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!