Thursday, July 5, 2018

Track Walk: Iowa 2018

IndyCar's first of three July races takes place at Iowa
The 11th round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Iowa Speedway, the shortest track on the schedule. This is the fourth oval race of the season and through three oval races, Scott Dixon has the most oval points with 156 points. He is 19 points clear of Alexander Rossi with Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power having the third most oval points with 131 points. Ed Carpenter makes it four different teams represented in the top four drivers in oval points with the Carpenter on 128 points, one ahead of Simon Pagenaud and three ahead of Josef Newgarden. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the final of seven drivers with triple-digit oval points, as Hunter-Reay has 122 oval points. 

Time: Coverage begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 8th with green flag scheduled for 2:40 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 11:15 a.m. ET (60-minute session)
Qualifying: 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session)
Second Practice: 6:45 p.m. ET (60-minute session)
Race: 2:40 p.m. ET (300 laps)

Can Dixon Pull Away in the Championship?
For the second consecutive year Scott Dixon heads into Iowa as the championship leader but this year the New Zealander has a 45-point advantage, nine points greater than his championship lead at this point last year and he has already won twice in 2018 while he did not win another race in 2017 after Road America.

Dixon has mastered many racetracks IndyCar has gone to but he has not won at Iowa and only one of his last 23 victories have come on a short track. That victory came at Phoenix in 2016. His last short oval victory prior to Phoenix was at Richmond in 2009 and he also won at Milwaukee earlier in that season. Five of Dixon's first 20 IndyCar victories came on short tracks. 

Despite having yet to win at Iowa Speedway, Dixon has had respectable results at the 7/8-mile oval. Dixon has won three pole positions at Iowa and his best finish at the track is third, which he has achieved twice. In 2011, he finished third after starting 23rd and he went from tenth on the grid to finish third in 2016. In 11 Iowa starts, Dixon has six top five finishes and nine top ten finishes, both the most all-time at the track in IndyCar competition. 

While Dixon tops the charts in a few categories at Iowa, he trails in a few others. He has only led 126 laps, still good for sixth all-time at Iowa but he has never led the most laps in an Iowa race, only led more than 50 laps in one Iowa race when he led 76 laps in 2012 and the most laps he led in his three starts from pole position was 17 in 2014.

One other thing against Dixon heading to Iowa is that only once has the championship leader entering Iowa gone on to win the Iowa race and that was Dario Franchitti in the inaugural race at the track in 2007. Chip Ganassi Racing's two Iowa victories came in 2008 and 2009 with Dan Wheldon and Franchitti. Last year was only the fourth time Chip Ganassi Racing did not have a car finish in the top five at Iowa and it ended streak of three consecutive Iowa races with at least one Ganassi car on the podium.

Can Andretti Autosport Take Back Its House?
The most successful team at Iowa Speedway is Andretti Autosport with seven victories from 11 races and with five different drivers taking victory for the team at the 7/8-mile oval. However, the last two years have seen two different teams on the top step of the podium. 

The 2016 race was a disaster for Andretti Autoport with the best starting position for the team being 15th. None of the team's four cars finished on the lead lap and Alexander Rossi's sixth place finish was not enough to cover over how far off the team was in that race. Last year, Andretti Autosport had Takuma Sato start in the top five but three cars start outside the top ten. Ryan Hunter-Reay found something in the race and improved from his 15th place starting position to third, the best Honda in the field but the other three cars were not close to the pace of the #28 Honda. 

Hunter-Reay has three victories at Iowa, the most IndyCar victories at the track. He has five podium finishes in the last six Iowa races with an engine failure in 2016 being the only blemish for the Texas-born driver at this track in the DW12-era. He also had three eighth-place finishes at the track from 2008 to 2011. While Hunter-Reay has the most silverware from Iowa, he has only led in the three races he has been victorious in and his laps led in each victory were 15, two and 37. Hunter-Reay has never started in the top five at Iowa with his best starting position being seventh and he has started outside the top ten in seven of ten Iowa starts. 

Alexander Rossi is tied with Hunter-Reay for second in the championship, each driver trailing Dixon by 45 points. Hunter-Reay holds the tiebreaker with both drivers tied on one victory but Hunter-Reay has three runner-up finishes while Rossi has finished third in three races. Rossi has finished a lap down in each of his two Iowa starts but he had an impressive drive from 17th to sixth in 2016 when ovals were still relatively new to him and he led four laps. Last year, Rossi started 12th and finished 11th as he could not quite crack the top ten. 

Marco Andretti's most recent IndyCar victory came at Iowa in 2011. While Andretti has been competitive at Iowa the aero kit epoch was not kind to him. While he started eighth and finished seventh in 2015, Andretti's worst two starting positions at this track have come in the last two years and he has finished outside the top ten in three of the last four Iowa races. The seven laps Andretti led last year came during a pit cycle. Those were Andretti's first laps led at the track since 2012.

Zach Veach will make his first IndyCar start at Iowa. The Ohioan made four starts at Iowa between the Road to Indy series. His first start at the track came in U.S. F2000 in 2010, a race where he finished fifth and then Andretti Autosport teammate Sage Karam took victory. He finished sixth in the 2012 Star Mazda race at Iowa with his first Indy Lights start at the track coming in 2013 but he finished a lap down in seventh. He finished second in the 2016 Indy Lights race where he led 19 laps and lost the lead after getting caught in lapped traffic. 

Veach enters Iowa on a bit of slump. He has not finished in the top ten in the last seven races and he has been the worst Andretti Autosport finisher in each race, including the Indianapolis 500 where the team started six cars. Veach has started outside the top twenty in all three of his oval starts in his IndyCar career. Veach did pick up fastest lap at Road America.

Andretti Autosport swept the top four positions at an unofficial test at Iowa Speedway held the Wednesday after the Road America race. Hunter-Reay was the fastest at 17.72 seconds with Rossi, Andretti and Veach in tow and 0.08 seconds covering the top four.

Can Ed Carpenter Racing Find Some Magic?
The little team that could has not won since the 2016 Iowa race and last year Ed Carpenter Racing had a great chance at victory lost when J.R. Hildebrand got caught in lapped traffic. Ed Carpenter Racing has been through a difficult spell to start the 2018 season but the last few weeks have seen things start to go in the little team's favor.

Spencer Pigot has finished in the top ten in two of the last four races with an 11th at Texas. He finished eighth at Road America after starting tenth and Pigot will be making his first IndyCar start at Iowa. Pigot has only made one start at Iowa in his Road to Indy days. That came in Indy Lights in 2015 where Pigot finished eighth, one lap down, after starting ninth. He is still looking for his first top ten finish on an oval. 

Ed Carpenter has scored 128 points in his three starts this season and he trails Max Chilton by six points in the championship. Carpenter finished seventh at Phoenix and was runner-up in the Indianapolis 500 after leading 65 laps, the most in the race, from pole position. It is the first time Carpenter has had two top ten finishes in his first three starts in a season since 2008 when he finished fifth at Homestead and finished sixth at Motegi. Carpenter has started in the top ten the last two years at Iowa but his best finish between the two races is 12th. He finished fourth and fifth in 2013 and 2014 respectively and those are his only top ten finishes at the track. The only time Carpenter has led laps at Iowa was in 2013 when he led 18 laps.

Will Team Penske Keep Up Its Oval Dominance?
Team Penske picked up it first Iowa victory last season but the man responsible for that victory, Hélio Castroneves, will not be in Sunday's race. While the team is without Castroneves, Team Penske has won four consecutive short oval races, it has won nine of the last 14 oval races and the team has had a car on the podium in nine consecutive oval races.

Josef Newgarden moved up to fourth in the championship after he scored his third victory of 2018 in dominating fashion at Road America. Newgarden has been one of the top drivers at Iowa in the DW12-era. In six starts he has three top five finishes and four top ten finishes with his last four results being second, second, first and sixth. Newgarden has led a lap the last three years in this race. While the finishes have been strong for Newgarden his starting positions have been suspect. He went from 21st to 2nd in 2014 and he started 16th in last year's race before he wound up in sixth. 

An engine problem at the start of lap one at Road America has kicked Will Power back to fifth in the championship and Power will look to rebound at a track where he has three consecutive top ten finishes. Off the back of three pole positions, Power has an average starting position of 5.3 at the short track, second all-time to only Castroneves. Power's worst starting position at Iowa was 11th in 2008. Iowa is the only active oval where Power has multiple starts at and has not led 100 laps. He led 23 laps last year but it was only the third time he has led an Iowa race. He has led 57 laps in his career at this track.

Simon Pagenaud has completed 1,699 of 1,700 laps in his six Iowa starts and he has four top ten finishes including with two coming in the last two years. Pagenaud led 11 laps from pole position in 2016 and two laps last year but those are the only laps he has led at this track. He finished seventh last year in this race and he is coming off a seventh place finish at Road America with the Frenchman still on one top five finish this season.

The lack of top five finishes has been a story for Team Penske this season.

Through the first ten races in 2017, Team Penske had multiple top five finishers in seven races with multiple podium finishers in five of those races. This year Team Penske has yet to have multiple cars in the top five and the only time the team has had at least three top ten finishers were the two Indianapolis races where four cars were entered in each race. Since joining the IRL in 2002, the prior longest streak without multiple top five finishers from the start of a season was 2008 when the team didn't have a double top five performance until the team's sixth race at Milwaukee. The team did not have a double top five performance until the 13th race of the 2000 CART season when Castroneves and Gil de Ferran finished 1-2 at Mid-Ohio.

While Andretti Autosport swept the top four at the Iowa test, Team Penske had the fifth, sixth and seventh fastest times in that session and all three were within two-tenths of a second of Hunter-Reay.

Indy Lights
Indy Lights is back for its tenth of 17 races this season and regardless of the winner this weekend we will have a new team in victory lane at Iowa. Carlin had won three consecutive years at Iowa but that team is no longer on the grid. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports won five times in Indy Lights at Iowa but has not fielded cars the last two years. Panther Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport have also won in Indy Lights at Iowa but neither are field cars today. 

With seven consecutive podium finishes and eighth podium finishes from nine races, Colton Herta leads the championship with 245 points and he is 17 points clear of his Andretti Autosport teammate Patricio O'Ward. Herta started on pole position for last year's Iowa race before finishing fourth. O'Ward's only Iowa start came in Pro Mazda in 2015 where he finished third behind an Andretti Autosport 1-2 of Weiron Tan and Dalton Kellett.

Belardi Auto Racing's Santiago Urrutia has dropped to 44 points behind Herta as the Uruguayan has not stood on the podium in his last four races. Victor Franzoni picked up his first career Indy Lights victory in the most recent race at Road America. The Juncos Racing driver has 193 points. Aaron Telitz and Ryan Norman are tied on 160 points with Dalton Kellett on 151 points. 

The 100-lap Indy Lights race is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. ET on Sunday July 8th.

Fast Facts
This will be the seventh IndyCar race to take place on July 8th and first since 2012 when Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Toronto. 

This year's Iowa race takes place on Dale Coyne's 64th birthday. Dale Coyne Racing has had a car entered in three of the seven races to take place on his birthday. The best finish for a Dale Coyne-owned car on his birthday is fifth by Bruno Junqueira at Toronto in 2007.

Dale Coyne Racing has only one top ten finish at Iowa and that came in 2012 when Justin Wilson finished 12th. 

Sébastien Bourdais has finished ninth and eighth in his last two Iowa starts. Zachary Claman De Melo finished eighth and sixth in his two Indy Lights starts at Iowa. 

Josef Newgarden is the only driver to win at Iowa in IndyCar and Indy Lights. Max Chilton and Matheus Leist are the only other drivers entered in this year's IndyCar race with Iowa Indy Lights victories. 

Newgarden along with Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe could join Dario Franchitti as the only drivers to win at Iowa with two different teams.

Despite having to failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, James Hinchcliffe's 61 oval points is more than nine drivers who have started all three oval races this season.

Of the 20 drivers to have started all three oval races, Tony Kanaan has the third fewest oval points with 44 ahead of only Ed Jones and Zach Veach.

Graham Rahal has completed 2,690 of 2,700 laps in ten Iowa starts with seven top ten finishes. He has an average finish of 9.1 and he has led 19 laps at Iowa.

Takuma Sato has never finished in the top ten at Iowa and he has finished outside the top fifteen in six of eight starts.

A rookie has finished on the podium at Iowa twice. Hideki Mutoh finished second to Dan Wheldon in 2008 and Sage Karam finished third in 2015. 

Robert Wickens was the first rookie to finish on the podium in the history of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and he was the first rookie to finish on the podium at Phoenix since Jim Guthrie won there in 1997.

Ed Jones has four consecutive top ten finishes. 

Charlie Kimball led 10 laps in last year's race after leading only seven laps in his prior six Iowa starts. His best Iowa finish is tenth. 

Gabby Chaves has finished 16th and 17th in his two Iowa starts.

No driver has scored their first career victory at Iowa.

American drivers have combined for seven pole positions through the first ten races. This is the most pole positions for American drivers through ten races since the 2001 IRL season when American drivers won all 13 pole positions that season.

American drivers had combined for seven pole positions from 2014-2017.

An American driver has never started on pole position at Iowa. 

The average starting position for an Iowa winner is 7.181 with a median of fourth. 

The average number of lead changes in an Iowa race is 10.727 with a median of ten. 

The average number of cautions in an Iowa race is five with a median of five. The average number of caution laps is 55.727 with a median of 57.

Possible Milestones:
Sébastien Bourdais is one top five finish away from 75 career top five finishes.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead eight laps to surpass Tomas Scheckter for 30th all-time in laps led.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead nine laps to reach the 1,300 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 65 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 89 laps to reach the 800 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 25 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 38 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

I want Marco Andretti to win because that would be the story of the weekend and he will not start in the top five. At least seven cars finish on the lead lap. Scott Dixon loses points but still leads the championship by at least 30 points. Will Power finishes in the top ten but is not the best finishing Penske driver. Max Chilton improves his average finish, as does Gabby Chaves. Ed Jones neither qualifies nor finishes in the top ten. Matheus Leist does not finish on the lead lap. At least three drivers lead a lap but finish at least one lap down. Sleeper: Zach Veach.