By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The NTT IndyCar Series heads back to Iowa Speedway after being off the calendar last year. It’s back in a bigger way, all thanks to Hy-Vee’s full commitment in bringing not just fans to watch incredible action, but stout entertainment.
Between musical acts, there will be two races at the 7/8-mile oval that’ll once again prove to be a crucial point in the championship trail. This weekend will mark the first set of oval races since the 106th Indianapolis 500, a race Marcus Ericsson won and truly began his quest for the title.
The Swede enters Iowa with a 35-point lead over Will Power. Ericsson’s teammate Alex Palou sits third, down 37 points and still searching for his first win as the reigning champion.
Down 44 points is Scott Dixon, who is tied with Josef Newgarden for fourth in the standings. For Dixon, he’ll enter Iowa with amazing momentum after snapping a 22-race winless streak last Sunday in Toronto.
Following the win, Dixon knows the doubleheader will be critical if he wants to win his seventh championship and cut the gap on Ericsson. More so that it’s one of the very few tracks Dixon hasn’t won before.
In 15 stars, his best finish was a pair of runner-ups in 2019 and the first race in 2020. That’s in spite of winning three poles with his last being in 2014.
“If we look at it, I wouldn’t say we’re particularly great at. We had some good results (in 2020), a second and fifth, last time we were there,” said Dixon. “We had a decent test there. I felt like we made some good gains. We wanted to actually go back but we were unable to just because of tire supply.
“It’s going to be a big points weekend. I think the stretch that we’re in five races in four weeks is going to put a pretty good pressing note on how the championship is going to flow.
“I don’t want to predict anything in this sport. It’s too tough to do that. All I know is we will be trying as hard as we possibly can.”
One man that’s hoping for a strong result is rookie David Malukas, who after 10 races sits a distant 18th in points.
However, he’s only 20 markers behind Christian Lundgaard, who finished eighth last Sunday, for Rookie of the Year honors. With seven rounds remaining, the battle is slowly boiling down to those two competitors.
A strong weekend at Iowa for the Dale Coyne Racing w/ HMD Motorsports will boost confidence. More so when he has a teammate like Takuma Sato, one of the top oval racers in the sport.
“I lean on him like a good majority, like a lot, especially for ovals. He’s so talented. He has so many little tips and tricks,” Malukas on Sato. “I’m still trying to get to get everything out of him but I can tell he’s keeping some things to himself, which I understand.
“He’s definitely one of the best teammates I could have asked for, especially in my rookie season, and with Iowa being very successful and Takuma loving Iowa and always being successful there, it’s definitely a good combination for me.”
INDYCAR’s only doubleheader of 2022 will certainly ignite a tremendous spark that fans will never forget. If July’s races haven’t done so already, the field of 26 will look to provide 550 total laps (250 on Saturday and 300 on Sunday) of fierce competition.
By the Numbers
What: HyVeeDeals.com 250 (Saturday) & Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 (Sunday), NTT IndyCar Series Race Nos. 11 & 12 of 17
Where: Iowa Speedway – Newton, IA (Opened: 2006; First INDYCAR Race: 2007)
When: Saturday, July 16, 2022 & Sunday, July 17, 2022
TV/Radio: NBC / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211) 3:00 p.m. ET (Saturday) & 2:00 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Track Size: 0.894-mile oval
Race Length: 250 laps, 223.5 miles (Saturday) & 300 laps, 268.2 miles (Sunday)
2020 Race Winners: Simon Pagenaud – No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started 23rd, 83 laps led) (Race No. 1) & Josef Newgarden – No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started first, 214 laps led) (Race No. 2)
Track Qualifying Record: Helio Castroneves – No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet (17.2283 seconds, 186.809 mph – July 11, 2014)
From the Driver’s Seat
Conor Daly – No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
“To be back at Iowa is awesome. But like going back is great, but seeing what Hy-Vee is doing and seeing what was being constructed at the track like when we were testing there two weeks ago, I mean, it is awesome.
“I think recently we’ve had such great events into the schedule like St. Louis coming back, they obviously do an incredible job promoting that event, the crowd is great there, the event is incredible, Nashville has been awesome, and having Iowa come back — it’s always been a great race at Iowa, but now to see kind of the concerts, the setup of how you can watch it, it’s awesome.”
Graham Rahal – No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
“When it comes to Iowa, I think it puts on the best racing of probably anywhere that we go to frankly. From a driver’s perspective, it’s a major challenge. The tire degradation is a challenge. Doubleheader is going to be as well.
“For me, I think it puts on a tremendous race. I think a lot of fans, the purists, knew that already. This opens your eyes to a fan base that has likely never seen anything like this, an event like this.”
Last Time in Iowa
As was the theme of 2020, Iowa hosted a doubleheader with Team Penske reigning supreme.
When the green flag dropped in Race No. 1, it was Conor Daly’s No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet leading the 23-car field on a Friday night.
However, his moment in the sun wasn’t meant to be as he ultimately became a non-factor when it mattered most. That would pale in comparison when a wild restart saw a freighting crash.
On Lap 157, Pato O’Ward was about to lead the field back to green until INDYCAR waved off the restart. Some drivers didn’t caught the memo as eighth-place Colton Herta ran into the back Rinus VeeKay.
The contact lifted Herta up in the air, but kept it from hitting the catchfence. This incident was an early example of the Aeroscreen coming into play as neither him nor VeeKay were injured from the ordeal.
Once the madness settled down, an unlikely driver had clawed his way towards the front. That man being Simon Pagenaud who took the checkered flag after staring shotgun on the field. His win had to be earned towards the end as he had to deal with Scott Dixon and Alex Palou.
“That was really trouble, to be honest, at the end, the traffic. Alex was doing a great job with his car and I was really strong on the bottom with a charging Scott behind me. That’s always kind of a stressful situation,” said Pagenaud. “But I also had to save some fuel to make it to the end. I used him to go fast on the straightaway, but at the end I was trying to press the issue a little bit and I found some things to try to get by.
“But when tires are used up, it’s a lot more difficult. You’re sliding around a lot more. Certainly not easy when you’re the leader. I didn’t want to throw away the race three laps to go, and I had a big moment three laps to go, so I was trying to force the issue. It worked out.”
Friday’s triumph turned out to be his last win with Team Penske and his INDYCAR career to date.
Behind Pagenaud was Dixon, who wasn’t able to bring Chip Ganassi its fifth straight win in as many races to that point. O’Ward’s then-teammate Oliver Askew had one of his few positive moments in INDYCAR, finishing third which remains his best outing to date.
In Race No. 2, it was Josef Newgarden who led the field to green. With only two cautions due to incidents involving Ed Carpenter and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the game of strategy came into play.
It didn’t impact Newgarden as he dominated Saturday evening en route to his first of four wins that season. Newgarden’s teammate Will Power ended up finishing second with Graham Rahal rounding out the podium.
“I was pretty fired up (after Friday). Felt like we had a winning car that slipped away from us. Was really determined that we could come back here and get it right today. Thought everyone did an amazing job,” said Newgarden.
“Tim (Cindric) is always on it when he’s calling the race. The boys in the pits are always executing for me. Just had a good run. No unlucky cautions tonight, which was great. Finally able to get the Hitachi car back into Victory Lane. Very happy about that. Very pumped to be with Chevy, have their support, great package underneath us.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, July 22
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice (4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, July 23
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. – Peacock)
- Indy Lights Race (12:10 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. – Peacock)
- HyVeeDeals.com 250 (4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – NBC)
Sunday, July 24
- Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – NBC)