Iowa Preview

Before I discuss this weekend’s upcoming Iowa Corn 300, I would like to pass along my condolences to the entire Andretti family over the loss of Dee Ann Andretti, the matriarch of the close knit Andretti family, who passed away this past Tuesday after complications from open heart surgery. She was the wife of Mario, the mother to Michael, Jeff and Barbie Dee and grandmother to seven grandchildren including Marco. Please keep the Andretti family in your thoughts and prayers during this time.

How is it possible that this weekend will be the twelfth year that the Verizon IndyCar Series has raced at Iowa Speedway? It seems like it’s been only a couple of years since the 7/8-mile oval in Newton, Iowa opened. In all actuality, ground was broken on Iowa Speedway in June of 2005 and the track first hosted Indy cars in 2007. The previous eleven events have been both Sunday afternoon races and Saturday night events.

The first took place on a Sunday, and it was somewhat of a crash-fest, but Dario Franchitti took the win on his way to his first of four IndyCar championships; and his only championship for Andretti-Green Racing, which would later be known as Andretti Autosport.

In fact, this track has been dominated by Michael Andretti’s team. Seven of the previous eleven IndyCar races at Iowa have been won by an Andretti driver, including six straight from 2010 to 2015. Drivers like Franchitti (two wins), Ryan Hunter-Reay (three wins), Dan Wheldon, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves have all won at Iowa.

Curiously enough, Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske only have one win each at Iowa. Ganassi won in 2009 with Franchitti and Team Penske didn’t get their first win at Iowa until last year with Helio Castroneves behind the wheel for what would be his final IndyCar win to date. Scott Dixon has never won at Iowa, making it one of the few tracks on the schedule where Dixon has failed to win. It is also one of only two tracks where Marco Andretti has won. Marco won at Iowa in 2011 and also at Sonoma in 2006.

The Iowa Corn 300 has been run on Sunday afternoon for the past few years, and I don’t understand why. We’ve been told it was to avoid conflicts with NASCAR on NBC for Saturday night. For the past couple of years NASCAR was racing at Kentucky on Saturday night during IndyCar’s Iowa weekend. This year, NASCAR is at Daytona for the Coke Zero 400. IndyCar puts on a good show under the lights at Iowa. I understand the importance of date equity, but IndyCar needs to be racing at night at Iowa. If they can’t do it on this date due to NASCAR racing at night – then change the date.

Trivia Question: How many drivers that are entered for Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300 drove in the inaugural IndyCar race at Iowa? Can you name them? I’ll give you a minute to think about it and I’ll give you the answer a little further down. There are no prizes, but you can feel awfully good about yourself by getting it right.

When Josef Newgarden won two weeks ago at Road America, he served notice that he was still a contender for the 2018 IndyCar championship. But he’s got some hefty competition in front of him and he can’t hope they will all have bad days. Scott Dixon is leading the championship and has a forty-five point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, and a fifty point lead over Newgarden. If Josef Newgarden wants to win back-to-back championships, he needs to keep winning.

Alexander Rossi has come across some bad luck lately. He threw away a sure second-place finish at Belle Isle when he tried to out brake Ryan Hunter-Reay, then he had issues at Road America that dropped him further back. Rossi needs to regain the form that saw him dominate at Long Beach and score podiums in every race earlier this season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has been coming on strong as of late. Since the IndyCar Grand prix, where he finished eighteenth – Hunter-Reay has finished no worse than fifth, with a win and a couple of second-place finishes mixed in. He is driving like someone who doesn’t want to admit he’s getting a little long in the tooth, even though Hunter-Reay will be thirty-eight before the start of next season.

Scott Dixon? All he needs to do is keep winning and he’ll have his fifth IndyCar championship.

Will it be a championship contender taking the checkered flag on Sunday, or will someone sneak in and steal a win? Marco Andretti won in 2011 and he finished eighth in points that year (one of his better seasons). By the way, for the trivia question; there are only four drivers entered this weekend that drove in the inaugural IndyCar race at Iowa in 2007 – Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Ed Carpenter.

So who will win Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300? The contrarian in me says to pick Scott Dixon, since he has never won at Iowa. But a closer look at his results show that his average finish there is a very pedestrian 7.36 with only two podiums. There may actually be a reason he hasn’t won there.

Ryan Hunter-Reay would be a wise pick. He’s already won three times at Iowa, including three out of four years from 2012 to 2015. But I think Hunter-Reay is going for solid results at this point. I think he’ll wind up on the podium, but won’t get the win.

I think Alexander Rossi is still mired in his slump and will not rebound just yet.

All that and the sense of urgency that Josef Newgarden drove with at Road America is why I think Newgarden will continue his winning ways and will re-establish himself even further into the championship picture by winning on Sunday. If so, look for the championship battle to be even tighter than it already is. We’ll see.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Iowa Preview”

  1. I think Hunter-Reay takes the solid result when he sees he can’t win. He could have settled for second at Detroit and he hardly just sat back at Road America. He races at Iowa like Mears and Al Sr. used to race all the time- wait patiently and grab the opportunity late. I think he gets number four in corn country.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    It would be interesting to see Marco look super sharp this weekend. While it seems fluke-ish in light of much of his career, his 2011 win was a masterful piece of driving, capped by a gorgeous crossover pass on Takuma Sato as he moved to the front. I will admit to daydreaming about that pass from time to time.

    I am glad this race moved from 250 to 300 laps a few years back. More racing at Iowa is a good thing.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    My condolences to the Andretti family for the loss of Dee Dee

    Words I guarantee you will hear during the Iowa broadcast: Bullring, tire degradation, lapped cars, pork chops on a stick.

  4. SkipinSC Says:

    I get that the series does not want to go up against the NASCAR event at Daytona, but I think maybe it would be a better idea to make this race a Saturday night event and move it so as not to collide with NASCAR. A one week “slide” either way would accomplish the deal without totally ruining the “date equity.”.

  5. Br!an McKay Says:

    Thanks for blogging.
    The series has several racers whom I’d like to see win this week. I mean that I’d be happy if any one of several win. I have no great affinity for Bourdais, but I respect him and Hampson, so I picked Dale Coyne Racing in the poll, rather than A.A. and Penske, which have more ‘bullets’ or chances of winning. And I’m the only one who’s picked D.C.R. Only one reader has picked Ganassi Racing.

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