Iowa Oval Doubleheader could prove crucial in title race

A return to thrilling short-track oval racing at Iowa Speedway is slated for Hy-Vee INDYCAR weekend, and it comes with twice the action and music to boot.

The three-day event features an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, an Indy Lights race presented by Cooper Tires and four major concerts as Newton, Iowa welcomes racing fans.

SEE: Race details

The last NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at the track was in 2020, with former series champions Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden winning for Team Penske. Newgarden’s victory was one of his best three series at Iowa Speedway. (Ryan Hunter-Reay has also won three times.)

The Hy-Vee 250 presented by Doordash will be held at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday with the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google to follow at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. Both races will be broadcast live on NBC, with flag-to-flag coverage also on the INDYCAR radio network.

With 26 car-driver combinations, there will be plenty to consume in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races. Here are five things:

A crucial step ahead

These two races represent the first part of the seven to be covered. There are three oval races, three permanent road events and a left-hand street circuit – winner takes it all.

Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson (#8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) is the series leader in pursuit of his first series championship. A title would be the 15th for Chip Ganassi’s organization, including the third in a row by the third different driver (Scott Dixon won in 2020, Alex Palou in 2021). Only Team Penske has won more season titles in the sport, with 16.

Ericsson’s advantage is a relatively comfortable 35 points over Will Power (#12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet), but Power is one of four former series champions within reach of Ericsson. Palou, the defending series champion, is 37 points off the lead in CGR’s No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda with two-time series champion Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) and Dixon, the six times series champion in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, each trailing Ericsson by 44 points.

While Newgarden has won three of the last six races at Iowa Speedway, including the most recent on July 18, 2020, Ericsson could still come out of this double weekend as the series leader. The Swede finished ninth for CGR in both 2020 races and finished 11th as a series rookie with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2019, looking remarkably comfortable for a driver with little oval track experience at this point. stage of his career. He should be much more prepared for this weekend.

Still, Newgarden is the driver to beat. He has led 1,150 of 2,000 (57.5%) in the past six races at Iowa Speedway, with three wins. Over the past five races, Team Penske drivers have led 1,158 laps, with no other team leading more than 86.

An undefeated track

After tying Mario Andretti for the second most wins in INDYCAR history – 52 each – Scott Dixon will have two opportunities this weekend to pass the legend on the career chart. But it’s one of the tracks that Dixon has yet to conquer.

Dixon leads all active drivers with wins at 25 circuits, including the oval and road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. His best finish at Iowa Speedway is a couple of seconds, in 2019 and in Race 1 of 2020, and he’s started on pole three times, once as the points leader (2008).

Will Power has similar results at Iowa Speedway — a pair of second-place finishes and three poles — and has also never reached victory lane, and that’s remarkable. Power leads all drivers with wins at 12 of the 15 circuits in this year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES program. Its three missing: Iowa Speedway, Streets of Nashville (a sophomore event) and Portland International Raceway.

Helio Castroneves (#06 Meyer Shank Racing AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) has won races at 10 of the current circuits, Dixon has won nine. Castroneves won in 2017 at Iowa Speedway.

In total, Power won at 22 circuits, Castroneves 19. Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud (Meyer Shank Racing’s #60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) each won at 12 different circuits. No other active driver has won more than 10 races during his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career.

Interestingly, the aforementioned drivers are the drivers most likely to take pole at Iowa. Power leads with three, Dixon, Castroneves and Pagenaud each having two in their careers. However, only one of the 15 races at this track has been won from the top qualifying position (Newgarden in the most recent race).

Teams to watch

Andretti Autosport and Team Penske have been the dominant teams at Iowa Speedway.

Michael Andretti’s organization won its first five races at the track with five different drivers (Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe). Hunter-Reay added two more wins to give the team seven wins in the first nine races at the track.

Lately, Team Penske has dominated, winning the last three races and five of the last six largely with Newgarden leading the pack. But Helio Castroneves (2017) and Simon Pagenaud (2020, Race 1) also won for Roger Penske’s organization.

Arrow McLaren SP and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing are other teams that could do well. Arrow McLaren SP finished third and fourth in Race 1 of 2020 with Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, respectively, and Askew finished sixth in Race 2. As Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the team won the 2018 race with James Hinchcliffe – Robert Wickens finished fifth – and Hinchcliffe finished third in 2019.

RLLR saw Graham Rahal (#15 High Rock Vodka Honda) deliver his best drive of the season in Toronto – he finished fourth – and Iowa Speedway was a good track for him, with 10 top 10 finishes in 14 races while driving for four different teams. He led five of those races. It’s also one of his teammate Jack Harvey’s best leads. The #45 Honda Hy-Vee rider finished seventh in both 2020 races.

Conor Daly (Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet) is another driver to watch given his performance at two of the shortest oval tracks – Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway – in recent years with different teams. Daly took pole and finished eighth in 2020 Race 1 at Iowa Speedway. He led both races this year at the track.

The qualifying format

As the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to an oval for the first time since the Indianapolis 500, the process of determining the starting lineup deserves a reminder.

One car at a time, each competitor will complete two green-flag laps in Saturday’s 10:30 a.m. ET session on Peacock Premium, with the first lap determining place in the starting order for Saturday’s 250-lap Race 1 and the second round. do the same for Race 2 of 300 laps on Sunday.

Indy Lights will qualify somewhat differently in its Saturday session at 9:30 a.m. ET. In the single-seater session, cars will be seeded for the day’s 75-lap race (12:15 p.m. ET) based on the cumulative time of the two green-flag laps.

From racing to concerts

The Iowa Speedway weekend schedule is packed.

Friday’s action, which includes free admission, begins with Practice for Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires at 3:15 p.m. ET followed by NTT INDYCAR SERIES Practice at 4:30 p.m. Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network will cover this last.

Saturday, a concert by Tim McGraw will follow after the qualifying sessions.

The 250-lap Hy-Vee 250 presented by Doordash kicks off at 4 p.m. on NBC and the INDYCAR radio network with a Florida Georgia Line concert closing out the festivities.

Gwen Stefani kicks off the show with a concert at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, followed by the second NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of the weekend, the 300-lap Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google at 3 p.m. (still on NBC and the INDYCAR radio network). Blake Shelton rounds out the event with a post-race concert.

The Iowa Speedway doubleheader is part of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ five-race, four-weekend streak. After the trip to Newton, the series returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Gallagher Grand Prix on the road course on Saturday, July 30 and the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville on Sunday, August 7.

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