This weekend marks the seventh time that the IndyCar Series has visited Iowa Speedway. At the risk of sounding repetitive over the past few weeks, it is also one of my favorite tracks on the schedule. We are in the main oval portion of the 2013 slate of events and the series has visited my four favorite tracks in the past five weekends. Indianapolis, Texas, Milwaukee and Iowa are four distinct different tracks, demanding different techniques from the drivers. I really wish these four tracks were a little more spread out, just to give us something to look forward to throughout the summer.
With Richmond off of the schedule, the 0.875 mile oval track in Newton, Iowa is now the shortest track on the IndyCar schedule. As they said on Trackside the other night, it races more like a big track. On television, Iowa Speedway looks much bigger than it is.
This will also sound familiar, as I’ve said this for the last couple of weeks, but this is a track that is on my short list to visit soon. Milwaukee may be the only track ranked above Iowa on tracks that I’ve never been to. The race comes off as a big event on television, but I don’t think that’s a mirage. I think it really is a big event.
I was lucky growing up that my father put a large premium on exposing us to travel. Consequently, I have been in forty-seven of the contiguous forty-eight United States. What is the one state I’ve never set foot in besides Alaska and Hawaii? You guessed it – Iowa. That’s another reason why I want to go. Besides the Iowa Corn 250, our friend Pressdog and the desire to cross Iowa off of my list – I’m not sure there is anything that will take me to The Hawkeye State anytime soon.
But not only does this look like a fun event, it is usually a very good race. The first year that the series ran there was in 2007, and that was not the greatest race. Since then, the racing has gotten better and better. The last few races were run at night. This year’s race will be run on Sunday afternoon. I’m not sure I know why exactly this will be a daytime race. Perhaps it’s due to the qualifying heat races that are unique to this event – but I believe those were done last year. More than likely, it’s this way because that’s the way ABC/ESPN wanted it done. I am also a little perplexed that these qualifying heat races are not being televised. I know ABC does not do qualifying shows like NBCSN does, but this is a unique situation. Instead, we that want to watch it must do so online at IndyCar.com.
Like the race in Milwaukee – Michael Andretti’s team seems to dominate at Iowa. That’s putting it mildly, since Andretti Green/Andretti Autosport has won four of the six IndyCar races that have been run at Iowa Speedway. Ryan Hunter-Reay won the second of three races in a row at Iowa last year for Andretti Autosport. The 2011 winner, Marco Andretti, was last year’s runner-up. Tony Kanaan finished third last season. Kanaan won the 2010 race at Iowa while driving for – Michael Andretti. Dario Franchitti won the very first IndyCar race at Iowa in 2007, also while driving for Michael Andretti. The only other team to win in the short history of this track is Chip Ganassi Racing, when Dan Wheldon won in 2008 and Franchitti won in 2009.
The most consistent team this season has been Andretti Autosport. They have been the best prepared team at practically every track this season. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the defending series champion and currently sits second in this year’s championship, but he has every bit the look of the hunter instead of the hunted. He appears hungry for more and has been very consistent all season. Helio Castroneves still holds a sixteen point lead, but you get the feeling that it is rather tenuous. With the slate of tracks coming up – if I had to lay money on who would win this year’s championship at this point – my money would be on Ryan Hunter-Reay to win his second in a row. But there is a lot of racing to go – ten more races to be exact. A lot can happen.
But in the meantime, they must race each track as they come – and the next one on the schedule is at Iowa Speedway. While my money is currently on Hunter-Reay to win the championship, he won’t get the mid-summer trifecta he got last year. He will probably finish in the Top-Five at Iowa, but he won’t win. That honor will go to another Andretti Autosport car – the RC Cola car, to be exact. Marco Andretti will finally validate those that have been noticing his newfound maturity, and win the race on Sunday – further tightening an already close championship battle.
On Sunday, the drivers and teams will have completed their fifth race over four weekends. Next weekend, they all get a well-deserved break – but it won’t last long. The second leg of the triple crown awaits the teams in two weeks, when the series finally returns to Pocono, after more than a two-decade absence. This promises to be a very interesting summer.