Before getting into the week’s race preview, I wanted to recognize an up-and-comer in the IndyCar blogosphere. I’m sure you’ve seen the name of Christopher Leone posting comments here and on other Indycar blog sites. Well, lo and behold – he has his own site: Open Wheel America. Chris provides a lot of well-thought out and insightful commentary on timely topics. I supplied a link to my blogroll. You may also check it out here.
This weekend, the IZOD IndyCar Series makes its annual return to Newton, Iowa. The 7/8 mile oval is on my short list of tracks I’d like to go to someday. Being partial to ovals, this one is intriguing because it is so short, yet is wide with banking – so theoretically, it should provide some good racing.
That wasn’t the case when the track hosted its first IndyCar race back in 2007. In fact, it was a yawner that was more reminiscent of some of the oval races we witnessed in 2009. Dario Franchitti won that race, as he did last year. In fact, the Scotsman has won in every race he has competed in at Iowa. So there’s no reason to think that this race will be any different, right? Not exactly.
I have no statistical or factual knowledge to back me up on this. This is strictly a gut feeling on my part – but I have this feeling that the Penske/Ganassi stranglehold on ovals is going to end this weekend. No team other than those two, has won an oval race in the IZOD IndyCar Series since Tony Kanaan won for Andretti-Green Racing at Richmond back in 2008.
The law of averages has to catch up to these teams…doesn’t it? How long can they continue to dominate without both teams being bitten by bad luck on the same weekend. It’s got to happen…right? Team Penske was well off its game at Indianapolis last month and Scott Dixon had a mishap in the pits when he lost a wheel exiting his pit. But Dario Franchitti not only had the dominant car that day, he suffered no miscues or bad luck. The same was true for Helio Castroneves at Indianapolis in 2009. But somewhere and somehow, all five members of these two teams are going to be bitten by some form of bad luck to open the door for some other team to steal an oval victory. I’m a die-hard Penske guy, but even I’m rooting for it to happen.
Dan Wheldon won the 2008 version of the Iowa Corn 250 while driving for Ganassi. Panther Racing keeps showing signs of improvement and it’s possible that they could unseat the red (and black) cars, but I don’t think so. Dreyer & Reinbold has made even bigger strides since last season. Larry Curry always seems to be able to make cars go fast on ovals and now he has Graham Rahal in one of the seats, but it takes a while for a team to build chemistry. He did finish eleventh in last year‘ race, after crashing out in his rookie debut at Iowa in 2008. Justin Wilson has improved his oval game also, but not enough to be considered a threat to win.
I realize I’m not going out on much of a limb here, but the winner of this race will come from the Andretti Autosport stable. Ryan Hunter-Reay is back for at least one more race as he has been reunited with the ethanol sponsorship from his days at Rahal-Letterman Racing. As good as he is, he may be the team’s weakest link on ovals. Any of the team’s other three drivers is capable of walking away with the victory on Sunday.
Marco Andretti is on a roll right now with two third-place finishes in a row. With three top-fives in the last five races, Marco has turned his season around since his disastrous start to the season in Brazil. I would say that he’s learned some patience, but after hearing Kyle Moyer urging him to save fuel at Indy – and watching him ignore those instructions – I don’t think so. But he has been driving with some new-found confidence and I look for that to continue this weekend. He already has a second and third place finish at Iowa to his credit, so there’s plenty of reason to think he can win it.
It pains my fingers to type that Danica Patrick is capable of winning this race – but she is. If her car is right, she has proven she can move it to the front. Her problem is if the car is slightly off – she doesn’t have the ability to drive it at all. Obviously, her car was right at Texas. I have to hand it to her and say that she drove the race of her life at Texas, her block on teammate Tony Kanaan notwithstanding. If she can carry that momentum into Iowa through this weekend, she could be tough to beat.
But speaking of her teammate – Tony Kanaan is my pick to win on the 7/8 mile oval at Newton. He has not had good luck at Iowa, his best finish was last year when he finished fourteenth. But Kanaan seems driven to get his team and his career back on track. He drove at Indianapolis like a man possessed, only to have to pit a few laps from the finish. He followed that up with a spirited drive at Texas, where he dodged bullets from his competitors all night. He is due to win again – he has been too good for too long to fade away at this point in his career.
I’m looking forward to this weekend. This is not as much of a driver’s track as some of the flatter tracks like Milwaukee or Richmond, but it is still an exciting track. As I’ve been saying prior to every oval this season, I’m anxious to see what effect, if any, the new aero package from late last season will have on the car’s ability to race side-by-side. Will it be like Kansas or Kentucky? In the short history of the track, they’ve experienced cool weather for June as well as blistering heat. If the weather in Newton is anything like Nashville, it will be hot. It should make for a challenging and exciting track. Stay tuned.