Good morning race fans! It is once again race weekend for the Verizon IndyCar Series with round eleven of the championship visiting Iowa Speedway for Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300. Chip Ganassi veteran Scott Dixon is fresh off his first win of the season at Road America and currently sits at the top of the championship standings. With this morning’s first practice coming to a close, here’s your go-to-guide to get your ready for 300 wild laps in the Midwest.
Iowa Corn 300, Iowa Speedway
Sunday, July 9 at 5:00 PM ET
Qualifications live on NBCSN at 3:00 PM ET on Saturday, July 8
Indy Lights live on NBCSN at 4:00 PM ET on Sunday, July 9
Verizon IndyCar Series Iowa Corn 300 live on NBCSN at 5:00 PM ET on Sunday, July 9
As always, all sessions for the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series will be covered by the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network. Radio broadcasts are streamed live with video on racecontrol.indycar.com for all sessions not covered by NBCSN, which in those scenarios you can find nbcsports.com/live.
Who can knock Josef Newgarden from his Iowa perch?
Slowly building his resume this season and creeping up the leaderboard in the 2017 championship, Josef Newgarden revisits the home of his dominant victory with Ed Carpenter Racing last season. After leading an absurd 282 out of a possible 300 laps, it was Josef’s final parting gift before making the switch to Team Penske in 2017. Newgarden relieved some pressure by winning his first race for The Captain early in the season on April 23 at Barber Motorsports Park and has settled in nicely, now visiting a track where he must be one of the favorites.
As the defending champion of the Iowa Corn 300 and a podium-finisher over the last three races at Iowa Speedway, Josef Newgarden is the man to beat. But make no mistake, he will have some worthy challengers on Sunday evening. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the only driver to win multiple times at the 0.875-mile oval, with victories in 2012, 2014 and 2015. What also bodes well for him is his employer, Andretti Autosport, has been in the winner’s circle seven out of the last ten races at Iowa. Past winners James Hinchcliffe (2013), Marco Andretti (2011) and Tony Kanaan (2010) will certainly be in the mix, and you cannot count out others like Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal.
IndyCar at Iowa kicks off important July stretch for championship
While the Verizon IndyCar Series has made the turn for the back nine in this year’s championship, the most influential stretch of the season is ahead of Scott Dixon and his eager challengers. July is host to three races throughout the month (bested only by June which had two events and a doubleheader in Detroit), and these three races are what make IndyCar the most diverse racing championship on Earth. This weekend we visit Iowa Speedway for 300 intense laps filled with incredible G-forces, side-by-side action and some of the best fans in racing. Next Sunday the series travels to Toronto, Canada for the final street course chapter in the 2017 season, followed by the Honda Indy 200 at the widely-appreciated Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 30.
It is my gut feeling that the points leader following the end of this July stretch will be the winner of this year’s championship. Certainly, things can be shaken up at the season finale in Sonoma with double points on the line, but we are most likely going to have things narrowed down to two or maybe three drivers when the series visits Pocono Raceway on August 20. In it’s current state, the championship still has seven true contenders (from first to seventh): Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenuad, Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Graham Rahal.
Apart from Castroneves and Sato, each of the remaining seven drivers has at least one win at these three July venues and you could expect them to be contenders once again this season. My prediction is that by the end of the month, it is Dixon, Newgarden and Power sitting just a notch above the rest as the championship hits the home stretch.
Esteban Gutierrez makes his oval debut for Dale Coyne Racing
While Sebastian Bourdais remains on the sidelines from his gruesome crash at Indianapolis in May, Dale Coyne Racing received clearance allowing Esteban Gutierrez make his first start on an oval this weekend at Iowa. The primary driver since Bourdais’ injury, Gutierrez was substituted for Tristan Vautier at Texas after the Mexican driver was not cleared for participation by the sanctioning body. Following an impressive drive by Vautier in his fill-in role, there will be some eyes on Gutierrez to perform.
Dale Coyne’s cars have been much more competitive on ovals this season and a testament to that has been Ed Jones’ consistent assault through the field as a rookie. While the results have not always been to their liking, the team out of Plainfield, Illinois has certainly made its presence felt and their continued success makes you wonder where Bourdais would be in the driver’s championship if not for that accident.
Quite the opposite of his former Formula One peers, Gutierrez has been animated and excited to race on an oval. When asked for comments following a recent test he had this to say: “It was really fun to drive on the oval, I think it’s very nice how you can really feel every change, every movement in the car because you are on the limit for so long that you are able to feel everything from the car. It’s given me a lot more knowledge about the Indy car.”
After hearing the garbage comments that have flowed from Lewis Hamilton’s mouth since Fernando Alonso’s attempt at Indy in May, it is refreshing to hear another driver separate from Alonso that has now tested both disciplines and appreciated the difficulty of driving an IndyCar on an oval. It is courageous stuff and something that takes vast amounts of talent, confidence and focus, and that should be respected.
Pick to Click for Iowa
Sure to be a battle to the bitter end, it is always so tough to predict what will happen in an oval IndyCar race. Thus far the season has seen eight different winners over the first ten races, an incredible display of parity and the level of competition we see from the drivers and teams week in and week out.
At the end of this morning’s first practice the Penske boys once again stood at the top of the board with Newgarden, Power and Pagenuad leading the way, followed by Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti. Ryan Hunter-Reay was a disappointing 15th on the time charts, though the three-time Iowa winner can’t be counted out for the race. With that being said, my pick for tomorrow night’s race is…
Will Power. A qualifying master and speed demon on some of the larger ovals, he is really honing his craft on the smaller ovals like Phoenix and Iowa. Yet to win in the Hawkeye State, this seems like the right time for the Australian to make his move in the championship and breakthrough after some tough runs at Iowa.
Who is your pick to win this weekend? Join the conversation and send us your Iowa Corn 300 winner by following and commenting to @Open_Wheels on Twitter.