold it out that day. So, you can imagine when they finally get a Cup race here. … You can imagine what it’s like for everybody out there.

“They love it. I joked around that I don’t know where everyone is coming from because I see a lot of cornfields out here but they show up. It’s kind of like the ‘Field of Dreams.’ It’s definitely a cool place to see everyone show up and want to see a NASCAR race.”

Iowans and their neighboring race fans were rewarded with a great weekend of racing, and NASCAR was welcomed with open arms. All of the boxes were checked. And, as Brad Keselowski wasn’t shy about admitting to be glad about, was that it wasn’t a road course as most new venues in new markets have been in recent years.

“It’s nice to add a new venue to this sport that’s an actual stock car-esque track and that’s clearly what Iowa is, so I’m really pumped for this community,” Keselowski said. “I’m glad to see a community that pays its dues get a race.”

Iowa Speedway was packed and lived up to the hype; a place those who have visited it before enjoyed and wanted others to experience as well. If it is NASCAR’s version of ‘Field of Dreams,’ the fans did indeed come and it was a weekend to remember.

Story originally appeared on Racer