The Verizon IndyCar Series heads back to Iowa Speedway this weekend for what has become one of my favorite races. It seems I have recently claimed a lot of tracks that I have on my list to go to, but there really aren’t that many. Pocono, Road America, Mid-Ohio and Milwaukee are all on the list for various reasons. So is Iowa.
Being an old-school racing fan (translation: old), I like the short tracks. I still consider Iowa to be brand-new, even though it opened back in 2006 – but it seems to have an old-school feel to it. At 7/8-mile, it is the shortest track on the schedule. It fits the description of a term we seldom hear associated with IndyCar racing these days – bullring. It seems as soon as a car crosses the start-finish line, it’s coming right back around again.
A lot of people compare it to Richmond. It also reminds me a lot of the now-defunct Nazareth Speedway. At 14°, the banking is about the same as Richmond and a lot more than Nazareth – but there is something about Iowa that brings back those old races at Nazareth.
The Verizon IndyCar Series first raced here in 2007, with Dario Franchitti winning the inaugural event for what was then known as Andretti-Green. Dan Wheldon and Franchitti won the next two years, both driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Since then, it has been the playground for Andretti Autosport – with a different driver winning each year for Michael Andretti’s team. Since 2010, the winners have been Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe. Needless to say, Andretti Autosport knows a thing or two about how to set up a car for Iowa Speedway.
Dario Franchitti is the only multiple winner at Iowa, and he accomplished that with two different teams. He also did that when the race was 250 laps. This year, they have added an additional fifty laps. That should make better viewing for fans at home and in the stands. It will also add a little intrigue to the teams trying to make their fuel calculations.
Although I enjoyed last week’s strategy-filled race at Pocono, I’m hopeful that Saturday night’s race will be more about racing and handling instead of fuel-strategy. That’s what short track racing is all about.
One team that will probably be glad to get away from a fuel-mileage race is the No.10 team of Tony Kanaan. Last week, Kanaan drove his car to the front and kept it there all day before his team undercut him with a botched fuel strategy. I’m sure Kanaan is anxious to get back out on the track and purge those memories of the closing laps at Pocono.
I’m glad to see that rookie Jack Hawksworth was cleared to drive this weekend. After suffering a myocardial contusion (bruised heart) in practice last week at Pocono, I would not have blamed Hawksworth one bit if he chose to sit this one out. But you’ve got to admire him for climbing back in the car so soon – less than a week after that hard of a hit. My hat’s off to him.
This is the second of three night races for the Verizon IndyCar Series this season. I wish there were more. With their bright liveries and sleek profiles, these cars really look spectacular under the lights.
Will Power won the pole for last year’s race at Iowa. I have an idea things weren’t too pleasant for Power around the Team Penske camp last week. Power will be looking to make amends for his team, after throwing away another potentially high finish. Power’s team has worked hard for him this year, putting him in position for strong finishes – only to see him squander them with stupid mistakes. One would like to think he will put last week behind him and finish strong – but I don’t see it. For once, I think the public scrutiny may have gotten to Power this week, since he blew up at the announcers in the booth after another dumb mistake. I think, for once, he will play it safe this week and just go for a solid finish and not risk another mistake.
Helio Castroneves seems to do better in the role as the hunter instead of the hunted. I think that now that he is tied with Power for the lead in the championship, he may slip back into conservative mode, even though that did not serve him well last year. I look for Helio to have a solid Top-Ten, but nothing spectacular.
I also think that the Andretti woes will continue this week, even though they are on a track they have practically owned over the years. I think the Schmidt-Peterson team of Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin will both struggle this week, as well. Aleshin has never been on a short oval and Pagenaud admits that this type of track is not his strong suit.
Among the top teams, that leaves Juan Montoya for Team Penske and the cars of Chip Ganassi Racing. I think Montoya will be strong again this week, but not as strong as at Pocono. He has only raced at Iowa once, and that was in an ARCA car. For whatever reason, I have the feeling that this may be the week that Chip Ganassi Racing pulls it together and has a strong showing. Remember, besides Andretti Autosport – they are the only other team to win here, winning in 2008 and 2009.
I get the feeling that Tony Kanaan has been seething all week. He won on this track in 2010 and he is probably going to be on a mission to ease the pain of his team’s backfired fuel strategy. Therefore, Tony Kanaan is my pick to win this weekend in Iowa and finally pick up that elusive first win with his new team.