Iowa Preview

The Verizon IndyCar Series makes its annual trip to the land of our friend Pressdog – the state of Iowa. The Iowa Corn 300 is almost always an entertaining race. I say always, because there were a couple in the first few years of the event that were a little on the boring side. But since about 2010, this has consistently been one of the races on the schedule that I always look forward to.

In all honesty, I prefer this being a night race. For the last two or three years, the race has taken place in daylight hours. Daytime races in the Midwest in July usually mean one thing – heat. From a spectator standpoint, I would think you would have a better crowd for a night race rather than one starting at 4:00 local time on Sunday afternoon. But they didn’t ask me what I think. Such decisions are usually made jointly between the series, the track promoter and the television partner. I’m sure there is a good reason for this race being moved to the heat of the day, and my griping about it won’t change anything, so we’ll live with it.

At seven-eighths of a mile, Iowa is the shortest track on the IndyCar schedule. The short oval designed by Rusty Wallace opened in September of 2006, and IndyCar ran its first race there on June 24, 2007, with Dario Franchitti winning for Andretti-Green Racing. The race distance for that race was 250 laps, which was the distance for every IndyCar race until it was extended to 300 laps in 2014, where it has been ever since.

That first race ten years ago was an indicator of things to come, not because Franchitti won two of the first three races there. It was because it was the first of seven victories that Michael Andretti’s team won at Iowa. Andretti Autosport has gotten this place figured out. Until Josef Newgarden ran away with last year’s race for Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR), Andretti Autosport had won six races in a row at Iowa.

Last year was a disastrous year for Andretti and for Honda. While Honda’s fortunes have vastly improved this year, you can’t say the same for Andretti Autosport. Other than winning the Indianapolis 500 for two years in a row, the last season and a half have been a time to forget for Michael Andretti. The team has been plagued by crashes, mechanical and engine failures and just plain rotten luck. Ryan Hunter-Reay won three out of four races at Iowa between 2012 and 2015, but there has been little going on in his season so far to make me think he’ll have a magical turnaround this weekend – but stranger things have happened.

Normally this track features a hard-fought battle before a winner is determined. That was not the case last year. Seldom have I seen a car hooked up as well as that of Josef Newgarden was at Iowa last year. As he sliced through the field of backmarkers before checking out up front, it was easy to forget that he was doing so with a surgically repaired broken hand. Newgarden made winning last year’s race look very easy. No one else could touch him all day.

It was one of those few times when a car was setup perfectly to match a driver’s driving style. ECR could set the same car up identically to last year’s, but JR Hildebrand has a completely different driving style than Newgarden so he would probably not perform to Newgarden’s level of last year. But don’t forget – Hildebrand set up the car for Newgarden last year, just in case Newgadren wasn’t ready to go. Perhaps Hildebrand was the secret to Newgarden’s success last year at Iowa. I also don’t expect Newgarden to replicate what he did last year, now that he is with Team Penske. He has already said that Penske cars are set up completely different than what they were at ECR, even though they run the same engine and aero kit. Newgarden may win, but it probably won’t be in dominating fashion.

The fact that Team Penske has never won at Iowa in ten tries is also something to ponder. In fact, before Newgarden won for ECR last year, the only two teams that had won at Iowa were Andretti Autosport (seven) and Chip Ganassi Racing (two). Aside from the aforementioned Franchitti and Hunter-Reay, the other Andretti drivers to win at Iowa were Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti, whose second and last win came at Iowa in 2011. The two Ganassi wins came with Franchitti and Dan Wheldon behind the wheel. Oddly enough, Iowa is one of the few tracks where Scott Dixon has failed to win.

There are more questions than answers going into this weekend. Can Team Penske score their first victory in eleven tries at Iowa? Can ECR replicate what they did one year ago? Can Josef Newgarden? Can Andretti Autosport end their non-Indianapolis 500 drought at a track they once owned? Can Scott Dixon finally win at one of the few tracks that have alluded him? Can Chevy get closer to evening out the score with Honda, who currently leads Chevy in wins, six races to four?

For the first time in ten races this season, I finally picked the winner at the last race by picking Scott Dixon to win at Road America. Maybe I’m on a roll. This is not the easiest race to predict (guess is more like it), because of all the questions going into it. But I’m going with a driver who will be making his eleventh start at Iowa. In that time, he has had some good solid runs, a couple of really bad races and, surprisingly, only two Iowa podiums in all that time. Who is it I’m picking to win Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300? Your points leader, Scott Dixon.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Iowa Preview”

  1. Ron Ford Says:

    I would highly recommend that anyone going to the Iowa race find the time to visit the Knoxville, Iowa Speedway on Saturday night for the sprint car races. I am planning to go there. It is more than likely that you would find Robin Miller there also.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    After what we saw in Phoenix and the Iowa test sessions, I would be very surprised if a Chevrolet does not win this race. Hildebrand needs a good result here.

    Television was probably the largest reason for the awkward Sunday afternoon start time. If Iowa was running on Saturday night, it would be pushed to CNBC by NASCAR (it also would have gone up against sprint car races in nearby Knoxville for the local crowd), as Toronto and Mid-Ohio will be later in the season. One can wonder why the powers that be did not swap the Iowa and Toronto dates (easier said than done, I’m sure), which would have given Iowa a Saturday night and Toronto a Sunday afternoon clear of NASCAR while essentially retaining both races’ date equity.

  3. Yannick Says:

    With the short tracks favoring Chevy’s aero package this year, it appears rather likely one of the 4 entries of Team Penske is going to win at Newton, Iowa, this year.

  4. television money is reason for any start time.
    obviously, it’s not about the fans in the stands.

  5. SkipinSC Says:

    My question becomes this: In the summertime when most of the TV landscape is dotted with reruns or game show remakes, why not run a Sunday night, prime time race. I get that Saturday night is out because of NASCAR’s trip to Kentucky, but it would certainly seem to me that you would get a similar crowd (live) on a Sunday night as you will to a Sunday afternoon swelter match. As it is, anticipating a two hour event, starting at 4 pm local time, all but the most local fans are going to either staying in the vicinity or VERY late getting home.

    This seems to me a PERFECT opportunity to showcase IndyCar in prime time and on REGULAR TV.

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    For this race I would not rule out that high banks drifter TK.

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