Iowa Preview

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Strange times bring about strange starting times. I have followed this sport for decades, and I’m not sure I ever remember a Friday night race – but that is exactly what we have tonight.

The Iowa IndyCar 250s was necessitated by losing several other races earlier in the season, due to the pandemic. That is why Road America was a double-header, as well as Iowa. The third double-header of the season is scheduled to run in September at Laguna Seca. My personal belief all along has been that neither Laguna Seca, nor Portland, will be able to take place. If that’s the case, an already shortened season will become even shorter – thereby making each contested race even that much more important.

Losing three more races will take the number of races down to eleven for the season. Four have already been run. If there are only seven more races left in the season, the usual contenders that have gotten off to a slow start would be in even more trouble than they already appear to be. Let’s just hope I’m wrong and those west-coast races in September get a chance to run.

From a fan’s perspective, what better way could there be to spend two weekend nights than watching short-track IndyCar oval racing? And that’s if you are planning to attend or sitting at home like we will be.

As usual for this pandemic year, this will be a compressed schedule. There will be one Friday practice, and it will take place this afternoon at 1:00 pm CDT (local time) on NBC Sports Gold. Qualifying will take place later this afternoon at 4:30 pm CDT. It will be shown live on NBC Sports Gold (with no commercials) and delayed at 6:30 pm CDT on NBCSN. That will serve as the direct lead-in to the live race broadcast at 7:30 pm CDT on NBCSN, with the green flag flying at 8:15 pm CDT. There is a final practice on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 CDT on NBC Sports Gold, then Saturday night’s Race Two broadcast will begin on NBCSN at 7:30 pm CDT, with the green flag flying at 7:45 pm CDT (note that is thirty minutes earlier than Friday night).

Qualifying is where the biggest twist to the weekend is. Instead of two separate qualifying sessions for the two races, like they had last weekend at Road America – this will be the only qualifying session of the weekend. But here’s the twist. Qualifying will be two laps. The driver’s speed on Lap One will determine his starting spot for Race One on Friday night. His Lap Two speed determines his starting position for Race Two on Saturday night. I actually kind of like this. Might we see a driver save his tires on Lap One and try to lay down a fast time on Lap Two, to start further up on Saturday night? To me, this adds another level of intrigue and places a great deal of importance to this afternoon’s qualifying.

The other level of intrigue is that this double-header is on an oval, where crashes tend to damage cars more than road courses. Even last week, after Conor Daly had a hard crash in Saturday’s race at Road America, his ECR crew was up most of the night, putting the car back together to have it ready to race again for an early Sunday race. If a car crashes hard on Friday night, that crew is looking at an all-nighter doing repairs.

At Texas, Takuma Sato showed us how disastrous a crash in qualifying can be in this era of the compressed schedule. Any car suffering significant damage in qualifying would most likely miss Race One on Friday night and would have to start at the back of the field on Saturday night. That’s how important today’s qualifying will be.

The 0.875 mile facility in Newton, Iowa has provided some good racing since the NTT IndyCar Series started racing there in 2007. The starting time has been played with a few times, going back and forth between Saturday night races and Sunday afternoon races. Normally, the night races have been better, or at least make for better television. Last year’s race was scheduled to be a night race, but due to weather – the race didn’t start until almost 11:00 pm local time, midnight on the east coast. Although the race started at night, it technically ended in the morning.

This weekend’s forecast looks more favorable. There is a slight chance of thunderstorms today, but the only issue to contend with on Saturday will be heat. The high today will be 89° but tomorrow will be a scorching 93° with a heat index in triple digits. With the constant high speeds, and night-time temperatures, I’m hopeful that heat inside the aero screen cockpit will not be a factor.

If any driver not named Scott Dixon is going to make a move, this would be a good time. There are over a hundred points up for grabs this weekend. This is a pivotal time for some drivers to make a move.

I think Scott Dixon will have decent performances in both races, but I don’t think he wins either one. There have been thirteen IndyCar races at Iowa, and Andretti Autosport has won seven of them, but none since 2015. Team Penske has won two of the past three, but they have struggled this season. That’s exactly why I think they will sweep this weekend. I think Simon Pagenaud will win one of the races, while Will Power will make up for his bone-headed race this past Sunday, and win one as well. That’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it. We’ll see.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Iowa Preview”

  1. “As usual for this pandemic year,..”
    new normal, in other words.

    “newest normal”
    is almost here.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    According to Raymond Hando at For The Love Of Indy, this is the first Indycar race to be held on a Friday since the 1969 Indianapolis 500, so I would guess there has never been a Friday night race in the championship before.

    Newgarden’s championship hopes are likely pinned on this weekend (and he is really really good at Iowa). If Andretti Autosport is sharp, this could be a good chance for Colton Herta to make a move in the championship as well, and for Rossi to claw back into the top 10.

  3. Mark Wick Says:

    George, I live on the West coast and I was 100% certain weeks ago that there would be no races out this way in the fall. Recent restrictions on events just reinforces my opinion.
    Anybody not named Dixon, who hoped to contend for the title in this shortened season, probably needs to win both races this weekend.

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