Iowa Preview

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For the second time in less than a week, the Verizon IndyCar Series is going short-tracking this weekend. For me, the Iowa Corn Indy 300 at Iowa Speedway is one of those races I have on my short list to go to. I say that practically every year, but somehow we never make it out there. Our in-person racing season was grouped tightly together this year. NOLA, Barber and four straight weekends at Indianapolis over a seven week span took its toll on our aged bodies and our budget, which was already too small to begin with. I’ll say what I do every year at this time – maybe next year.

The reasons Iowa is on my short list are simple – the racing is very good and I hear there is a great racing atmosphere there. Out of the eight races that have been run there since the inaugural race in 2007, I don’t remember too many clunkers there.

Last year’s race was certainly no clunker – at least the end of it. Tony Kanaan absolutely dominated the race, yet lost. With a late caution and Kanaan leading, many cars trailing him opted to pit for new tires. When the green flag came out for a short sprint to the finish, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden eventually blew by Kanaan who was trying to hang on with his older tires. Kanaan was lucky to finish third behind Hunter-Reay and Newgarden respectively.

This race has been run on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. I much prefer the nights. The last time it was run in the daytime was 2013 as a 250-mile race. That was also the same year they qualified with a series of heat races the night before. It sounded like a good idea in theory, but the potential to tear up equipment was too great and the one-year experiment was abandoned after that.

All of the old clichés come out for short-track racing – flying a jet inside a hanger and racing a car inside a soup bowl are just a couple I’ve heard this week. But as Curt Cavin correctly pointed out on Trackside the other night; this is not a typical bullring. This is a short track that races like a superspeedway. Perhaps the 14° banking is the reason, but whatever the case – the Indy cars put on a great show there.

It will be very interesting to see if Andretti Autosport can extend their current streak of wins at Iowa. Michael Andretti’s team has won every race at Iowa since Tony Kanaan won there for him in 2010. That started a string that saw Marco Andretti win there in 2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012, James Hinchcliffe in 2013 and then Hunter-Reay again last year.

Six in a row is a tall order for any team, but even more so when that team is struggling. Marco and Carlos Muñoz have had decent runs on certain tracks this year, but Hunter-Reay has had a nightmare of a season so far. Having won two of the past three races at Iowa, one would think this is his last real shot at a win. An Andretti car may win tomorrow night, but I don’t think it will be Hunter-Reay. I think the 2012 IndyCar champion and the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner is ready to get this season over with as quickly as possible and regroup for 2016. Now that Justin Wilson has rejoined the team, perhaps he can help sort out the Honda aero kit that the Andretti Autosport team has had so much trouble figuring out.

Curiously enough, Team Penske has never won at Iowa. Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing are the only two teams to score wins at the seven-eighths mile track at Newton, Iowa. Andretti has won six altogether and Ganassi twice.

I’m thinking that this year, there could possibly be a new winner and a new team in victory lane tomorrow night. Sébastien Bourdais could win two in a row, after his stunning win at Milwaukee last week. Of course, we found out this past Wednesday that the car of Bourdais was found to be underweight and KVSH Racing was fined $5,000. They may not have quite the advantage over everyone as they did Sunday at The Mile.

Josef Newgarden placed his CFH Racing Chevy on the pole at Milwaukee and had one of the fastest cars there. I doubt he needs anymore motivation, but his second-half fade and fifth-place finish on Sunday seemed to leave a bad taste in his mouth. Then there is Helio Castroneves who is probably still smarting from missing out on qualifying last weekend and starting at the rear of the field – still finishing second.

And if we are talking about drivers seeking redemption, don’t forget how Tony Kanaan let last year’s race at Iowa slip through his fingers – but he and Ganassi are both former winners at Iowa, so does that knock them out of consideration for the win tomorrow night? Not one bit, and that’s why I’m picking Tony Kanaan to pick up his first win of the season tomorrow night. Book it!

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “Iowa Preview”

  1. I am hoping for no thunderstorms, a good turnout this weekend for Iowa and cheers to the fans that have supported this event so well. I have always wanted to get to an IndyCar race there. I have heard of its uniqueness sitting in the middle of a corn field, drivers always turning and the varying degrees of banking. These short tracks offer entertaining shows, this one patterned after Richmond is engineered with character and offers rare dull moments. I am willing to bet it is almost impossible to keep track of everything that goes on around this track at any given moment. What stands out to me to me about Iowa is how it has become a mainstay on the schedule in such a relatively short period of time . It was only built in 2006. It is not a
    “cookie cutter” track which is why it has avoided the guillotine (sp?) and succeeded. Does anyone have a theory of why a relatively new venue like Iowa, juxtaposed with a historic track like Milwaukee (on bookended weekends this year) have such different attendance scenarios?

    • sejarzo Says:

      As you note, Iowa is a relatively new venue, and it’s in an area/state with relatively few alternative pro sporting events. It draws around 30k in a metro area of about 725k, or roughly 4% of the population (which would be like 360k attending an event in Chicago.) The racing is always good and (I assume) appeals to the typical Iowa racing fans who grow up on short dirt oval action.

      The Iowa corn folks seem to provide a lot of tickets to locals, as does Firestone (whose largest ag tire plant is in Des Moines.) Several groups in red Firestone hats asked me questions in 2013, and all of them said they’d been “pretty much just NASCAR” fans but they worked at the plant and took the free tickets to check it out.

      While at first glance the track appears to be remote, it’s an easy if boring drive from Midwest metros. It’s just over 2 hrs from Omaha or the Quad Cities, 3.5 hrs from KC, and a little over 4 hrs from the Twin Cities or Chicago.

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    You got your John Deeres, you got your pork chops on a stick, you got your farmer tans, you got your BillyBob Zahren and his clown car, you got your Curt Cavin eating his favorite food at “Iowa’s Best Burger Cafe, you got your 515 Brewing Company where exceptional folk drink exceptional beer, you got your bright zoomy cars under the lights………………..What’s not to like??!! Pile the wife and kids and gramma in the van and head over to beautiful downtown Newton.

    If you watch closely and truly believe, you may see long gone racing legends coming out of the corn.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    Been There ……………… Done That ………….

    Fan Friendly………….. One Thousand Percent ! ! !

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Iowa is probably at the top of my list of tracks I want to visit for an Indycar race in the near future. Great racing, great fans, great track, if I lived anywhere near it I would probably have season tickets. This weekend’s quadruple-header of Indycar-Lights-Pro Mazda-ARCA is a great value for a lot of good racing.

    They actually used heat races to set the starting grid in both 2012 and 2013. While I understand they were not a favorite of the teams and getting them on television could be a challenege, I really enjoyed the heat races and was sorry to see them discontinued. I especially liked the 2013 format, where points were awarded to the top 12 finishers and the winners of the first two heats transferred into the “main” heat to compete for pole. Or maybe I just liked them because Graham Rahal won his first heat each year. I think heat races are still an excellent idea if there is a lot of time to fill on a race weekend. Iowa, however, does not have that problem this year.

  5. iowa is such a good venue. How many tracks are out there of a similar size and shape–Nascar owned or not? We hear a lot about Phoenix and Michigan and Kentucky and Road America and Cleveland, but I’d like to see more of these small ovals in Indycar’s future. Are there any other “Iowa’s?”

    I’m picking Helio this week. Not because I want him to win, but I think he’s due. Hoping to see a Newgarten/Rahal photo finish.

    • Iowa is unique for professional level ovals. Richmond is similar but has less banking. The canceled plans for an ISC track in the Pacific Northwest and Stanton Island both were Iowa esque. 1.5 mile tracks were built during the late 90’s/early 00’s but by 2007 people started to plan for new tracks on the Iowa model. Sadly the recession killed those plans. Canada is allegedly getting an Iowa style oval and IF ISC/SMI ever build another oval it will almost certainly be a banked 0.75 mile track in the shape of Iowa. It’s a great track that is able to produce GREAT racing in both open wheel and stock cars. 1.5 mile tracks produce GREAT open wheel but bad NASCAR. Flat short tracks produce better stock car racing than open wheel. Iowa combines the best of both worlds and it’s slow enough that there shouldn’t be cries of PACK RACING.

  6. Ryan Johnson Says:

    Well George, it was on my bucket list too and for the first time I’m reading one of your previews while on location! Just waiting for the yellow for track inspection to be over and then more IndyCar practice… It’s a great venue and real exciting in person.

  7. I think Newgarden and Rahal are two drivers to watch. They’re both doing well and Iowa is similar enough to tracks they’ve been competitive at that they should be strong. Realistically this is Ed’s last shot at a great race. He’s not very good at Pocono. Newgarden was either very strong or finished well at Iowa, Mid Ohio, Sonoma, and Pocono last year so the expectation would be that he should win at least one more race. Rahal is the dark horse in the championship. His road to the title likely means a lot of podiums and wins. A win at Iowa if JPM crashes would be a big day for Rahal.

  8. Would Chip or Roger pay $5k to win a race? Two straight races cheating paid off for the winner. The IndyCar rule book might as well be set on fire. This season has taken a turn for the worse when it comes to credibility.

  9. There is a driver who’s car is in gear with the fuel probe inserted on every stop to bypass the safety interlock. He won a race after throwing a fuel probe on the track.

    There’s a driver who’s car was under weight in post race tech who won a race.

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