Monday, July 31, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: When was the Last Great IndyCar Championship Season?

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking…

The inevitable happened in Belgium, and I am not talking about the weather, though rain did muddle up the weekend. It somewhat rained on Formula E’s parade in London, but the locals did not seem to mind. Two men will be heading to Indianapolis with winner’s confidence. A winless drought ended. SRX had another debutant winner, and it was put in a corner over what to do with Paul Tracy. The most financially prudent decision was likely made. Speaking of IndyCar champions, something came to mind thinking about what we have seen so far in 2023.

When was the Last Great IndyCar Championship Season?
During this off weekend for IndyCar, I pondered Álex Palou’s championship lead and the possibility of the IndyCar championship being clinched a race early. Palou has won four times, finished in the top five in ten races and his worst finish is eighth. With five races remaining, Palou could continue to pad those numbers and it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could claim the title with two races to spare.

It would be rather historic if Palou claimed the title early. We haven’t had a championship clinched before the finale since Sébastien Bourdais’ fourth title in 2007. The last season in this series where the title didn’t go until the finale was Dan Wheldon’s championship year in 2005. Palou is on track to do something that is rare in contemporary IndyCar, but this possible accomplishment had me considering Palou’s season in a greater context of IndyCar history and it had me wondering, when was the last great IndyCar championship season?

I am not talking about great championship battles that had our attention to the final lap. Those we are familiar with. From the underrated 2009 season to the breathtaking 2012 title-decider to a six-driver battle in 2015, IndyCar has seen plenty of great battles, but when was the last time we saw a great championship performance where one driver deserved a bow when it was over? When was the last historic season we celebrate for a driver’s brilliance? 

Thinking back to Wheldon’s 2005 championship season, where Wheldon clinched the title with two races remaining, it isn’t considered one of the greatest in IndyCar history. Wheldon did win four of the first five races, including the Indianapolis 500, but it is not revered. Wheldon won two of the final 12 races. He did have nine podium finishes, 12 top five finishes and 15 top ten results, with his two blemishes being retirements at Nashville and Sonoma. Those two results aren’t enough to hamper that season overall. It just doesn’t resonate despite what it means in IndyCar history. 

Wheldon’s 2005 season did occur during the split, as did Bourdais’ championship seasons, the last three of which Bourdais secured a race early. Bourdais had some historic season performances as well. The Frenchman won at least half the races in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He is the most recent driver to reach seven victories and eight victories in a season, and he was on the podium in 78.571% of the races in 2006, but there is a resistance to celebrate what Bourdais accomplished. 

The split does water down some of these accomplishments, but we cannot completely dismiss everything that happened during that time. 

Since reunification, there is really only one season that stands out, and that was the first season. Scott Dixon won six races with 12 podium finishes and 14 top five results in 2008. Only one other time since 2008 has a driver won at least six races (Will Power’s lost title in 2011). It is the only time since reunification a driver stood on the podium in over 60% of the races and Dixon was on the podium 70.588% of the time. Dixon’s 82.352% top five finish percentage remains the best since reunification. 

And even that season from Dixon, one of the greatest IndyCar drivers, is not celebrated!

Could it be because Hélio Castroneves’ consistency kept the title alive into the finale though all Dixon needed was a top ten finish in the Chicagoland finale to ensure the New Zealander the title? Could it be that while reunited the series was still rather fractured as the Champ Car teams were scrambling in late February to secure Dallara chassis and Honda engines with less than a month to the first race and with practically no testing before the Homestead opener? Could it because it was a spec series with one chassis and engine manufacturer available?

The answer is likely all of the above to some extent. 

IndyCar has long celebrated the championship battles and a nearly two-decade streak of the title going to the wire, but in return the series lacks those sensational seasons where a driver leaves everyone in awe. 

Since 2010, only four times has a driver won at least five races in a season, and only one of those four ended in a championship (Simon Pagenaud 2016). We have seen some impressive seasons but records matter. Dominance can be appreciated. Every sport has those memorable years because of an individual’s spectacular ability. 

Aaron Judge’s 62 home runs, Shohei Ohtani’s mere existence, LaDainian Tomlinson’s 28 rushing touchdowns, Russell Westbrook’s triple-double average, Connor McDavid’s 153 points, Erling Haaland’s 36 goals. Individual greatness gets recognized and people recount stories from those seasons for years to come. 

Those type of seasons are lacking in IndyCar. We still have drivers perform at an admirable level, but what carries more historic weight is a season where a driver is practically flawless and driving at a level we have rarely seen before. When was the last time we saw that in IndyCar?

I would argue the last one was Tony Kanaan’s 2004 season. Kanaan didn’t win abundantly, he only won three times, but Kanaan did something never accomplished prior. He completed every lap that season and his worst finish was eighth. To this day it remains the last time a driver finished in the top ten of every race in a season. His 15 top five finishes earned him a top five percentage of 93.75%, the highest among all champions since 1979. 

This was during the split, but Kanaan was racing during a time where every Indy Racing League race was on an oval and every race was scheduled for 200 laps, though that year’s Indianapolis 500 only completed 180 laps before weather ended it early. The 2004 season wasn’t a case of where there were a half-dozen races with fewer than 80 laps. None of those races were a breeze.

Another driver wouldn’t complete every lap in a season until Simon Pagenaud in 2017. In 2020, both Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden did it. Last year, Will Power and Dixon completed every lap. 

Though repeated, Kanaan’s 2004 season remains special, and a perfect top ten finish percentage goes a long way. Is it truly a celebrated season among the rest of the IndyCar fraternity? It is hard to tell. Everyone remembers it and can recall what Kanaan did, but no recent season is truly raved about. If it isn’t Kanaan in 2004, the next closest is likely Juan Pablo Montoya’s 1999 season where Montoya won the title as a rookie with seven race victories. Either way, these seasons do not happen often. The two best examples occurred nearly more than two decades ago.  

There are five races remaining, and Álex Palou has been flirting with history. To seal the deal, Palou must continue on the torrid pace. Any easing up and this will get lost in the mix of the many other very good seasons that have preceded it. 

Champion From the Weekend
Jake Dennis clinched the Formula E championship with a runner-up finish in the first race from London. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jake Dennis, but did you know...

Max Verstappen won the Belgian Grand Prix, his eighth consecutive victory and tenth of the season. Verstappen also won the sprint race. 

Enzo Fittipaldi (sprint) and Jack Doohan (feature) split the Formula Two races from Spa-Francorchamps. Caio Collet (sprint) and Taylor Barnard (feature) split the Formula Three races.

Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy split the London ePrix.

Chris Buescher won the NASCAR Cup race from Richmond. Sam Mayer won the Grand National Series race from Road America, his first career victory. Carson Hocevar won the Truck race from Richmond, his third victory of the season.

Brodie Kostecki and Shane van Gisbergen split the Supercars races from Sydney Motorsports Park.

Jonathan Rea (race one), Toprak Razgatlioglu (SuperPole) and Álvaro Bautista (race two) split the World Superbike races from Most. Nicolò Bugela and Tarren Mackenzie split the World Supersport races.

The #88 AKKodis ASP Team Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello, Timur Boguslavskiy and Jules Gounon won the GT World Challenge Endurance race from Nürburgring.

Kyle Busch won the SRX race from Pulaski County Motorsports Park.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar's final street race from Nashville with GT America also on the bill. 
MotoGP is back after a six-week break with a round from Silverstone.
Road America remains busy with IMSA returning to town, which means a new calendar is imminent.
The Nürburgring remains busy with Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters hosting a round at the facility.
NASCAR is in Michigan. 
Super GT runs around Fuji.
The World Rally Championship makes its annual August trek to Finland.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Best of the Month: July 2023

The summer flies quickly. July is about to end. The heat is stifling and the humidity suffocating. It will soon change. A month may feel like a long time but it is over in a blink. In the next one, the heat will become more favorable. It will be easier to go out, but the sunshine will continue to decrease and soon nighttime will start earlier than you will wish. 

We will start feeling the same about some of our favorite motorsports series. The races will start dwindling and the end will be closer than you wish. 

SRX's Road Course Model
With a new season of SRX underway and more current drivers competing, it has me thinking of the initial mission statement when the Superstar Racing Experience was announced during 2020. 

Co-founder Ray Evernham said when SRX was first announced the hope was to run half-mile tracks, dirt tracks and mentioned a "custom road course." 

As SRX developed, it has focused on being a short track series, and rightfully so. It has dedicated its attention on being one thing and it has worked into its third season, but this concept has potential on road courses. 

While being billed as a new take on IROC, SRX is neglecting the road course component of auto racing. To be fair, IROC did the same of the final portion of its existence. But if SRX can put together six short races and draw a dozen drivers to each one over the summer, the same could be done for road courses. 

SRX runs six weeks a year. It began in early July and ends in the middle of August. There are 46 weekends SRX is not competing. The series does work on a tight budget, and it makes it known how scarce spares are even in year three, but with the right model, a spring road course series for SRX could work. 

For starters, it could not be Thursday nights. That doesn't make any sense. However, SRX could work as a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon event attached to an already existing event. 

IndyCar has a number of road and street course events in the spring. It has St. Petersburg and Long Beach, Barber and even a race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. If bygones can be bygones and the rising the tide philosophy win out, there are a few NASCAR road course weekends SRX could add on to, most notably a weekend at Austin. It is unlikely, but there is also the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring as other events SRX could join. 

Consider if SRX tied itself to IndyCar. It could run three or four races over the space of about eight or nine weeks. It could be the Friday headliner, after IndyCar practice and the junior series, SRX could cap the day. It could run a practice session in the morning to prepare the drivers and then run in the evening, racing into sunset. 

There are plenty of road course experienced drivers competing in SRX at the moment. Marco Andretti, Paul Tracy, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Hélio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden have all competed in SRX. That is half an SRX field using current competitors alone while not forgetting Tony Stewart did quite well on road courses in his career. SRX isn't tapping into the vast depths of sports car drivers sitting on the sideline or who otherwise would be interested in competing. 

You don't think Joey Hand would be up for this? Or that Tommy Kendall and Boris Said would jump at the chance to run? Or Scott Pruett? How many active drivers would say yes like we see with IndyCar drivers? And there are still NASCAR drivers that can be called in. 

The benefit of the current NASCAR schedule is most Fridays are wide open. A driver could spend a Friday in St. Petersburg or Long Beach because they don't have to be at the Cup weekend until Saturday afternoon for a 15-minute practice session and then one lap of qualifying. Cup drivers might bite on it because when else is a Cup driver going to run Long Beach? With a street course now on the Cup schedule, this could be a great chance for a driver to get extra practice on street courses, and could give them an edge on the competition. 

SRX expansion isn't in the cards, and it would require extensive financial investment to make it happen, but it could work out with in the right minds and in the right sets of hands. Also, road and/or street courses could not be much more expensive than short ovals… unless Paul Tracy is still invited. 

More For Iowa
IndyCar's doubleheader weekend at Iowa is quite a complete weekend. Two races, four concerts, suites galore, plus an Indy Lights races. It is one of the rare three-day oval weekends for the series. It does have me wondering what else could be done to make that weekend bigger. 

I should immediately hit the brakes because there is such a thing as too much and it would be very easy to kill the Iowa weekend by trying too hard. Iowa works in its current form. The concerts are popular. The races are in strong windows that draw respectable television viewership. Change could ruin a good thing. Night races are not returning to Iowa anytime soon. However, I think there is room to do more and it begins on Friday. 

Friday is a rather slow day on the Iowa weekend. There is only one IndyCar practice session plus the Indy Lights practice and qualifying. There are no concerts, hence why it was free to attend, but I think Friday is a chance to give more to the fans, especially race fans.

With its current doubleheader format, there is one qualifying session. Each driver runs two laps. The first lap is a driver's qualifying time for race one on Saturday. The second lap is a driver's qualifying time for race two on Sunday. It is an efficient session and pretty exciting to watch. One lap could be great and then the next could be wasted. A driver could take it easy on lap one and then go all out on lap two. There are plenty of strategies and it keeps the minds churning as one qualifying has implications over two races. 

The qualifying format can stay the same at Iowa, but with this being a doubleheader, I think it opens the door for a different qualifying format. Back in 2012 and 2013, heat races were used to set the starting grid at Iowa, and I think with a doubleheader, heat races could return. 

Friday can still have a late afternoon practice. Perhaps that is shortened to an hour or 75 minutes from 90 minutes. Then in the early evening we have qualifying. Qualifying sets the grid for the Saturday race and determines who will be in the heat races.

In the previous edition of the Iowa heat races, practice was used to determine how the grid was split. The fastest eight drivers automatically qualified for the final. The odd-numbered drivers from ninth on down went to one heat. The even-number drivers from tenth on down went to another. 

In 2012, the races were only 30 laps and drivers did not advance. If a driver wasn't the top eight, the best he or she could start was on row five. In 2013, that changed and the winners from the first two heats went to the final. The distance also increased to 50 laps.

With the size of the IndyCar grid in 2023, I think the heats could be done a little differently. There were 28 cars at Iowa. My proposal would be to split the cars by seven. The fastest seven start are automatically in the A-Main. The next seven start in the B-Main. The seven after that are in the C-Main. The slowest seven start in the D-Main. 

The D-Main is a 10-lap sprint, the top three advance. The C-Main is also a 10-lap sprint, the top three advance. The B-Main is 25 laps and the top three advance to the 50-lap A-Main that decides the top ten starting positions for Sunday's race. 

It would be an event. The first two races would not take that long, but we must consider if a team went from the D-Main to the A-Main we are looking at that team putting an extra 95 laps on an engine. Those teams would definitely need at least two sets of tires. It could get expensive quickly.

However, it could be a great way to kickoff on Friday night. It could fit on Peacock without any issues. It would be different. Qualifying would be interesting as each driver would be focused on getting a good spot for Saturday but also know the difference between ending up seventh and eighth is an extra 25 laps of work. 

On top of it, because 95 laps of segmented racing would not take long at Iowa, Indy Lights should run a doubleheader as well at Iowa. There should be a 75-lap Indy Lights race on Friday as well as Saturday. 

Make Friday a big day for race fans. Have it be for them before the event gets going with the concerts on Saturday. Race fans would appreciate it. 

August Preview
We are going to give it enough coverage when it happens but the IndyCar-NASACR combination weekend from Indianapolis Motor Speedway is setting up to be a stellar event. 

The IndyCar race will be crucial to the championship. The NASCAR Cup races sees a slew of international superstars joining the grid. 

Shane van Gisbergen will be back in the #91 Trackhouse Chevrolet a little over a month after van Gisbergen won on his Cup debut on the Chicago street course. Jensen Button will also be back for another round after he ran Austin and Chicago. Button continues in the #15 Ford for Rick Ware Racing.

There will be new faces to the grid. Kamui Kobayashi will drive the #67 Toyota for 23XI Racing. Brodie Kostecki also comes over for, Supercars and the driver second in that championship will make his debut driving for Richard Childress Racing. 

It will be a full slate of top tier drivers across the multiple series competing. This is one of the best tickets in motorsports. And it will likely disappear after this year because why keep a good thing going? 

Other events of note in August:
IndyCar has two other races, Nashville and Gateway.
The NASCAR regular season will end and it is guaranteed if a driver wins a race he will clinch a playoff spot.
IMSA’s Road America round looms, which means we will likely find out the 2024 calendar. 
MotoGP has a pair of races after its extended summer break. 
Formula One will be mostly off but will return in time for Zandvoort at the end of the month. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

2023 Formula One Midseason Review

It isn't quite the summer break for Formula One, but in less than a week everyone will be on vacation. While we aren't there yet, we are at the halfway point of the Formula One season. Eleven races have been completed and 11 races remain. 

Everyone keeps saying if you look beyond the top, it has been a quite a competitive season, and... there is some truth to that. It has been quite fun watching the fight for second, but nobody tunes in to watch the battle for second each race. How has this season been? Let's consider what has transpired and what is still to come this season. 

Will we see a perfect season?
With each passing race it feels more likely so as Red Bull is 11-0 through the first half of the 2023 season, and these aren't just race victories, these are annihilations. 

Five of 11 races have had margins of victory greater than ten seconds, four of which is have been greater than 20 seconds. Throwing out the Australian Grand Prix, which ended under messy safety car conditions, of the five races that were decided by less than ten seconds, three were Red Bull 1-2s and two of those were Sergio Pérez's victories this season. 

Though we are seeing teams get closer in qualifying, and in the case of Hungary, we are seeing teams inch ahead of Red Bull, nobody is close to matching the race pace of Red Bull, and it does not look like anyone is going to come close. 

Max Verstappen has won seven consecutive races on his own, and Verstappen is pulling away from Pérez. The Dutchman is two away from tying the drivers' record for most consecutive victories. 

We are currently in unprecedented territory with Red Bull. Its 12 consecutive victories dating back to last season is the new record. Every streak eventually ends, but Red Bull's streak has no end in sight. These cars are not breaking down. There is no sign this group is prone to an unfortunate weekend that takes out its golden goose unexpectedly.

We are looking at possibly the greatest car ever built in Formula One winning an unfathomable amount of consecutive races. If it happens, it will not be a surprise. If it doesn't happen, it will just be history repeating itself, yet remain a glorious season for the team from Milton Keynes..

Who has the best chance to end Red Bull's streak?
The challenger has changed as the season has moved onward.

It was Aston Martin through the first six races. Then Mercedes picked up its game. Now McLaren has finished runner-up in the last two races. And yet none of them feel all that close.

The boring answer is Mercedes, a team that struggled for pace early in the season only to find it for races in the last five events only for it to disappear when Lewis Hamilton started on pole position at Hungary. The pieces are there, it is a matter of getting them to aligned. It was the same case last year, and it felt Mercedes would have it click to get at least one victory last year. It did in Brazil. 

It feels like we are in the same place as last year, only Red Bull is further up the road. The truth is Mercedes has a reliable car, Hamilton has scored points in every race and George Russell has shown moments, but cannot quite match his senior teammate.

Like 2022, Mercedes feels too good of a team not to have its one weekend, but Red Bull could be out of reach already. Mercedes' best hope, along with the rest of the grid, is if Red Bull has its race where something fails or starts to sink because of wind tunnel restrictions, it is right there to capitalize on the gift provided.

What happened to Aston Martin?
It appears to be another case of shooting to be great out of the box and be unable to develop further as the season moves along. 

Granted, Fernando Alonso is still third in the drivers’ championship and he is one of three drivers, along with Verstappen and Hamilton, to score points in every race this season. However, after finishing no worse than fourth in the first six races with five visits to the podium, he went from 93 points in the first six races, 24 points ahead of Hamilton to 46 points in the last five races and now only six points ahead of Hamilton. 

Meanwhile, Lance Stroll's performance remains rather consistent. After scoring 27 points in the first six races, Stroll has scored 19 points in the last five races. Stroll has never been close to the maximum potential of this car, as we are seeing from Alonso. The one-man band element of Aston Martin has always had it as risk of losing World Constructors' Championship positions because the weight is not equally distributed over its two drivers.

Does anyone else have a shot?
Hey! McLaren is showing up to the party. After scoring 17 points through the first eight races, the team has added 70 in the last three. It has had at least one car in the top five in three consecutive races and both cars have been in the top five in the last two. 

McLaren gave Mercedes fits at the last two races and it had Lando Norris finish second on each occasion. It is maintaining its own in the fight for second, but first is another animal. Is it likely McLaren could be in second the day a Red Bull fails within the final ten laps and Norris or even Oscar Piastri could scoop up a first career victory? Absolutely. I guess that is the best progress you can hope for at this point in the 2023 season. 

And Ferrari?
It doesn't feel like the Scuderia is going to end up in the mix with Mercedes, Aston Martin and McLaren.

Ferrari has had its moments. Charles Leclerc was on pole position at Baku and was second in the sprint race there, only to finish third. Leclerc was second at Austria. However, that is really it for this group. Carlos Sainz, Jr. remains rather consistent, but on the periphery of the battle at the front. Sainz, Jr. has five top five finishes, but at no time has he felt a threat for a podium. 

When Ferrari makes errors now, it isn't taking it out of first or second, it is taking the cars out of fifth or sixth and dropping them down to seventh or eighth. We should not think this group will have it ironed out and be a fourth player in the battle for second.

The One-Team Middle
That is Alpine! Or at least it could be Alpine. Alpine is 40 points behind McLaren, who is 80 points behind Ferrari, but Alpine is 36 points clear of Williams and Haas and Alpine has put 11 cars in the points out of 22 possible opportunities, which includes a podium finish at Monaco. 

If that isn't the definition of a middle of the pack team then I do not know what is. The third in Monaco will likely be the exception to this team's capabilities, but we have seen Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly each finish in the points, however it cannot get much higher than eighth in a race. 

Yet, there feels there is no threat from behind. Alpine should not be frightened as Williams and Haas each finished in the points three times through 11 races. Alpine might not be able to keep up with McLaren, but it isn't at risk of slipping below sixth. Not great, but there are worse positions to be in. 

Can Daniel Ricciardo lift AlphaTauri off the mat?
While Williams and Haas are tied on 11 points, Alfa Romeo sits on nine points and AlphaTauri is last on two points, both those points coming in consecutive races in Australia and Azerbaijan. On top of the two points, Alpha Tauri has finished 11th three times and 12th twice. 

Exit Nyck de Vries and enter Daniel Ricciardo. 

Ricciardo's first race after a half a season on the sidelines saw him start and finish ahead of Yuki Tsunoda with Ricciardo starting and finishing 13th. AlphaTauri somewhat caught a break as Alfa Romeo had its cars start fifth and seventh in Hungary only for its cars to finish 12th and 17th. Alfa Romeo could have put some daylight between it and AlphaTauri and failed to so. 

AlphaTauri only gets off the bottom if Ricciardo and Tsunoda are scoring points, and it is going to require more than tenth.

Is anybody else in jeopardy of losing a seat midseason?
Honestly? No. 

Mercedes is not switching drivers, nor is Ferrari. Aston Martin isn't punting Alonso and Stroll is safe. Alpine isn't making any chances. Neither is Alfa Romeo. Haas is content with its lineup. Williams isn't going to make a change. McLaren is happy. 

However, I think there is a world where Red Bull and AlphaTauri make one more change. 

One of the reasons why it is believed Ricciardo was put in the AlphaTauri seat over Red Bull junior driver Liam Lawson is Lawson is competing for the Super Formula championship and he can focus on that while not having to split his attention. 

However, the Super Formula season ends at the end of October. In all likelihood, Red Bull will have the constructors' championship clinched. In that case, if the team is unhappy with Sergio Pérez's performance, it could shift Ricciardo to Red Bull and introduce Lawson to AlphaTauri. 

The Brazil round is the week after the Super Formula finale. That is the earliest it could happen, or it could wait for the final two races of 2023 in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi. It is highly unlikely, but would you rule it out with Red Bull?

Has Logan Sargeant been respectable?
Kind of, but it is a lose-lose situation for Sargeant. 

Through 11 races, the American driver has scored zero points, no improvement over Nicholas Latifi. Sargeant and Nyck de Vries were the only drivers without points through the first ten races. It does not help optics that Alexander Albon has scored 11 points with his best finish being seventh in Canada. 

However, Albon is a veteran of 70 career starts and this is his second year with Williams. Sargeant is a rookie with one year of Formula Two under his belt. It would be foolish to consider Sargeant a polished production before this season started. He is still in the infancy of his career and is now learning in the most cutthroat environment. 

Sargeant has shown respectable pace, starting with a 12th on debut in Bahrain and he finished 13th in Austria and 11th at Silverstone. Latifi did score points last year and he scored twice in 2021, but all three of those races were marred by weather. Latifi only finished in the top 13 once in the dry last year and twice in 2022. 

Sargeant is doing as well as you can hope but until he steals some points and turn some heads, he is destined to end up on the curb sooner rather than later. 

How does the second half play out?
At worst, Red Bull wins nine races. That is leaving room for one round where Red Bull suffers a mechanical retirement and another car slips through and at least one round where one team actually has Red Bull beat. That is a stretch, but there is a slim chance it happens. 

Mercedes continues consistently finishing behind Red Bull with Hamilton and Russell. Aston Martin has a few good days with Alonso, but far below the start of the season and Stroll's record costs Aston Martin not only second but third in the constructors' championship. However, Aston Martin holds off McLaren by a sliver. 

Alpine will be on its own in sixth, but never comes close to finishing on the podium again. Haas edges out Williams for seventh and Alfa Romeo distances itself from AlphaTauri, but Alpha Tauri does better on average to close out the season.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: How Will IndyCar's 2024 Calendar Look?

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Josef Newgarden swept the weekend at Iowa. Another Max Verstappen victory in Hungary gave Red Bull its record 12th consecutive grand prix victory. It wasn't weather but brakes that were the story in Stafford Springs. That wasn't the only racing in Connecticut this week. Pocono ruined one of its distinguishing features for a lifeless atrocity of a structure that screams of a collective lack of imagination.  Formula One is now on break. Shane van Gisbergen is coming back to America and Brodie Kostecki is joining him. GT World Challenge America has move its Virginia International Raceway round back a month to avoid a clash with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it is another 2024 calendar that is on my mind.

How Will IndyCar's 2024 Calendar Look?
Every IndyCar season ends quickly. In one breath, it is the final days of winter and the opening race is taking place in the heat of St. Petersburg. By the time we have completed exhaling, the Indianapolis 500 is behind us and the bottle of milk is empty. As we inhale, the season finale is here and the Astor Cup is being awarded. We aren't even in the midpoint of summer, and yet the season is nearly over. 

At this time, it is no longer too early to look ahead, and things are already in motion for a new season. However, there is no clear direction on where the IndyCar schedule is heading. 

There is no reason to believe there will not be any changes to the schedule, but concrete information over new or disappearing events remains missing. 

What do we know and what do we not? 

St. Petersburg has already announced it will take place over the weekend of March 7-10. Long Beach is promoting April 19-21 for its race. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is selling tickets for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis over May 10-11 and the Indianapolis 500 has been confirmed for May 26. 

The start of the season appears to be shaping up to look the same. It is the end where there are question marks. 

With a new football stadium approved for construction in Nashville on the site where the IndyCar paddock spreads out for the street course race there each summer, any future editions of the race must take place on different course with a paddock and pit area in a different location. 

What otherwise would doom and likely kill most street course races does not appear to be endangering Nashville. The event could even grow in stature. 

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles has already stated confidence over Nashville remaining on the schedule and the event becoming more ingrained with the downtown area. Not only are we looking at a layout change, but recent buzz has Nashville as the possible location of the 2024 season finale. 

Summer will likely look different for IndyCar next year. For starters, it is a Summer Olympic year, and in 2021, IndyCar took a two-week break for the opening and middle Olympic weekends for television partner NBC before returning to competition on the Sunday that overlapped with the closing ceremonies in Tokyo, which happened to be the inaugural Nashville street race. 

In 2024, the Summer Olympics will run from Friday July 26 through Sunday August 11. That current window affects two current IndyCar events, the aforementioned Nashville, which could be moved to the season finale position, and the IndyCar-NASCAR combination weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which could already be in jeopardy as a Goodyear tire test has been scheduled for the NASCAR Cup Series on the IMS oval in the days after next month's race. 

One difference between 2021 and 2024 is with the Olympic Games taking place in Paris, the final Sunday of the Olympics likely will not be open to show a race, at least not on network NBC. Does IndyCar's summer break expand to three weeks or will it be forced to squeeze in somewhere and take an even less desirable television window? It must be remember that in 2021 NASCAR also took off two weeks for the Summer Olympics. NASCAR will take two weeks off, but it will not take three. There is room for a mid-afternoon race on August 11, likely broadcasted on USA, but that room is only for one race, and with NASCAR likely taking that window, there is not a place for IndyCar... well, there is Peacock, but that is another story.

Change will come to IndyCar in 2024, it is a matter of what that exactly looks like.

For the moment, it looks like moving pieces around. Milwaukee is still a rumored addition, but there has yet to be any clear indication it is closer to happening. There have been plenty of conversations and photo ops between Roger Penske and Milwaukee officials, but neither side is suggesting the one-mile oval will return to the calendar. We haven't even mentioned the possibility of a race in Argentina, where the sticking point is whether or not the race counts toward the championship or if it will be a postseason exhibition held sometime in autumn 2024. 

With the Olympics, where do races fall? With Nashville moving to the finale, where does Laguna Seca go? With the possibility of a Brickyard 400 return, what happens to the second IMS road course date? 

Nashville makes sense as the season finale. We do not know what the course will look like nor where it would exactly take place, but it does not sound like it will go far from the heart of the city. It should be noted not far from the current course is the Music City Convention Center. Any course that could possibly include Broadway, the street full of bars and clubs, would be a tremendous coup for the series, especially for a championship event where the culmination should be a massive party. 

After over a decade, and frankly probably two decades, of dull finale atmospheres, ending in Nashville would be an atomic burst of energy IndyCar's championship decider has long needed. 

Laguna Seca has produced fine races since it returned to the calendar in 2019, but it has never reclaimed the magic of old when it hosted the final race from the 1980s into the 1990s. There are people there, but there is also a lot of empty space that screams "good seats still available" and this is for a season finale, the last chance to see IndyCar this year and the race that in theory decides the champion, the best driver of the season. 

Though not fitting for the finale spot, there is a place for Laguna Seca on the IndyCar schedule, and its presence should not be finale-or-bust, and IndyCar likely knows that as well. 

IndyCar's current scheduling problem has been the spring gap that has existed for a number of years. Nashville moving the finale spot could allow IndyCar to fill that gap. Instead of tying Laguna Seca to September, moving it to mid-March would bridge IndyCar's transition from winter into spring, and it sounds like we are heading in that direction.

Envision IndyCar starting at St. Petersburg on March 10, 2024, returning to competition at Laguna Seca on March 24 before the schedule picking up as it was run in 2023 with Texas on April 7, Long Beach on April 21 and Barber on April 28. 

After the May races in Indianapolis, Detroit can run on June 2 with Road America on June 16. With Independence Day falling on a Thursday, it may make more sense for Mid-Ohio to run on July 7, but that could create a three-consecutive week stretch of races with Toronto on July 14 with the Iowa doubleheader on July 20-21. It would be a monster stretch, but a necessary one and one where the saving grace would be at least two if not three weeks off afterward. 

Once the season gets into August is where it becomes more difficult. There is Nashville, Gateway, Portland and the floating IndyCar race that could be the second IMS road course race or a race somewhere else. There will either be four or five available weekends, depending on when the season resumes post-Olympics and if IndyCar still wants to end by the second Sunday in September, which is also the opening Sunday of the NFL season. We should also note Nashville's date likely depends on football season, and it cannot be much later than the second Sunday in September if it can even be that late.

How do you squeeze the races into such a narrow window? How do you fit in a race out west in Portland with three that are all in the Midwest or Central Time Zone?  

A post-Olympic gauntlet could be a great way to end the season. Four races in five weeks or four races in four weeks, one final dash to the championship with at least one oval, road course and street course in the mix is a perfect encapsulation of what makes up the IndyCar schedule. 

After the pandemic, while other motorsports series have added new events, IndyCar has remained static. The schedule has mostly just recovered to pre-2020 levels. Other than reviving Iowa, IndyCar has not had a Miami or Las Vegas or a Chicago or a North Wilkesboro. Everybody wants IndyCar to do more, to do something exciting, to turn some heads. Unfortunately, that is not in IndyCar's ethos. The series works on a budget and the series doesn't have $50 million to spend on a street course race nor can it add a half-dozen events in a snap. 

Stasis is not failure. IndyCar knows its means. We might not like the financial constraints that IndyCar operates within, but it is better than spending the series into extinction, which is very easy to do. With what IndyCar has to offer, it is trying its best. Filling the early spring gap is step one. Finding an energetic season finale is step two. Both can be accomplished without breaking IndyCar's back in 2024.

The schedule is still a wonderful collection of ovals, road courses and street courses. Anytime you focus on what the schedule is not over what it is you are going to be disappointed. We all wish it could be better but that doesn't mean it still isn't great. 

Next year may look the same, but that doesn't mean something exciting is not upon us.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden and Max Verstappen, but did you know...

Dennis Hauger (sprint) and Jack Doohan (feature) split the Formula Two races from Hungary. Gabriele Mini (sprint) and Zak O’Sullivan (feature) split the Formula Three races. 

Christian Rasmussen won the Indy Lights race from Iowa, his second victory of the season.

The #23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin of Ross Gunn and Alex Riberas won the IMSA race from Lime Rock Park. The #27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin of Roman De Angelis and Marco Sørensen won in GTD.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup race from Pocono, his second victory of the season. Austin Hill won the Grand National Series race, his fourth victory of the season. Kyle Busch won the Truck race, his second victory of the season.

Ryan Newman won the SRX race from Stafford.

Kalle Rovanpeä won Rally Estonia, his second victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One runs the Belgian Grand Prix, the final race before the summer break.
Formula E ends it season with a doubleheader in London. 
NASCAR ends July in Richmond.
Supercars will run under the lights at Sydney Motorsports Park.
World Superbike is at Most. 
GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup visits the Nürburgring. 
SRX travels down to Pulaski County Motorsports Park in Virginia. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

First Impressions: Iowa 2023 Race Two

1. That was probably closer than Josef Newgarden wished, but after the late caution for Ryan Hunter-Reay's brush with the barrier, Newgarden held on for a four-lap dash to take another Iowa victory. This one was another stomping on the field, a deserved victory and a deserved sweep a year later than he would have liked. Newgarden is clawing back into the championship. There is a lot more work to do. In a sense, Newgarden is just working to get in range for a Hail Mary. 

With a 27-car grid at most races, any driver within 49 points of the championship leader will have a chance at claiming the Astor Cup at the Laguna Seca season finale. All Newgarden can do is shoot to get within 49 points of Álex Palou. That is the bare minimum he can hope for at this point in time. That might sound like shooting too low but being within 49 points is far from a guarantee. He has to at least get within one race of Palou before he can think about taking the title. 

Newgarden decreased the deficit again this afternoon. It did not come down as much as he likely hoped for, but he is within 80 points with five races remaining. Newgarden has four races to outscore Palou by 31 points.

2. Another good race from Will Power, but again, Power did not have what Newgarden had, and after the slow start yesterday for Newgarden, the #2 Penske team dialed in that car and Newgarden got to the lead quicker today than on Saturday. Power did not fade as much but he could not match Newgarden this weekend. Power did power up to second on the late restart passing Felix Rosenqvist. Power earned a podium result this weekend.

3. This day was going to be much worse than Álex Palou would have wished. Palou was down in 13th at one point, and even after getting the car settled, he was looking at finishing eighth again or ninth, but Palou's car came to life in the final stint and he was able to crack the top five. When the Hunter-Reay caution came out, Palou was about two seconds ahead of Newgarden at the tail end of the lead lap. If that incident happened two laps later, Palou is trapped a lap down and he wouldn't have had a chance to finish better than fifth in all likelihood.

Palou picked off Scott McLaughlin, who struggled on worn tires, and then slipped ahead of Rosenqvist after Rosenqvist walked up the racetrack battling Power. Palou went from a day that looked destined to be outside the top ten to the podium. Instead of seeing the championship lead drop down to around 63 points, Palou leaves Iowa up 80. Clinching the championship two races early is still in play. If the title does come down to the finale and Palou pulls it out, this race will be a tentpole result for his championship.

4. Felix Rosenqvist evolved into the best Arrow McLaren entry today and ended up on Josef Newgarden's rear end after the final set of pit stops. Newgarden was able to get away, but Rosenqvist was strong and he probably should have finished second. Power had the jump on him and when Rosenqvist went up the track, all he could hope for was finishing fourth, because he wasn't going counter Power and it was a free spot for Palou at that point. 

Rosenqvist had a tremendous day. These results are too far in-between for the Swede, but he was at the front of the Indianapolis 500. He has won pole position at Texas for the last two seasons. He has some craft on ovals, though the results don't always go his way. 

5. Scott McLaughlin had nothing left on his tires at the final restart and he was a sitting duck in third. McLaughlin was holding on for dear life, and he had a blessing that only five cars were on the lead lap so he could take it easy and settle for fifth. All three Penske drivers were great this weekend. Unfortunately for Power and McLaughlin, Newgarden was flawless. Great weekend for the organization.

6. Let's focus on the finish here because Ryan Hunter-Reay brushed the wall with just over ten laps remaining, bringing out the caution. IndyCar used the abandonment of procedures protocol here and the pit lane never opened, meaning all the drivers ended the race on the tires they put on just over 50 laps earlier. 

I liked that decision, and for all the crap race control gets, it earned this pat on the back. Race control made the right decisions to abandon procedures and not allow anyone to pit prior to that final restart. 

One, we got a green flag finish. If you are obtuse and ignore 99.6% of a race, you got what you wanted. You do not get the right to complain. 

Two, it didn't give any other lead lap driver a greater advantage over the leader. Everyone was wondering who would take tires and would anyone stay out. However, Newgarden thrashed the field. Palou was about to go a lap down when the caution came out. Instead of opening pit lane and potentially giving Palou an advantage, everyone was forced to race with what got them there.

That is how it should be. A driver shouldn't get a benefit from being at the back and having nothing to lose, especially if that driver was on the verge of being lapped and was in the top five. If you want to beat the guy, then beat the guy on a level playing field. Nobody had an advantage in that final restart. It was going to be on the drivers, a pure test of skill, and who could have the best four laps. This is how it should be. We should want the best drivers winning and not having drivers luck into victories because they could use a caution differently than the leaders. 

There shouldn't be a benefit running at the end of the lead lap. There should be a benefit of being the leader.

I don't know where we draw the line though on not opening the pit lane. In the case of Iowa, if a caution bleeds into less ten laps remaining, there could be a clause that the pits don't open. Maybe it is different for Indianapolis and Texas, but the same standard could be held at Gateway as well. This is where it gets tricky. Like when a race should be red flagged if there is a late incident, there is no line in the sand on when it can and cannot happen. This year at Indianapolis, we tested the limit of how late a race can restart from a red flag. We hit the limit actually. It can be tiresome when regulations are added on top of regulations, but they are necessary.

7. That late caution and abandonment of procedures did create a fun split race. There were the five cars battling for the top five positions and then another eight drivers that were one lap down battling. Scott Dixon was the best of those finishers in sixth. Dixon was at the same level as he was at yesterday. He didn't make a step-forward today. 

Dixon overtook Colton Herta late, as Herta struggled on his tires, but this was a better day for Herta. Herta did continue to struggle at the end of stints, and that was notable late. At one point, Herta looked like he could finish on the podium, but he lost ground. However, after yesterday and a handful of dismal races this season, seventh is a something Herta will take. 

8. David Malukas took advantage of the late caution and drove up to eighth, but he was around the top ten all race. Even without the caution, Malukas would have been a top ten finisher, but this gave him a few more positions. This was a good rebound. Malukas has found good form on ovals. Dale Coyne Racing has struggled this year, but the team had something this weekend. Will this carry over to Nashville? Let's just hope they have a nice weekend in the Music City.

9. This was a rough result for Marcus Ericsson because he was the best Chip Ganassi Racing driver today and he ended dup ninth, the third best Ganassi finisher. Ericsson and Dixon had just been lapped when the Hunter-Reay caution came out, and Palou found more in the closing laps. Then Ericsson lost a few spots in the closing laps. This was not a great representation for Ericsson's pace.

10. Patricio O'Ward was defeated after this one. O'Ward couldn't keep up with the Penske cars and he went the wrong direction while his teammate Rosenqvist went forward. O'Ward was exasperated after this race. We have heard many fiery responses after tough days for O'Ward. I think this put him beyond anger today. He was out of it. He gave it all and finished tenth. That was it. All that hard work for a deflating result.

11. Kyle Kirkwood and Romain Grosjean were 11th and 12th today. Kirkwood looked like he should have finished in the top ten today. Grosjean was a mid-pack car all race. The disappointing thing is this wasn't an off-day for Andretti Autosport. This is its normal level at the moment, one top ten finisher and struggling to get the rest in the mix. Oof. This team once won six consecutive Iowa races and seven Iowa races in nine years. Andretti is no longer at that level. 

12. Oh, Christian Lundgaard finished 13th and Lundgaard was the final car one lap down. It was better than yesterday for the Dane, but still not fantastic. The day was a step back for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. This is a big weekend for the team with its HyVee sponsorship. The team at least entered this weekend at the most recent winners and could ride that buzz, but performing this poorly at this weekend is embarrassing to the team. They know and they want to be better. 

13. Let's breeze through the rest of the field, starting with the cars that finished two laps down...

Both cautions caught out Callum Ilott, but he looked strong and 14th was a worthy result. Ilott still finished ahead of two RLLR cars, both Meyer Shank Racing cars and both Ed Carpenter Racing cars. 

Alexander Rossi couldn't quite make the top ten today. Rossi had high hopes this weekend, and it didn't work out. Fifteenth was a little worse than he had run all race, but he wasn't going to be much better than 12th. 

The Meyer Shank Racing cars were 16th (Hélio Castroneves) and 17th (Conor Daly). Yeah, that is about as good as it can get for this group at the present moment. 

Ed Carpenter Racing was 18th (Rinus VeeKay), 23rd (Ed Carpenter) and 24th (Ryan Hunter-Reay). This team was never in it, and Hunter-Reay's brush with the wall really didn't cost him much. He was 20th when it happened, but this team was not competitive at all this weekend. 

14. Jack Harvey was 19th, a spot ahead of Graham Rahal. Rahal probably sees this as a missed opportunity. He started sixth today and just went backward, one day after the team was competitive and in a position for a top ten. The team did have to make repairs after yesterday's incident, but it wasn't a complete rebuild. One step forward, two steps back for RLLR after Iowa last week.

15. Devlin DeFrancesco was 21st and didn't do a thing. A.J. Foyt Racing confirmed Indianapolis was an aberration. Santino Ferrucci was the only car five laps down in 22nd and the team parked Benjamin Pedersen, which was for the best of everyone. 

16. Takuma Sato and Agustín Canapino both brushed the wall during this race and both drivers ended up finishing multiple laps down. Canapino had another good start. If he didn't rub the wall, I think he would have been right up there with Ilott in the top fifteen. 

17. Sting Ray Robb was disqualified after his team released him with a loose wheel nut and that was the correct call. The team knew it didn't get it on. How many times have we seen a Formula One team yell at a driver to stop the car and the driver immediately stops? Robb wasn't pitting at pit out. He had about 60% of the pit lane to stop in or pull to the side and not return to the track. That was poor across the board from this group. Disqualification was warranted, and the team should get more.

18. A couple things about this weekend: I loved it. I love doubleheader weekends. I think it is a cool event and we saw two great races. 

Credit to the drivers because there were 28 cars in each race and there were only four cautions over the two races, of which one was for Robb's loose wheel and three were for guys brushing the barrier, a slight glance and not much more. We didn't see any drivers run over another despite the difference in speed on old tires and new. Nobody lost a car and backed into the wall and collected another two or three bystanders. The drivers had a great weekend. 

I wish IndyCar could figure out how to run another two or three short track races. There is no other race like Iowa. I mentioned Richmond yesterday. If the tires fell off like this, Richmond could be tremendous. We were so close to seeing it in 2020. Milwaukee could be returning next year, but Milwaukee never raced like this. I think this is the kind of race we wished Phoenix could be. Again, IndyCar has a good thing going. The issue is how can it spread it around to more tracks and reach other parts of the country? It isn't as simple as just running races. That is how IndyCar and tracks lose money.  

The Saturday race took one hour, 33 minutes and 40 seconds. The Sunday race took one hour, 40 minutes and 25 seconds. The Sunday race was shortened by 50 laps but today's race ended with about 20 minutes left in the race broadcast window with a dedicated 30-minute post-race show scheduled, 50 minutes of television time for IndyCar. I don't think there was any reason to shorten the Sunday race by 50 laps. I think this should be looked at for next year. 

19. There were a lot of people angry about this weekend, and it is a shame. The unfortunate thing is there is a growing intolerance in people when things aren't exactly how they think it should be. They see Iowa having four concerts with tickets that cost over $100 and it isn't all about the racing as a bad thing and because they don't like it, the event should fail to prove their point, though they really get nothing out of it failing. Its failure in no way benefits this individual. It is rooting for others to fail out of pure spite.  

That is foolish. We have spent years talking about how IndyCar needs bigger races and events and draw out more people. Iowa developed into that and yet many are upset because there are people buying tickets to see the music and that is viewed as the wrong reasons to attend what is an IndyCar race. 

We should be happy that IndyCar can put on an event that draws people out, no matter why those people are attending. A race should be about engaging a community and for a period in time, Iowa was not drawing great crowds. The locals were not coming out. IndyCar did something different with help from HyVee and it is now a weekend full of people for two days.

There should not be a purity test to attend a race or get on the starting grid. People should be allowed to come out as they wish and they should all be welcome to come. Iowa never looked like this prior. There are suites all over the place. Very few IndyCar races, especially oval races look like this. This is a good thing for IndyCar. 

It isn't a perfect weekend, but it is a great weekend. This is what it takes to have two Iowa races on the schedule at the present moment. Tracks are not lining up to host IndyCar. If this weekend didn't happen, there would be no track filling the gap in the schedule. We would likely see Texas and Detroit still be doubleheaders and everyone would get an extra summer weekend off if Iowa didn't exist as it does today. 

I know ticket prices are high, but about 30,000 people attended both days, and if the average ticket sold for $200 that is a healthy amount of revenue. It is ok if you don't want to pay for those tickets. Someone else did. That is all that matters. If someone buys them, who cares who it is?

No other IndyCar race has that average ticket price, not even the Indianapolis 500. If the event is breaking even and all the partners are happy with the turnout, we should be happy as well, otherwise Iowa will no longer be on the schedule and there will be two fewer oval races to watch. 

20. After this party, everyone gets a week off before heading to Nashville. 

Morning Warm-Up: Iowa 2023 Race Two

For the second consecutive race, Will Power starts from pole position as Power's second lap in Saturday qualifying of 17.7246 seconds took the top spot for the Sunday race from Iowa Speedway. By sweeping pole positions, Power earned his 69th and 70th pole positions, extending his lead in the record book. Prior to this weekend, Power had not started in the top five this season, let alone started on pole position. This is the 14th season he has won multiple pole positions out of 19 seasons in IndyCar. He has won four consecutive Iowa pole positions and seven total. However, Power is still looking for his first career victory at the track in Newton, Iowa.

Like Saturday, Sunday's front row features Scott McLaughlin to Power's outside, a front row sweep for Team Penske. The two Iowa races are Team Penske's first front row sweeps of the season as the team had not won a pole position prior to this weekend. McLaughlin 0.1917 seconds off Power's pole position lap for Sunday's race. This is the third consecutive race McLaughlin has started from second position and his forth time starting second this season.

David Malukas qualified third, Malukas' best career starting position in IndyCar. The Illinoian driver was 0.2945 seconds off Power's top time. Malukas' previous best qualifying effort was fifth at Toronto last year. His previous best start on an oval was sixth in the first Iowa race last year. All three of his top ten starts this season have come on oval. Both prior times he started ninth, first at Texas in April and then yesterday at Iowa.

Ed Carpenter is set to make his 200th IndyCar start in this Iowa race, and Carpenter will do it from fourth on the grid. Carpenter made his IndyCar debut on September 27, 2003 at Chicagoland Speedway. He started 16th in the #18 Dallara-Chevrolet for PDM Racing. He completed all 200 laps and finished 13th. This is the 21st IndyCar season Carpenter has participated. He has contested only oval races since 2014. During that span, Carpenter has not run 107 road/street course races.

Colton Herta takes fifth on the grid, only the fourth time Herta has started in the top five this season. He has finished 20th, fifth and 11th in his other three top five starts. He had started outside the top ten in five of the previous seven races entering this weekend. Herta is coming off finishing outside the top fifteen for the fifth time in six Iowa starts after he was classified in 19th yesterday.

Three weeks after they shared the front row at Mid-Ohio, Graham Rahal and Herta share row three at Iowa. This is Rahal's first top ten start on an oval since was ninth at Gateway in 2021, eight oval races ago. Rahal has not had a top five finish on an oval since he was third in the second Texas race in 2021. His 28th-place finish yesterday was his worst result since Rahal was 31st in the 2021 Indianapolis 500.

Josef Newgarden managed seventh on the grid for the second Iowa race with a lap 0.3702 seconds slower than his Penske teammate Power. This is Newgarden's worst start at Iowa since he started 16th in the 2017. He has won five times from the seventh starting position, including three times on an oval, first at Phoenix in 2018 and then at Texas in 2019 and 2022. Newgarden has won consecutive races twice in his career, Toronto-Mid-Ohio 2017 and Texas-Long Beach 2023.

Hélio Castroneves qualified eighth, his best starting position of the season, and Castroneves' first top ten starting position since he started fourth at Belle Isle last year, 21 races ago. This matches Meyer Shank Racing's best starting position of the season. Castroneves has gone nine starts without a top ten finish, currently tied for the longest drought in his career.

Scott Dixon leads an all-Chip Ganassi Racing row five. Dixon was 0.3883 seconds off pole position for Sunday's race. The driver of the #9 PNC Bank Honda is looking for his ninth consecutive top ten finish. This is the 11th race of the season and the latest Dixon has gone without a victory to start a season since 2014 when he did not win until the 15th race at Mid-Ohio.

Marcus Ericsson rounds out the top ten. Ericsson was only 0.0005 seconds slower than his teammate Dixon. Ericsson's fourth-place finish yesterday was his best finish at Iowa. He has five consecutive top ten finishes at the 7/8-mile oval. The Swede has not had consecutive top five finishes since last season when he was fourth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and then won the Indianapolis 500. 

Patricio O'Ward will start outside the top ten for only the second time this season, as O'Ward takes 11th on the grid. It is the first time O'Ward has started outside the top ten on an oval since he was 12th on the grid for the 2021 Indianapolis 500, nine oval races ago. With his third-place finish yesterday, O'Ward has yet to go three consecutive races without a podium result this season.

Álex Palou starts to O'Ward's outside on row six. This is the third consecutive race in which Palou is not the top Ganassi starter. He had been the top Ganassi car on the grid in six consecutive races prior to Toronto last week. Palou was eighth in race one, matching his worst finish of the season. The Catalan is aiming for his 12th consecutive top ten finish to open the season. 

Takuma Sato makes it four Ganassi cars within five positions of one another on the grid as Sato starts 13th. This is the 11th time Sato has started 13th in his career. His best finish from 13th on the grid was seventh in the 2022 Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Sato was ninth yesterday, and he is looking three consecutive top ten finishes since 2020 when he won the Indianapolis 500 and then was second and ninth at the Gateway doubleheader.

Rinus VeeKay starts 14th. Yesterday was the second consecutive Iowa race Ed Carpenter Racing failed to have a top fifteen finisher. ECR has failed to have a top fifteen finisher in three of the last four Iowa races. 

Conor Daly ended up 15th on the grid, eight spots better than where he started for the Saturday Iowa race. Daly only gained one spot from his starting position in race one, finishing 21st from 22nd starting spot. It matched his worst Iowa finish, which came in his first Iowa start in 2016.

Felix Rosenqvist matches his worst starting position of the season in 16th position. Rosenqvist went from 16th down to 20th at Road America last month. The Swede has finished outside the top ten in five of six Iowa starts.

Kyle Kirkwood rolls off from the inside of row nine. Kirkwood had started 20th and 15th in the first two oval races this season. The Floridan picked up his first top ten oval finish in his IndyCar career yesterday. It was also the fourth time Kirkwood has been the best Andretti finisher this season, but the first time it was not on a street course.

Alexander Rossi has his third worst starting position of the season in 18th, one day after his second worst starting position in 21st and one week after his worst starting position of the season, 26th in Toronto. Rossi has finished better than his starting position in six of nine Iowa starts, and he has finished equal to his starting position once. In the two races he finished worse than his starting spot, Rossi went from fifth to ninth and from fifth to sixth.

Row ten is the first of three consecutive rows and four in the final five rows that teammates share. In this case, Devlin DeFrancesco leads an all-Andretti Autosport row ten. DeFrancesco's 22nd-place finish yesterday was his second consecutive finish outside the top twenty. He had finished in the top twenty in four of the five races prior to Toronto.

Romain Grosjean starts next to his Canadian teammate in 20th. Grosjean has not had a top ten finish in the last seven races, and his 11th place finish in race one was only his third top fifteen result in the last seven events. Grosjean's median finish in the month of April was second. His median finish in all the races outside the month of April is 18th.

Christian Lundgaard has his best starting position on an oval this season. Unfortunately for Lundgaard, it is 21st. The Dane started 27th at Texas and 30th at the Indianapolis 500. His 20th place finish yesterday is his worst finish of the season and only the third worst finish in his IndyCar career. Lundgaard was 26th in the second Iowa race last year and 21st at Portland. 

Jack Harvey rounds out the all-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing row 11. Yesterday was the third time Harvey has been the best RLLR finisher in a race this season. All three have come on ovals. Harvey has been the worst finishing RLLR driver in six of 11 races this season. Graham Rahal has been the worst RLLR driver three times while the other time was Katherine Legge finishing 33rd in the Indianapolis 500. Harvey's only top fifteen finish this season was 13th at Long Beach.

Agustín Canapino took 23rd on the grid, and that is the leading position for an all-Juncos Hollinger Racing row 12. Canapino was 0.0012 seconds faster than Callum Ilott on their respective second qualifying laps. Canapino is attempting to score three consecutive top twenty finishes for the first time in his IndyCar career.

Callum Ilott was out-qualified within the JHR battle for the third time this season, and second time on an oval. The other two races were St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis 500. In each case, Canapino only qualified one spot ahead of Ilott. Ilott has been the top JHR finisher in nine of 11 races this season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay finds himself 25th on the grid, Hunter-Reay's worst starting position in 16 Iowa appearances. His previous worst was 20th in 2016. He has finished outside the top twenty in his last two starts, the first time he has two consecutive results outside the top twenty since the Indianapolis 500 and Belle Isle in 2021. Hunter-Reay has never had three consecutive results outside the top twenty in his IndyCar career.

Sting Ray Robb starts 26th for the Sunday race, one spot better than where Robb started yesterday, but one spot worse than where he finished in race one. This is the fourth time this season Robb has started outside the top 25. In three oval starts, he has finished 25th, 31st and 25th. 

Santino Ferrucci ran a 18.6701-second lap on his qualifying run, 0.9455 seconds off Power's pole position time, slotting Ferrucci in 27th on the grid. This matches Ferrucci's worst starting position in his IndyCar career. He did start 27th in the 2022 Texas race when Jack Harvey was not cleared to drive for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Ferrucci ended up ninth in that race.

Benjamin Pedersen failed to clear technical inspection ahead of qualifying on Saturday, and Pedersen was barred from participating in the session. Since he was unable to turn a lap, Pedersen was placed 28th on the grid for each Iowa race, and he is rounding out row 14 for A.J. Foyt Racing on Sunday.

NBC's coverage of the Hy-Vee One Step 250 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 250 laps.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

First Impressions: Iowa 2023 Race One

1. For a moment during the first half of the first Iowa race, it looked like it wasn't going to be Josef Newgarden's day, or at least it was not going to be a victory. 

Running third and about seven seconds behind teammate Will Power, it looked like another Team Penske driver was going to rule the day, but in the middle third of the race, Newgarden came alive while Power and Scott McLaughlin struggled in traffic. Just prior to halfway, Newgarden was in the lead and that was that. 

Newgarden looked smooth. It was tight out there and Newgarden could work the bottom better than most. He was great on the outside and that is how he picked up time. The Tennessean was precise with every pass, whether it be for position or to put a car a lap down. 

It didn't look like anyone was going to beat him in that final stint. It would come down to if Newgarden made a mistake, or something breaking again! Traffic was tricky today. Cars were on different strategies and it was not uncommon for lapped cars to be on 30-lap newer tires. In that case at Iowa, the leaders were in the way, running over a second slower. No other race has this dynamic. Newgarden had to remain calm as other cars were flying from behind but knowing it wasn't a pass for position. 

Newgarden battled Kyle Kirkwood more than he likely wished in those closing laps, but Kirkwood was in sixth and in a tough fight with Scott Dixon and Álex Palou for position. Everybody had to mind their p's and q's out there. 

For Newgarden, it is a fourth consecutive oval victory dating back to Gateway last year. The last driver to win four consecutive oval races was Nigel Mansell in 1993. Is that good company to be in? 

At the present moment, this victory helps Newgarden's championship hopes, but there is still much work to do. The gap to Álex Palou is now 98 points. This was step one.

2. Newgarden led 129 laps. Power led 119 laps. Scott McLaughlin led zero laps, but I bet McLaughlin spent about 245 laps in second position, perhaps a few laps less than that because Newgarden did spend about ten laps running behind Power, but McLaughlin was clearly the second best car. He just didn't have anything for Newgarden. Team Penske was clearly untouchable today. McLaughlin has nothing to be ashamed of.

3. I am not sure Patricio O'Ward has had a quieter third-place finish in his career. O'Ward wasn't close to the Penske drivers at any point. If it wasn't for Will Power brushing the wall, I doubt O'Ward would have finished this well. It was still going to be a good day, but this is a case where there were 28 drivers in the field and 24 didn't have a memorable moment.

4. Marcus Ericsson was fourth, the best Chip Ganassi Racing finisher. Ericsson drove a smart race. A few cars in the opening stint went backward immediately. Ericsson didn't and that opening 40-50 laps likely set him up to finish fourth. 

5. This is one that got away from Power. I am not sure he had anything for Newgarden once Newgarden took the lead, but Power had a slight error, brushed the wall and that knocked Power off the podium. Power was fortunate that hit didn't end his race. I thought he was looking at bent suspension and at best the team could repair it and send him back out 20 laps down. That wasn't the case. Fifth is a silver-lining. This could have been a victory, but this could have been a deflating disappointment.

6. Scott Dixon was one of those drivers that dropped at the start and that ended his chances of competing for a podium let alone a victory. It looked like Dixon was going to finish 12th in this race after the opening stint, but the team made adjustments and Dixon corrected course. He gained ground, but sixth was his best hope today. 

7. Kyle Kirkwood had a good balance on his car.  The one caution in the race helped Kirkwood circle back to the lead lap, but at that point he was already fighting for a top ten finish. That car was dialed in late, and Kirkwood was giving Newgarden fits. It is tough because Newgarden was trying to lap Kirkwood but Kirkwood had Palou just behind Newgarden and Dixon was just ahead of Kirkwood. This is one of those cases where the tail end of the lead lap is just as competitive as the leader. Kirkwood wasn't 27th, he was seventh. It gets tougher to lap car that far up the field. This isn't close to a Benjamin Pedersen situation.

8. We still have one more race from Iowa, but I don't think anyone expected Álex Palou to leave this weekend with his championship lead being greater than when he entered the Hawkeye State. Palou was eighth. Most of the time when second in the championship wins and the championship leader finishes eighth, we are all raising an eyebrow wondering if momentum is shifting. Palou is still up 98 points after today. It was 28 points lost. If he lost 28 more tomorrow, he would still be 70 points clear. Palou likely doesn't want to lose 56 points over two days, but with his performances this season, he isn't going to be losing points in many of the five races that follow Iowa. 

9. All the Ganassi cars were in the same area, and Takuma Sato ended up ninth. A Ganassi car in capable hands is going to get a top ten finish. That is not asking too much. Good for Sato because after Texas, when Ganassi said he was not committed to running Sato in all the oval races, Sato needed respectable performances. These aren't victories but they are better than majority of the field.

10. Arrow McLaren hasn't been as competitive as some expected prior to this weekend, as Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist were at the bottom of the speed chart in practice and qualifying. Rossi ran a race similar to Kirkwood. They started three spots apart with Rossi in 20th at the green flag. Rossi clawed positions back and finished tenth. At one point it looked like Rossi could finish seventh or eighth, but that last cycle of pit stops shuffled him back. It is a good day though not a thrilling result.

11. One sentence on a bunch of drivers...

It was not a great day for Andretti Autosport, but Romain Grosjean looked respectable today finishing 11th. 

David Malukas could be one of these drivers that only has qualifying pace and 12th is the best he could hope for. 

Nothing impressive from Felix Rosenqvist, as Rosenqvist gained spots but only finished 13th. 

For Hélio Castroneves and Meyer Shank Racing, starting 14th and finishing 14th is a great day.

Juncos Hollinger Racing is getting a little more attention. Callum Ilott ended up 15th with Agustín Canapino in 16th. Canapino was ahead of Ilott for most of this race, and Canapino was getting called out for being in the top fifteen, and yet Ilott ended up ahead of him. I think that says a lot about the middle of the field at the moment. It is really tight and if you don't make mistakes and do not over drive the car and you will get better results than others. Both drivers deserve recognition. JHR is still a small team. Ilott does a great job completing laps, and Canapino hasn't blinked despite being far from his comfort zone. 

12. Which brings us to Ed Carpenter Racing. Rinus VeeKay was 17th, Ryan Hunter-Reay was 23rd and Ed Carpenter was 24th. Remember when ECR was oval contenders? It is Indianapolis only at this point in time for the organization and it is disappointing it cannot even come close to the top ten at Iowa. Hunter-Reay's start where he went four-wide was for nothing. Also, if that wasn't a jumped start, I don't know what is. IndyCar race control cannot be toothless. 

13. I think Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was hopeful for today, and it was looking good with Graham Rahal fighting for a top ten spot in the middle of the race. Then Rahal got into the marbles and slapped the wall exiting turn four, the only caution fo the race and the only car out of the race. Jack Harvey had a good moment late when he was up to 13th, but he dropped to 18th. I think Rahal's caution caught out Christian Lundgaard, and the best the Dane could hope for was 20th. Better hopes for tomorrow.

14. Colton Herta's race was done on the first pit stop. The team stopped early because Herta was sliding down the order. Then the left front air gun could not get the wheel nut on and a 43-second stop put Herta four laps down. At that point 19th was the best he could hope for. It was another cruel day for Andretti Autosport. 

15. Devlin DeFrancesco was hit when Benjamin Pedersen was released unsafely into the Canadian on the pit lane. Pedersen was already eight laps down, so he isn't doing himself any favors. This also falls on A.J. Foyt Racing. That is an entire organization of bad decisions and lack of awareness. Not to forget mentioning Pedersen's bad release and contact trapped Santino Ferrucci in his pit stall, costing Ferrucci time, and Ferrucci ended up 26th, nine laps down. If Ferrucci wasn't held up, he wasn't going to do much better, but he might have at least finished 25th. 

DeFrancesco was only going to be in the top twenty without that contact. But 22nd is harsh.

16. Who haven't we covered yet? 

Conor Daly was 21st and wasn't really seen. Sting Ray Robb didn't get in anybody's way and was eight laps down in 25th.

17. There is a lot to talk about this weekend in general, and we will cover some of that tomorrow, but this was a fun race, and having 28 cars at Iowa is hilariously exciting. I wish IndyCar could find another oval or two that could put on a race like this. After seeing how NASCAR has raced at Richmond the last few years with tire strategy deciding races, I really wish IndyCar could figure out how to get a race there because I think Richmond could replicate what we saw today and what we have seen the last few years at Iowa, and that wouldn't be a bad thing for Iowa. 

18. Let's do it all again tomorrow. Less than 24 hours until the next IndyCar race. We don't get to say that often. 

Morning Warm-Up: Iowa 2023 Race One

As we saw last year, qualifying for both Iowa races will take place Saturday morning with the grid for the Hy-Vee Homefront 250 taking place at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. Each driver will make a two-lap qualifying run. The first qualifying lap will set a driver's starting position for Saturday's Hy-Vee Homefront 250. The second qualifying lap will determine a driver's grid position for Sunday's Hy-Vee One Step 250.

Josef Newgarden ran the fastest lap in Friday practice at 18.242 seconds or 176.428 mph. Newgarden is attempting to win four consecutive oval races. The last driver to win four consecutive oval races was Nigel Mansell at Milwaukee, Michigan, Loudon and Nazareth in 1993. Newgarden is the first driver to win three consecutive oval starts since 2000 when Juan Pablo Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in the Indy Racing League and then won his next two oval starts in CART at Milwaukee and Michigan, and Newgarden is the first driver to win three consecutive oval starts in one series since Paul Tracy won at Nazareth, Rio de Janeiro and Gateway in 1997.

Scott McLaughlin was only 0.0477 seconds off his Team Penske teammate in practice. McLaughlin was in the top five in three of five oval races last season. McLaughlin was sixth and 14th in the first two oval races this season. The only time McLaughlin has been the top Team Penske finisher this season was his Barber Motorsports Park victory. Last season, the New Zealander was the top Penske finisher five times, including three times in the first ten races.

Marcus Ericsson ran 126 laps in practice, the most in the session, and Ericsson was third, 0.0572 seconds off Newgarden. Ericsson ended up 11th at Toronto after having to make a last lap pit stop for a splash of fuel. Ericsson has failed to finish in the top ten in the last two races. The Swede has not had three consecutive starts without a top ten result since an eight-start stretch that begin at Road America in 2019 and went through the 2020 Texas season opener. 

Colton Herta was only 0.0943 seconds slower than Newgarden and Herta ranked fourth in practice. Though Herta has an average finish of 18.6 at Iowa, his average starting position is 9.8. Herta has finished in the top ten of the last two oval races. Herta had zero top ten finishes in five oval races last season, and the last time he had consecutive top ten finishes in oval races was a three-race run in 2020 from the Indianapolis 500 through both races of the Gateway doubleheader. 

Patricio O'Ward was the fifth driver within a tenth of a second of Newgarden's top time. O'Ward was 0.0996 seconds back. O'Ward could become the third driver to win consecutive Iowa races, joining Ryan Hunter-Reay, who did it in 2014 and 2015, and Josef Newgarden, who did it over the second race in 2020 and the first race in 2022. After opening the season with an average finish of 5.4 through the first five races with a median of second, O'Ward's average finish has been 13.6 over the last five events with a median of eighth. 

In his third appearance of the season, Takuma Sato was sixth in practice, the top Chip Ganassi Racing car, 0.1186 seconds off. Sato was seventh in the Indianapolis 500 in May, Sato's most recent start. He has not had consecutive top ten finishes since he was ninth in the 2022 Long Beach season finale and tenth in the 2023 St. Petersburg season opener.

Last week's winner Christian Lundgaard settled into seventh in practice, 0.2159 seconds behind Newgarden. Lundgaard is looking to become the first driver to have his first two victories occur in consecutive races A.J. Allmendinger had this first three victories occur successively in 2006. Eighteen drivers in IndyCar history has had their first two victories come in consecutive races. The last time one of those streaks included an oval was Sébastien Bourdais in 2003, who had his first career victory at Brands Hatch and then had his second career victory at the Lausitzring. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay had his best practice session with Ed Carpenter Racing, as Hunter-Reay ended up eighth. The three-time Iowa winner was 0.2329 seconds behind the four-time Iowa winner leading the way. Hunter-Reay has started in the top ten in three of his last four Iowa starts. However, Hunter-Reay has finished worse than his starting position in four consecutive Iowa races and in five of his last six. 

Conor Daly was a little over a quarter of a second slower than Newgarden's fastest lap, but it placed Daly in eighth. In the Iowa doubleheader last year, neither Meyer Shank Racing entry started better than 16th. Daly has not had a top ten finish outside the state of Indiana since he finished eighth in the second race of the 2020 Gateway doubleheader. He has not had a top five finish outside of Indiana since he was fifth at Gateway in 2017.

Scott Dixon rounded out the top ten, 0.2606 seconds behind Newgarden. Dixon is looking for his fifth consecutive top five finishes. Dixon has not had five consecutive top five results since finishing third in the 2020 St. Petersburg season finale through a fourth place finish in the second race of the 2021 Texas season opener. He has five consecutive top five finishes at Iowa, but no victories. Dixon is tied with Mario Andretti for most tracks with a victory at 26. 

Jack Harvey had the 11th fastest lap in practice, 0.2867 seconds off the top. Two of Harvey's five top ten oval finishes were his pair of sevenths in the 2020 Iowa doubleheader. He was also ninth in the 2020 Indianapolis 500, which followed that Iowa doubleheader. His average career finish in 19 starts is 16.052. He has finished 18th in the first two oval races this season.

At 0.3315 seconds slower than his teammate Newgarden, Will Power was slotted into 12th in practice. Power has never won at Iowa Speedway in 15 starts. It is the only track where Power has five starts or more and has not won at. The only other circuit where he has at least four starts and no victories is Kentucky. Power has started in the top ten in 14 consecutive Iowa races with his worst starting position being 11th. He has started on one of the firs two rows in seven consecutive Iowa races.

A week after having his best start of the season in 13th, Hélio Castroneves was 13th in practice. Castroneves has finished outside the top ten in four of his last five Iowa starts. Castroneves has been running at the finish of all 13 Iowa starts. He has finished off the lead lap here on six occasions.

Alexander Rossi was only 0.0011 seconds slower than Castroneves in practice, putting Rossi 14th in practice. Rossi has not had a top five finish on a short oval since he was second in the 2018 Gateway race. Rossi has not had a podium finish on an oval since he was runner-up at Texas in 2019. 

Álex Palou ended up 15th, 0.3607 seconds behind Newgarden. Palou is looking for his fifth consecutive podium finish. The last driver to have five consecutive podium finishes was Will Power in 2016, who had six consecutive podium finishes, four victories and two runner-up results spread from the second Belle Isle race through Pocono. Palou has a chance to clinch the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge this weekend. Palou won on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and on the streets of Detroit. An oval victory this weekend would make him the first to win on all three disciplines this year and earn him $1,000,000 toward a charity of the team's choice.

Ed Carpenter was 16th in practice, 0.0032 seconds behind IndyCar championship leader Palou. has not had a top ten finish in his last eight starts, his longest top ten drought since a ten-start stretch that began with the 2010 Homestead season finale and went through nine starts during the 2011 season.

Romain Grosjean was 17th in practice. Grosjean has finished worse than his starting position in seven of ten races this season. In two of the three races where Grosjean finished better than his starting position, he started and finished outside the top ten. He has retired due to an accident in three of the last five races.

Car #18 was 18th in practice with David Malukas' fastest lap being 0.4295 seconds slower than Newgarden. Malukas has completed 944 laps this season, the fourth fewest among drivers who have started all ten races this season. Only Benjamin Pedersen (926), Devlin DeFrancesco (925) and Sting Ray Robb (827) have completed fewer. Malukas has completed 38 fewer laps than Conor Daly, who has missed two races this season. 

Devlin DeFrancesco settled into 19th for practice. DeFrancesco will be making his 28th start Saturday at Iowa and he is still looking for his first career top ten finish. The only driver to have his first career top ten finish occur at Iowa was Mike Conway, who finished eight in the 2009 Iowa race. It was Conway's seventh career start. DeFrancesco had his first career top fifteen finish occur last year at Iowa when the Canadian was 15th in the second race.

Graham Rahal was the slowest Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry in 20th. Rahal has finished in the top ten in the 11th race of the season in six consecutive seasons, three of which have been top five results. Each of those top five finishes occurred at a different track (Iowa, Mid-Ohio and Nashville). Rahal does not have a top five finish in his last nine oval starts.

The last car within a half-second of Newgarden's best time in practice was the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet for Rinus VeeKay. VeeKay was 0.4926 seconds back. The Dutchman was fourth in last year's Iowa race, his most recent top five finish. Prior to this 16-race top five finish drought, VeeKay's longest slump was ten races. Fourth is VeeKay's best finish on an oval. 

Kyle Kirkwood ran only 72 laps in practice, the fewest in the session, and Kirkwood was 22nd. Kirkwood has not finished in the top ten on an oval in his IndyCar career, and Kirkwood has finished outside the top twenty in four of seven oval starts. His best oval finish was 17th last year in the Indianapolis 500 and at Gateway. 

Callum Ilott ended up 23rd in the session. Ilott has finished in the top 12 in four of the last five oval races. Ilott completed all 200 miles at Indianapolis in May and went from 27th to 12th. He gained at least ten spots in both Iowa races last season. Ilott's 17th starting position at Texas earlier this season is his best oval starting position in seven appearances.

Agustín Canapino shadowed his Juncos Hollinger Racing teammate Ilott on the speed chart, but Canapino was our a tenth of a second slower in 24th. Canapino enters Iowa trailing Marcus Armstrong by 43 points in the championship for the top rookie. Armstrong is not competing this weekend and he will not be at Gateway next month. Canapino is averaging 11.3 points per race this season. In oval races, he is averaging 11.5 points.

Santino Ferrucci was 25th, 0.7813 seconds slower than Newgarden. A.J. Foyt Racing has one top five finish and three top ten finishes at Iowa. The team's only top five was fifth in the inaugural Iowa race in 2007 with Darren Manning. Its only other top ten finishes were seventh with Vitor Meira in 2010 and tenth with Tony Kanaan in 2019. 

Felix Rosenqvist took 26th in practice, 0.8554 seconds off Newgarden. Rosenqvist's average finish in oval races is 16.4545 in 22 starts. The Swede has finished outside the top fifteen in 11 oval starts and outside the top twenty in seven oval starts. He has finished outside the top twenty in three of his last five oval starts. 

Sting Ray Robb was 0.9027 seconds off Newgarden. Robb retired from the first two oval races this season. After retiring from five of the first six races this season, Robb has taken the checkered flag in four consecutive races.

Benjamin Pedersen was the slowest car in practice, the only one more than a second off the fastest lap. Pedersen was 1.0737 seconds back Pedersen was 27th at Toronto last week. Each time Pedersen has finished 27th this season, he has failed to complete a lap. He was ninth in the Indy Lights race at Iowa last year, completing all 75 laps.

NBC's coverage of the Hy-Vee Homefront 250 begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:00 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 250 laps.