Thursday, July 6, 2017

Track Walk: Iowa 2017

IndyCar is back on an oval
Iowa Speedway marks the 11th round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and it is the 11th time IndyCar has visited the 7/8-mile oval. Scott Dixon got his first victory of the season two weeks ago at Road America and he extended his championship lead to 34 points over Simon Pagenaud with seven races remaining in the season. Chevrolet has won three of the five Iowa races in the DW12-era and American drivers have won five of the last six Iowa races.

Time: Coverage begins at 5:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 9th. Green flag will be at 5:30 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Kevin Lee is in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the booth with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller are working the pit lane as well as Anders Krohn, who will make his debut as an IndyCar pit reporter.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 11:00 a.m. ET (75-minute session).
Qualifying- 3:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session).
Final Practice- 7:15 p.m. ET (30-minute session).
Race- 5:30 p.m. ET (300 laps)

Penske Waiting for First Iowa Triumph
Through the first ten trips to Iowa for IndyCar, Team Penske has come out on top in none of them and the team hasn't been particularly close on a consistent basis. Last year's runner-up finish for Will Power was only Team Penske's third podium finish in ten Iowa races and the first time a Penske driver stood on an Iowa podium in the DW12-era.

Simon Pagenaud enters Iowa as the top Penske driver in the championship. Last year, Pagenaud picked up a career-best finish at Iowa by coming home fourth after starting on pole position and leading 11 laps. Pagenaud has eight top five finishes from the first ten races and he picked up his first career oval victory at Phoenix in April after leading 114 laps from fifth on the grid. Pagenaud is the only driver to have completed all 1,263 laps contested this season.

Hélio Castroneves is three points behind Pagenaud, third in championship and he is coming off a third-place finish at Road America after starting on pole position for the third time in 2017. Castroneves has seven top ten finishes and he has started on one of the first two rows eight times at Iowa but his only top five finish was a runner-up finish in 2010 and he has finished outside the top ten the last two years. The Brazilian finished fourth after starting on pole position and leading 73 laps at Phoenix and he finished second in the Indianapolis 500. An accident exiting turn two ended his race early at Texas.

Josef Newgarden is the defending Iowa race winner and he has finished on the podium at Iowa the last three years. Newgarden has led 393 of the 600 laps run at Iowa the last two years. The Tennessean has already matched his career-high of four podium finishes in a season through the first ten races of 2017. He has had at least one runner-up finish in the final seven races of the season for the last four seasons. He has yet to finish on the lead lap this year on an oval. He finished two laps down in ninth at Phoenix, 14 laps down at Indianapolis in 19th and he retired at Texas after an accident in turn four.

Power returns to Iowa as the bottom of the Penske quartet in the championship but he is two points behind Newgarden in the championship, sixth overall. Iowa has been a bipolar track for Power. In eight starts, he has four top ten finishes and three finishes outside the top fifteen with two of those finishes being retirements before lap 100. He has started on pole position twice and in the top ten in seven consecutive Iowa starts with his career-worst starting position being 11th but he has only led 34 laps out of 2,150 laps completed and he has only led two laps in the DW12-era at Iowa.

Team Penske's 191 IndyCar victories have come at 50 different race tracks.

Can Ed Carpenter Racing Repeat?
While Penske looks for its first win at Iowa, Ed Carpenter Racing looks to defend its victory at the 7/8-mile oval. This time the team won't have Josef Newgarden behind the wheel to lead 282 of 300 laps from second on the grid. Instead, one driver continues to chase his first career victory while the other hasn't had a top five finish in two and a half years.

J.R. Hildebrand had a stellar performance at Phoenix by breaking up the Penske logjam at the front and finishing third, his first podium finish since his heartbreaking runner-up finish in the 2011 Indianapolis 500. However, Phoenix remains Hildebrand's only top ten finish this season and he has started the last four consecutive races from 18th on the grid. Hildebrand finished fourth at Iowa in 2011 after leading four laps from fourth on the grid and he had his race end after 97 laps because of an accident in 2012.

Ed Carpenter finished seventh at Phoenix but has finished 11th in his other two starts this season. Last year, Iowa was the only race Carpenter was running at the finish of and that was after he lost 16 laps to repair a gearbox issue that took him out of contention for a top five finish. In nine Iowa starts, Carpenter has two top five finishes and six top ten finishes but he has only led 18 laps and those all came in the 2013 race. Six of Carpenter's 13 top ten finishes on short tracks have come at Iowa.

How Can Honda Get Anything Out of Iowa?
The short tracks have been dominated by Chevrolet the last two seasons because of Chevrolet's superior high downforce aero package compared to the Honda entries. Chevrolet has won the last three short track races and has swept the top four in all three races while leading 796 of 800 laps contested.

Andretti Autosport had won six consecutive Iowa races and seven of the first nine races before last year. Alexander Rossi was the one bright spot for the team last year, as he led four laps during a pit cycle and he was able to get a sixth-place finish out of 17th on the grid. Ryan Hunter-Reay has three Iowa victories, the most all-time but he has failed to score a top ten finish in the last five races and his best oval result this season was 13th at Phoenix. He has not been running at the finish of any oval race this year. Iowa is the site of Marco Andretti's most recent IndyCar victory, which came just over six years ago. He has two top ten finishes from the first three oval races. The one blemish was being caught up in the turn one lap one accident at Phoenix. Takuma Sato has never finished in the top ten at Iowa but he did score his best finish at the track last year by coming home in 11th.

Chip Ganassi Racing is the only team besides Andretti Autosport with multiple Iowa victories but its most recent victory came in 2009. Dixon leads the championship and Iowa is another track where victory has found a way to elude him. The New Zealander has six top five finishes, eight top ten finishes in ten starts and three pole positions at the track but his best finish is third. Tony Kanaan won in 2010 at Iowa, which started a streak of five consecutive podium finishes at the track. He finished seventh last year. Max Chilton started fourth last year but he had a spin exiting turn two and he finished 19th. Charlie Kimball matched his career-best Iowa finish last year with a tenth-place finish.

Graham Rahal finds himself seventh in the championship and he has four consecutive top ten finishes. Iowa has been a track where Rahal has not qualified well, he has only started in the top ten twice at the track, but he has six top ten finishes from nine starts including four top ten finishes in the DW12-era. Last year's 16th-place finish was his worst result at the track but he has never retired from an Iowa race.

James Hinchcliffe won the 2013 Iowa race and outside of a 17th-place result because of an accident in 2012, the Canadian has four top ten finishes in five Iowa starts. Hinchcliffe hasn't led at Iowa since leading 226 of 250 laps in that 2013 race. Should he take the green flag, this will be the 100th start of Hinchcliffe's IndyCar career. Mikhail Aleshin was the top Honda finisher last year with a fifth-place finish. Aleshin was the only Honda to start in the top ten last year, he started ninth.

Ed Jones rounds out the top ten in the championship and the Emirati driver has had a fair amount of success at Iowa. He finished second and third there in Indy Lights, having led 69 of 200 laps and he won pole position for last year's race. Esteban Gutiérrez will make his oval debut this weekend. He tested at Iowa after the Road America race to be clear for this weekend.

Road to Indy
Indy Lights and U.S. F2000 join IndyCar at Iowa Speedway this weekend.

Kyle Kaiser nearly doubled his championship lead after a third-place finish and second-place finish at Road America. The Juncos Racing driver has 199 points and he holds a 27-point lead over Carlin's Matheus Leist. Kaiser has finished fourth and sixth the last two years at Iowa. Leist won the Freedom 100, his first career oval race in May. Kaiser has four podium finishes in the last five races and Leist has five consecutive top five finishes.

Colton Herta got off the snide in race two at Road America with a third-place finish. While having four podium finishes, Herta has finished tenth or worse in the other five races. He trails Kaiser by 38 points in the championship. Herta's Andretti Autosport teammate Nico Jamin is ten points behind him in fourth. Jamin has only one top five finish since his victory on the IMS road course.

Belardi's Aaron Telitz and Carlin's Neil Alberico are tied on 149 points. Telitz and Alberico each won at Indianapolis Raceway Park in U.S. F2000. This is Telitz's first appearance at Iowa. Zachary Claman DeMelo is coming off his first career Indy Lights victory and he is four points behind Telitz and Alberico. Santiago Urrutia finds himself eighth in the championship on 140 points.

Shelby Blackstock and Ryan Norman round out the top ten on 118 points and 111 points respectively. Dalton Kellett is a point behind Norman. Juan Piedrahita has four consecutive top ten finishes. Nicolas Dapero is still looking for his first career top five finish. Garth Rickards has two top ten finishes from nine races.

Chad Boat will make his Indy Lights debut in the #84 Mazda for Belardi Auto Racing. He will also run at Gateway in August. Boat made 17 NASCAR Grand National Series starts from 2014-15 and four Truck series starts in 2015. Boat has made seven starts at Iowa between the NASCAR Grand National Series, Truck series, NASCAR East and West series and ARCA. He finished third in both his ARCA starts at the track.

Carlin is undefeated at Iowa. The team will try to get its third consecutive Iowa victory at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 9th.

U.S. F2000 returns to Iowa for the first time since 2010. Indianapolis Raceway Park had been the only U.S. F2000 oval race since 2012 and the series went to Milwaukee in 2011 as well as IRP.

Oliver Askew's winning streak ended at Road America after Rinus VeeKay swept the weekend but the Cape Motorsports driver continues to lead the championship with 215 points while Pabst Racing's VeeKay sits on 191 points. Team Pelfrey's Kaylen Frederick trails Askew by 71 points while Parker Thompson is a further ten points back. Calvin Ming rounds out the top five in the championship on 112 points. Robert Megennis rounds sits on 102 points with Lucas Kohl on 79 points.

Only 13 cars are entered for Iowa. Alexandre Baron returns to Road to Indy competition for the first time since 2014 when he raced in Indy Lights for Belardi Auto Racing. Baron will race with ArmsUp Motorsports. In 2013, Baron started the final four races of the U.S. F2000 season and won on his debut at Laguna Seca and he won at Houston. He won his final Indy Lights start in 2014 at Toronto. Devin Wojcik will be Baron's teammate. Kory Enders and Moises de la Vara both drive for DEForce Racing. Cape Motorsports' Ricky Donison makes his first oval start. Exclusive Autosport's Dev Grove is still looking for his first career top ten finish.

The U.S.  F2000 race will be at 2:05 p.m. ET on Sunday July 9th.

Fast Facts
This will be the fourth IndyCar race to take place on July 9th and the first since 2006 when A.J. Allmendinger won at Toronto.

The average starting position for an Iowa winner is 3.875 with a median of third.

The pole-sitter has never won at Iowa and a pole-sitter has never stood on the podium at Iowa. Last year, Simon Pagenaud finished fourth after starting on pole position. It was the third time an Iowa pole-sitter had finished fourth. The previous two times Scott Dixon was the pole-sitter and those occurred in 2008 and 2014.

The average number of lead changes is 10.6 with a median of ten

Only once has the final lead change in an Iowa race happened in the final ten laps. Ryan Hunter-Reay took the lead from Tony Kanaan in 2014 with two laps to go.

The average number of cautions is 5.1 with a median of 5.5. The average number of caution laps is 56.9 with a median of 60.

Last year's Iowa race matched the track record for fewest cautions in a race with three.

Last year's Iowa race was the fastest since the race was extended to 300 laps. It had an average speed of 143.330 MPH.

Last year's Iowa race matched the inaugural Iowa race for second-fewest lead lap finishers at the track with five lead lap finishers. The 2009 race had only four cars finish on the lead lap.

Only once has an Iowa race finished under caution. That was the 2012 race.

Josef Newgarden is the only driver to win at Iowa in IndyCar and Indy Lights.

Conor Daly won at Iowa in Star Mazda in 2010.

Carlos Muñoz finished 12th at Iowa in 2014 and 2016 and he finished fifth in 2015.

Seven of ten Iowa races have had at least one podium finisher start outside the top ten. The last two Iowa races have had all podium finishers start inside the top ten.

Only three times has the driver that has led the most laps at Iowa won the race (Dario Franchitti in 2008, James Hinchcliffe in 2013 and Newgarden last year).

The last six Iowa races have had at least one driver lead at least 100 laps. It never occurred in the first four Iowa races.

Three of the last four Iowa races have had a driver lead at least 200 laps. Hinchcliffe led 226 laps on his way to victory in 2013 and Tony Kanaan led 247 laps before finishing third. Newgarden led 282 laps on his way to victory last year.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is one top five finish away from tying Michael Andretti for fifth all-time at 139 top five finishes.

Should he take the green flag this weekend, Dixon will tie Paul Tracy for ninth all-time in starts at 281 starts.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 71 laps to surpass Al Unser for fourth most laps led in IndyCar history.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 153 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 90 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

J.R. Hildebrand keeps Team Penske off the scoreboard at Iowa and makes it back-to-back victories for Ed Carpenter Racing at Iowa. Ed Carpenter gets a top five finish. Chevrolet will sweep the top four for the fourth consecutive short track race but a Honda will finish fifth. An A.J. Foyt Racing car will get a top ten finish. There will not be an accident on the first lap of the race. The car that leads the most laps leads more than 125 laps but fewer than 200 laps. Sleeper: Mikhail Aleshin.