Fast trucks, familiar tracks and favorable weather.
Over the last two races at Texas and Kentucky, nearly everything has been in line for successful runs by ThorSport Racing's Nos. 88 and 13 teams.
Despite bringing competitive -- in Johnny Sauter's case, dominant -- trucks to each race, the highest finish for either team in the last two races is 22nd. Sauter and ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton have been sidelined by accidents, mistakes and part failures, including a victory-turned-22nd-place finish at Texas.
The Nos. 13 and 88 welcome a third full-time team to their ThorSport operation, Dakoda Armstrong and the No. 98. Armstrong will make his first Truck Series start.
The ThorSport teams hope their fortunes change as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series visits Rusty Wallace's Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa, a .875-mile tri-oval with 12- to 14-degree compound banking.
"It kind of drives like a short track, but in some ways you're going so fast on it, it has the intermediate tendencies to where you have aero push," Armstrong said. "It's definitely a unique track, and it's really great racing."
Sauter compared the track to Richmond.
"It's got a short-track feel to it, but it's a high-speed track," he said.
No. 88 Menards/Ideal Door
After four weeks of preparation during the summer break, Crafton ran just 19 laps at Kentucky Speedway before his motor gave out. He wheeled behind the wall early for a 32nd-place finish, dropping three spots in the points standings.
After starting the season with five top-10 finishes in six races, good for the driver points lead at the time, Crafton has taken hit after hit, with an average finish of 26.25 over his last four races, falling to eighth in points.
"I've raced long enough, I've raced a long time -- There are spells that you're going to go through that are going to be like this, and it's like nothing you can do can fix it," Crafton said. "You've got to get the luck on your side. It's just all there is to it."
And bringing fast trucks to the track makes the poor finishes that much harder to stomach for him.
"I'd rather be running 15th and blow up. ... But we haven't had that. We've had great trucks every week. We've been fast," Crafton said. "We've been able to run in the top five with it and contend to win -- That's all we can ask for. But we haven't had any luck to go along with it."
Today the Truck Series will make its third appearance at Iowa. Crafton has seen success in his first two runs at the speedway, finishing sixth in 2009 and third in 2010.
"Hopefully, we'll get this monkey off our back," he said. "It's not even a monkey. It's more like a gorilla."
No. 13 Safe Auto/Curb Records
One would expect tough luck and bad finishes to have a negative effect on a driver's standings.
In spite of bad finishes at Texas and Kentucky, ThorSport's Johnny Sauter has actually built his lead in the Truck Series driver points standings on the field from 12 to 23 points. The other top drivers have posted equally anemic finishes over the last two races to let Sauter keep his place.
During Johnny Sauter's last two races -- the performance at Texas marred by a late black flag and equipment failure at Kentucky -- he's led a total of 80 laps (56 and 24, respectively). In the end, however, the final standings show only 22nd- and 24th-place finishes.
"I think everybody's heads are still held pretty high," Sauter said. "We have dominant trucks, and maybe the results aren't showing it, but everybody knows we've got speed."
Despite the finishes, his No. 13 trucks are clearly running well. He was able to repeatedly build following cautions late in the race at Texas. At Kentucky, he was jostling for the lead mid-race with Sprint Cup points leader Kyle Busch (who Sauter bested by .453 seconds in Martinsville earlier this season).
"Running good fixes everything. It's the best medicine," Sauter said. "It'd be different if we were running 15th all night and then had problems. Then it's hard to keep everybody focused.
"But I think these guys know that things happen in racing that are out of your control. That's part of the element of why racing's so unique."
Sauter finished fifth in his first appearance in Iowa in 2009 and was second there in 2010 behind Austin Dillon.
No. 98 Ferrellgas/Agrisure Viptera
Armstrong is looking for some magic as he makes his first career Truck Series start today, his 20th birthday.
He's won on his birthday twice before. This one, however, would take even more as he steps up to one of NASCAR's three premier series.
"If we could pull out a third time, I wouldn't complain," he said. "We're wishing for that birthday luck, big time."
He'll debut in the Truck Series at Iowa, where he's been before in the ARCA Racing Series in 2009 and 2010, finishing sixth and fourth, respectively.
"It's one of my favorites. The fans out there are great," said Armstrong. The Speedway is just 30 miles away from Des Moines, recently dubbed the No. 1 NASCAR capital by the Daily Beast. "The place is in the middle of nowhere, but the fans come from everywhere and pack the place."
Armstrong plans to race seven times and reevaluate whether he wants to take the rest of the year off to preserve his rookie status.
Truck Series rookies are making their marks near the top of the standings, led by Cole Whitt, currently in second place behind Sauter in points. Also near the top are Parker Kligerman, with second-place finishes in each of his last two races, and Joey Coulter. All three, like Armstrong, were born in the 1990s, representing a flood of young talent into the series.
"Hopefully, we can be as big a threat as they are," Armstrong said. "They're all great drivers and hopefully we can go out and run as well as they do and be as competitive as them."