By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Racing and all-around entertainment are the focal points this weekend at Iowa Speedway, but the race is the show as INDYCAR makes its annual stop at the 0.894-mile oval for two demanding races.
Conditions will be scarce and unlike last year, both Iowa races are the same length at 250 laps apiece.
Additionally, only one main practice session on Friday before setting the lineup for both races the next day. From there, all eyes are on the race where some teams are searching for speed and cut Alex Palou’s 117-point lead over Scott Dixon.
Despite Palou unable to become the first driver since Sebastien Bourdais to win four straight Indy car races, he still finished second in Toronto with a front wing that barely held on for dear life.
One driver and organization head to Iowa with skyrocketing momentum and that’s Christian Lundgaard and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Following a triumphant win in Canada, both have high expectations to deliver another top-five finish as Hy-Vee is Lundgaard’s primary sponsor and the title sponsor of the doubleheader.
Bobby Rahal noted how important the victory was leading up to the sport’s star-studded weekend as far as entertainment is concerned.
“(Hy-Vee) have stood with us through thick and thin to win this race,” said Rahal. “They’re the biggest fans we have, frankly. My phone is blowing up with people from Hy-Vee. ‘Oh, that’s great! Now they’re going to expect that next weekend.'”
The musical lineup for this weekend are Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney on Saturday with The Zac Brown Band and Ed Sheeran performing the next day. For people to show up to the races, entertainment is paramount which Iowa has succeeded thus far and the standard for other motorsports disciplines to pursue.
When it comes down to it, RLL simply hope their oval program is a complete 180 compared to the well-covered fiasco at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two months ago.
Outside of RLL, three drivers will differ from the normal entry list as both Takuma Sato and Ed Carpenter make their return on the grid. Contrary to some rumors, Sato will run the remaining three oval races instead of Marcus Armstrong, who scored a career-best seventh last Sunday.
Finally, Conor Daly will make two more starts for Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 team as Simon Pagenaud, who won at Iowa in 2020, isn’t medically cleared to return. The former Iowa pole sitter finished 20th at Mid-Ohio when he filled in for Pagenaud at the site of his violent tumble last month.
A lot of questions will be answered as Iowa caps off a grinding month of action as 28 drivers will look to conquer the short track. Not just once, but twice this weekend.
By the Numbers
What: Hy-Vee Homefront 250 (Saturday) & Hy-Vee One Step 250 (Sunday), NTT IndyCar Series Race Nos. 11 & 12 of 17
Where: Iowa Speedway – Newton, Iowa (Opened: 2006; First INDYCAR Race: 2007)
When: Saturday, July 22 & Sunday, July 23
TV/Radio: NBC & Peacock 3:00 p.m. ET (Saturday) & 2:00 p.m. ET (Sunday) / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channels 85 & 160)
Track Size: 0.894-mile oval
Race Length: 250 laps, 223.5 miles (both days)
2022 Race No. 1 Winner: Josef Newgarden – No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started 2nd, 208 laps led)
2022 Race No. 2 Winner: Pato O’Ward – No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet (Started 7th, 66 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Helio Castroneves – No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet (17.2283 seconds, 186.809 mph – July 11, 2014)
From the Driver’s Seat
Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet
“It’s almost a 2 1/2-lane track. I think it will be your normal — if you’ve got two cars running side by side, you really can’t do anything. You’ve just got to sit there. As soon as there’s another lane, it’s sort of single file, you can motor through traffic.
“That is the advantage of starting up front is the fact that you’ve just been running in clean air and not degrading tires. There’s so much more grip to be out front in the clear. So when you get to that traffic, they’ve been running the heaviest traffic at the very back so their tires have degraded significantly more. And the fact that they’re at the back is usually they haven’t got as good of a car unless something happened in qualifying.
“You get to the first few pretty easy. Obviously the further up you get, the harder it gets. That’s the challenge of that place. You’ve got to work the traffic well while covering the guy behind you who’s attacking you. Yeah, good fun. Very, very good fun race and track.”
Last Time in Iowa
It was a tale of two stories for Josef Newgarden last year where he lived up to “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat” moniker.
In Race No. 1, Newgarden put on an absolute clinic by leading 208 of 250 laps and scored his fourth win of 2022.
Like any INDYCAR race, a seamless win doesn’t come easy. Even if the winning margin of victory over runner-up Pato O’Ward being 6.17 seconds.
“It was very tough,” said Newgarden. “I was quite surprised at how aggressive Will (Power) and Marcus (Ericsson) were on the restarts. I just thought that was the wrong approach, quite honestly. It was going to be a long game.
“You needed to be long on the tires, needed to be able to look after them. They were so aggressive on the restarts just to get track position. I think it ended up hurting them in the long run.
“I just tried to stay in front. I tried to position myself where they would struggle to get by. Fortunately it was good enough today to manage them and hold them back.”
Heading into this weekend, Newgarden has won six out of the last eight oval races with only last year’s Indy 500 and the second Iowa race being his only loses. In this current span, the second race at Iowa was both heartbreaking and scary.
After leading 148 laps in Race No. 2, Newgarden crashed in the final turn while leading. His exit made the race wide open for the likes of O’Ward and Will Power. But it was the least of many people’s concerns as Newgarden suffered head abrasion after collapsing in the team transporter.
Fortunately, Newgarden was able to make a full recovery and scored one more win at Gateway, kickstarting his current win streak on the ovals where he’ll look to leave Iowa with five straight oval wins.
Back to the race at hand, O’Ward led the remaining 66 laps to score his most recent INDYCAR victory to date. Like in Race No. 1, O’Ward’s win had to be earned despite what the margin of victory suggests which was 4.248 seconds over Power.
“We had a great weekend. Obviously we were there, we were there to take advantage of an opportunity that got presented to us,” said O’Ward. “I think even with him not finishing the race, I think we still would have given him a hard time. There was still one more pit stop to go.
“I was positioning ourselves to do what we just did. Super proud of the boys in the pits. The car was fantastic. I knew it was just all about getting into the Penske sandwich because Will was not making it any little easy on me. I knew Josef was going to do the same. It was one thing to get up there, but one thing to pass.
“It just explains how difficult it can be whenever you’re going through the lap traffic, how you get some people, other people behind you are going to get them in a very different situation. That’s how you can lose or gain time.
“You’re never going to perfect it, but trying to lose the least amount of time possible in that situation.”
Crossing the line in sixth was Jimmie Johnson, who scored his best career INDYCAR finish before heading back to NASCAR as both driver and co-owner of Legacy Motor Club.
No question, the doubleheader proved to be his greatest weekend of his open wheel career where he was able to showcase he can hang with open wheel racing’s elite. It was helpful that Johnson utilized his short oval skills, citing Bristol Motor Speedway as an oval that’s similar to Iowa.
“I think there’s just some experience I have that’s carried over,” said Johnson. “I’m so happy to finally have some experience transfer from stockcars to Indy cars. Just knowing where to run on the track at different times.
“(In Race No. 1), there was some clean spots on the track that people were afraid to get up there, tiptoe along the edge. That was just something I was comfortable with doing.
“It honestly reminded me a lot of running at Bristol, the way you just got to run right at the edge of the marbles, tip-toeing around that. And if you’re willing to get up that extra six or eight inches, it would pay off,” Johnson continued.
“Some other cars figured it out. They ran it off. Then today any time I caught someone, the driver would make that defensive move, take that spot. If they gave me a turn, ran the middle, I assume the spotter talked them into moving up. Next turn they were up higher. Really found some different lines.
“I think we had a little better handling car (in Race No. 2). Made some adjustments overnight. Made us able to drive through the field.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, July 21
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice (4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, July 22
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – Peacock)
- Indy NXT Race (11:00 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. – Peacock)
- Hy-Vee Homefront 250 (3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. – NBC & Peacock)
Sunday, July 23
- NTT IndyCar Series Warmup (11:05 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. – Peacock)
- Hy-Vee One Step 250 (2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. – NBC & Peacock)