Sunday, July 10, 2016

First Impressions: Iowa 2016

1. Talk about a beat down. Josef Newgarden dominated. I believe he led 292 laps of a possible 300 (He actually led 282 laps, still impressive nonetheless). He couldn't be caught. On restarts, no one could even get side-by-side with him. I was thinking after Indianapolis that he was going to win at Iowa because he has been one of the best drivers on short ovals since 2014 and could have won at Milwaukee and Iowa last year. After his accident, I thought he was going to miss Road America and because of the consistent G-loads at Iowa would miss Iowa and potentially miss Toronto because of how rough street circuits are on drivers' wrists. I thought his championship was over. Now, I think he is a contender. Sure, he is going to be able to restart Texas and that will cost him dearly but he knows there are five other races for him to capitalize on. The series heads to Toronto next week. He looked good a Pocono last year. If he wins two or three more races and doesn't have another retirement, Texas might not matter. He could be going toe-to-toe with Simon Pagenaud at Sonoma.

2. Will Power finished second and this is Team Penske's third podium ever at Iowa. He improved as the race went on and passed Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon late to get to second. He hasn't had great runs at Toronto lately and he will need at least another podium for him to be a serious contender to Pagenaud.

3. Scott Dixon kept his nose clean and finished third. I thought he would have given Newgarden more of a challenge on the final restart. He lost some valuable points by slipping to third but he gained, albeit a minuscule amount, on Pagenaud.

4. Simon Pagenaud finished fourth and though he lost a little ground, he is still in control of this championship. The one race Power and Dixon are up front, Pagenaud doesn't falter. Penske teams have made it a habit to cough up championships. With six races to go, can Pagenaud prevent what was cost Power multiple titles, Hélio Castroneves multiple title and what cost Juan Pablo Montoya a title last year?

5. Mikhail Aleshin was the fastest Honda in qualifying and was the top Honda finisher in fifth. He deserved this fifth place finish. He kept his nose clean and he didn't get swallowed up by the big boys. The problem for Aleshin is he only has these races once in every six. He's good but not consistent enough to be a threat.

6. Andretti Autosport had a crappy weekend. Ryan Hunter-Reay had an engine fail in the race. Carlos Muñoz and Marco Andretti were stuck in the mud and could only finish 12th and 14th but Alexander Rossi clawed his way to sixth. He benefitted from a long first stint and having the cautions fall the right way but some races you need to make your own luck. Rossi did just that.

7. Tony Kanaan was seventh. This is the first time he has finished in the top ten at Iowa but not on the podium. He seemed to have a slight mechanical hiccup that dropped him out of the top five. He also got caught out by the final caution.

8. Sébastien Bourdais, like Rossi, worked strategy into his favor and just when it appeared he was going to be waved onto the lead lap and might have a run at the top five, he stalls on his pit stop and ends up a lap down. Eighth is still a great day for the Frenchman.

9. James Hinchcliffe has started 22nd three time this season and Iowa was the third time. He finished ninth today. If he could have qualified better, he could have at least challenged for a top five with his teammate.

10. Charlie Kimball finished tenth in a race where he didn't do much. He slipped back from the start and fell into a groove. Kimball has been consistent all year between eighth and 12th.

11. Takuma Sato finished 11th, a career best for him at Iowa. That is all.

12. Rest of the field: You know about Muñoz. Hélio Castroneves was caught out by a caution and he went from a top five to 13th two laps down. You know about Andretti. Jack Hawksworth finished 15th, which is all you can ask for him right now. Graham Rahal could have had a top ten but like Castroneves was caught out by a caution. Gabby Chaves had a glorified test session and finish seven laps down. Ed Carpenter had a gearbox issue ruin another race. Max Chilton spun and he has finished 21st, 22nd, 20th and 19th in his last four races. Juan Pablo Montoya had a mechanical issue end his race while he was in the top five. Conor Daly retired with handling issues. You know about Hunter-Reay.

13. Iowa used the Phoenix aero package and I think it is safe to say that aero package should never be used again and I bet the Honda teams feel the same way. No Honda had a chance in this race. There was more passing at Iowa then there was at Phoenix but I think we should do what Will Power called for at Phoenix: road course levels of horse power and much less downforce. Let's just try it. IndyCar has very little to lose.

14. If we are going to blow sunshine up Road America's butt when it has a great crowd, we have to put Iowa's nose in the shit when its crowd is poor. To be fair, the Iowa crowd wasn't that bad but it isn't what it was five years ago. The track wanted a late-Sunday afternoon race. It got it, it is likely going to get it next year after IndyCar and the track announced a two-year deal and a race for Sunday July 9, 2017 but something needs to be done. I have always thought Iowa has oversaturated its market with two NASCAR weekends and an IndyCar race and its worse now since all three weekends are within eight weeks. Even look at crowd for the NASCAR race there last month. It wasn't as good as it once was at Iowa. The late start benefitted IndyCar this year as rain hit the track at 10:00 a.m. and it took until almost 2:00 p.m. to dry. I think many liked when Iowa was a Saturday night race. It made sense to have a short track race on a Saturday night and the best Iowa crowds appeared to be when it was a night race but if the track wants this time slot then IndyCar and NBCSN shouldn't get any flack if the track struggles to get the gate revenue it wants. I don't want to see Iowa vanish from the IndyCar schedule but the track is making me nervous.

15. On to Toronto. I like having back-to-back weeks of races. I think it is a great way for the series to built momentum. You shouldn't be like NASCAR with 15 consecutive weeks of races but if IndyCar did back-to-back and three in four weeks, that is a good pace. It is tough on the teams, especially with the increase in testing during the season but hopefully the series can consolidate test days and lift that burden off the teams. Anyway, get your passports ready boys and girls.