Scott Dixon looked like the man to beat for this years championship early. He won each of the first three races and held a commanding lead in the points as a result. But, following a bad final stop in the last race at Road America, then a rough qualifying effort on Friday in Iowa, the door was back open for the championship. Key word there “was.”
Dixon, entered this weekend with a 54 point lead over Colton Herta, 63 points over Simon Pagenaud and Pato O’Ward both and 67 more markers over Newgarden in fifth.
But, this is Iowa and Dixon has struggled here. He’s 0-for-13 and on the 7/8 mile track and didn’t look much better on Friday.
He qualified his No. 9 Honda 17th and by Lap 67 was a lap down. Meanwhile, Newgarden looked like his old Iowa self in dominating. Herta, had a bad first pit stop but still solidly in the top 10. So was Pagenaud who came from last to be in the top five.
Then, the pair of crashes during the second to last pit sequence halted that shake up.
Will Power’s left front tire was never tightened. He crashed with 108 to go as a result. 10 cars had yet to pit and Pagenaud and Dixon were two of them. Newgarden, wasn’t.
Pagenaud and Dixon held on for a 1-2 finish instead.
“I’m proud to be powered by Honda and HPD,” Dixon said after scoring his 47th career runner-up finish. “They did a tremendous job on fuel mileage. I think that’s what enabled us to really stay out and get that fuel mileage and jump a couple of cars. And those cautions really did help, especially because when you pit on such a small track, you fall down a couple laps.
“We had a pretty dreadful car in qualifying. We worked on it, but unfortunately with the way the race is this weekend you can’t change anything after qualifying, so it took us awhile to get us going. Huge credit to the PNC Bank crew. They did a hell of a job. Unfortunately, we’re starting at the back again tomorrow, so we’ll have another long night tomorrow in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda car.”
Newgarden was pinned a lap down and only rebounded to fifth with the best car out there. Herta, crashed out in a frightening incident on the ensuing restart.
Dixon’s lead only shrunk by just four due to that.
“I’m so angry about how this all transpired,” Newgarden said of how this race transpired. “That caution was the nail in the coffin. We had the car to beat tonight. Hands down. Some of it is just bad luck. That caution, you weigh out the pros and cons of trying to go long or short on your pit windows. I can’t fault my guys. I had a rocket ship.
“Look all you can do is move forward. This is racing. Some days the racing Gods shine down on your and some days they don’t. Today, they definitely didn’t. You have to take the good days when they shine down on you and accept the bad days when they don’t. We have to stop giving these guys layups. That’s what’s happening.”
Dixon, lucked out from a caution last year and finished second. He did it again, as he’s only led three laps at Iowa since 2015 but has three podiums in that time frame still and holds a commanding lead still when the door was opened again. He slightly closed it back up but does only start 18th on Saturday while Newgarden rolls off on the pole.
“I want to drink whatever Kool Aid Dixon is drinking,” said Conor Daly. “Oh my goodness.”