NEWTON, IA — Pato O’Ward had more of an optimistic look than Will Power did 24 hours ago when they had a first hand look at the rout that Josef Newgarden put on the 26 car field in Saturday’s NTT INDYCAR Series race at the Iowa Speedway.
“Yeah, I mean, (Josef) Newgarden has four wins, probably five tomorrow, unless I can do something,” Will Power said on Saturday following his 3rd place finish in the HyveeDeals.com 250.
“Don’t be so negative,” said runner-up Pato O’Ward.
“Go ahead, try to beat him, man,” Power responded.
“I tried today (laughter),” said O’Ward.
They tried again on Sunday. It’s just Newgarden was that much better again. Until he wasn’t.
Newgarden crashed while leading all by himself on Lap 235 which handed the lead over to O’Ward. The reason he was even in that 2nd spot was due to the undercut he put on Will Power.
O’Ward pit for the 2nd to last time on Lap 193. Power and Newgarden did so a lap later. O’Ward would cycle to 2nd, one spot behind Newgarden but one ahead of Power.
At the time of the crash, Newgarden was 2.8384-seconds ahead of O’Ward on track and was about to lead his 149th lap of the day. But the rare mistake despite leading 111 or more laps for the 7th time in his last 9 Iowa starts, dropped him to a 24th place finish.
O’Ward inherited the lead and never gave it back in cruising to his 4th career series victory. He beat a gaggle of Penske and Ganassi cars as spots 2-3-4-5-6 belonged to those camps. But here O’Ward was capitalizing on Newgarden’s mistake to stamp his name back into the championship conversation.
The 23-year old AMSP driver entered the weekend 75 points out of the lead in 6th. He leaves 36 back heading to a place to where he won the pole at last year and had a great test at last month.
“Great weekend for us,” O’Ward said. “We knew we needed to execute this weekend, just to have a shot at the championship. We’ve let a lot of points go from us because of one thing or another.
“We executed. The guys were great in the pits. I did my job in the car. I knew we had the pace to win one. The problem was just trying to get up to Josef. One thing is getting up to him, and one thing is passing him. I’m glad he’s okay. We took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself. I just walked away with it. I knew we had the pace to do it. It’s just about being in the right situation.”
O’Ward beat Will Power by 4.248-seconds on a more seasonable Central Iowa afternoon for his 2nd straight top 2 result. It’s a weekend he badly needed as he entered Iowa on the heels of 26th, 24th and 11th place finishes respectively. He went from 2nd in points after his runner-up in the Indianapolis 500 to 6th entering Iowa.
A day after Newgarden scored his 4th win of the season, all coming on each discipline of tracks (superspeedway, short oval, natural road course and street course) O’Ward won his 4th victory in INDYCAR and each have come on all 4 disciplines too.
3 of his 4 wins came on the backend of a doubleheader weekend at that. His 1st career win at Texas came in the 2nd race of that race weekend. His 2nd career win came in the 2nd race of the Belle Isle weekend in June 2021. Now he does it again in Iowa.
“Obviously we were there, we were there to take advantage of an opportunity that got presented to us,” he said. “I think even with him not finishing the race, I think we still would have given him a hard time. There was still one more pit stop to go.
“Yeah, I was positioning ourselves to do what we just did. Super proud of the boys in the pits. The car was fantastic. I knew it was just all about getting into the Penske sandwich because, yeah, Will was not making it any little easy on me. I knew Josef was going to do the same. It was one thing to get up there, but one thing to pass.
“It just explains how hard it is, how difficult it can be whenever you’re going through the lap traffic, how you get some people, other people behind you are going to get them in a very different situation. That’s how you can lose or gain time.
“You’re never going to perfect it, but trying to lose the least amount of time possible in that situation.”
Among his 4 wins, 2 of which are on ovals too. The other 2 on road/street courses. For whatever reason, ovals have strongly suited O’Ward well in his brief career. He has 8 podiums in his last 10 oval starts.
“I think the team has a great package in the ovals,” he said. “I think that’s definitely our strong suit. We’re getting better in other areas.
“But, yeah, just as a team I think we go to every oval believing that we can beat anybody and we’re going to have as good of a package as anybody else.
“Yeah, going to other tracks is a little bit of a different story in terms of I think we’ve done a good job strategy-wise in ovals, whether it’s a superspeedway or short oval. We don’t seem to have that in road courses. So I think there’s some work to do there.
“Yeah, great job by the team.”
Power remains 2nd in points but closes the gap considerably after 2 podiums in as many days. He entered Iowa 35 points back and leaves 8 out. The Team Penske driver has 6 podiums in 12 starts this season including 9 of which in the top 5 at that.
“Yeah, great weekend points-wise,” he said. “Would have loved to have got a win here. Tough competition, man. You can’t let up one bit.
“Yeah, the car was really good. I probably could have been more aggressive in that second-to-last stint because it seemed like there’s a lot less deg. Must have cooled or the track took a lot of rubber or something. The track was really fast.”
Scott McLaughlin gave Chevrolet a clean sweep of the podium for a 2nd straight day and a massive improvement from his 22nd place result a day prior. McLaughlin had a top 5 car on Saturday but a right rear problem on hit pit stop forced him back down pit lane and relegated him with a bad result.
“Really pumped to back up. Felt like we had a car to challenge for the podium yesterday. We managed to sort of pull it off today,” he said.
“I think you have to push the limit on everything these days in INDYCAR. The competitiveness. My guys yesterday, the stops have been tremendous all year. I think we were again fastest on pit road, or close to fastest on pit road today.
“They did a stop. The stop before was a second faster than anyone in pit lane, that last exchange yesterday. They tried to go a little bit faster. You weren’t going to do it. Unfortunately they dropped the car too early, didn’t tighten the wheel.
“You are pushing the limits. You are doing stuff.”
He started 5th on Sunday and fought his car the 1st half of the race before getting it in a sweet spot for the end.
“Kind of brought us back to life,” McLaughlin said.
“Managed to get my head down, did some really good pit exchanges, managed to get ourselves into P4 there before the last caution. Then P3 on Dixon, which was a fun pass. I really enjoyed that. It was a really good exchange with him all race. Hope he enjoyed it. Probably didn’t enjoy it as much as me, but it was definitely a lot of fun racing with him.”
Scott Dixon rallied from 18th to finish 4th while Jimmie Johnson scored his first career INDYCAR top 5 in his No. 48 Dallara-Honda.
Newgarden’s Bad Finishes Keeping Him From Championship, How His Lap 235 Crash Altered The Standings
In the 2 times Josef Newgarden won the INDYCAR championship, he won 4 times in each season. He won 4 times and finished 2nd in 2020 though too. On Saturday in Iowa, he secured his 4th win in 11 starts this year. Was this his season?
On a weekend that he led 356 laps, he still leaves in a tie for 3rd in points.
Well he has more finishes outside the top 5 than he does wins (5-4). That’ll do it. The 16th place St. Pete result, the 14th place run in Barber or 25th in the GMR Grand Prix or 13th in the double points Indy 500 and now the 24th place result at Iowa, has put him 34 points back of the championship lead with 5 races remaining.
But that Lap 235 crash completely altered the standings. Before the crash, Newgarden was leading Marcus Ericsson by 10 points. Will Power was 3rd (-23), Scott Dixon 4th (-44), Alex Palou in 5th (-56) and Pato O’Ward in sixth still at 57 points out. Scott McLaughlin (-101), Colton Herta (-135), Felix Rosenqvist (-140) and Alexander Rossi (-150) rounded out the top 10.
How it sits now?
Ericsson leads Power by 8, Newgarden and Dixon are tied for 3rd (-34), O’Ward is 5th (-36), Palou 6th (-44) and McLaughlin 7th (-86).
That crash changed everything.
Chevrolet The Top Short Oval Manufacturer
Chevy has swept the podium on both days at Iowa and took 4 of the 5 spots on the lead lap on Saturday and a 1-2-3 sweep on Sunday.
Josef Newgarden and Will Power combined to lead 221 of the 250 laps (88%) on Saturday and Newgarden, Power and Pato O’Ward leading 293 of 300 laps on Sunday giving the bowties their 7th win in the last 8 Iowa tries including 5 straight. At World Wide Technology Raceway, they’ve won 4 of the 6 races since the return including 2 straight which is why Newgarden, Power and O’Ward are the favorites for Gateway next month.
“I think Chevy’s done a great job this year giving us drivability and horsepower,” said Power. “It definitely showed this weekend, all the Chevy cars were really strong.
“Yeah, just lucky to be involved with these guys. They’re very, very good at their job.”
O’Ward has 3 straight podiums there too including 2 straight runner-ups. He has 2 straight top 2’s now at Iowa.
“We’ve obviously dominated this weekend,” O’Ward said of Chevy’s power. “It’s been an all-Chevy podium both days. Qualifying was also all Chevy. The power was there. The drivability was there. The reliability was there. Just very crucial part of the season to have that. Yeah, great to have them power us.”
Newgarden has won each of the last 2 races at Gateway and should have swept the weekend here. Power was on the podium both days this weekend and the last time out in Gateway himself.
Johnson’s Oval Comfort
Jimmie Johnson has always said he has no regrets for how he chose his INDYCAR path. I mean you can’t pass up 7 Cup championships and 83 wins on the NASCAR side. You also can’t blame him for wanting to race on road/street courses only in 2021 too. For the last two decades, INDYCAR was off limits for him. The Aeroscreen opened the door but the comfort for his family was for him to not race on ovals.
So you take what you can get.
But the more they saw, the more they were more open to ovals on this side. Johnson wanted to race the Indy 500 and if he was going to do that, why not do the full season in his 2nd year in the sport?
After 3 oval tracks (4 races) under his belt now, it’s clear that he’s at his most comfort on these tracks. I mean 82 of his 83 Cup wins came on ovals so it’s not shocking that he’s hit the ground running on them.
Johnson went from 18th to 6th in Texas. He qualified 12th in the Indy 500 and was in the top 10 for most of the month. In Iowa, he qualified 15th and 13th respectively but quickly charged hard each day.
He was 11th on Saturday and 5th on Sunday.
“I had so much fun out there today,” Johnson said on Saturday. “Watched so many great races at this track. To be here in person, drive on it in an INDYCAR is such a rush.
“The first two-thirds of the race I really felt like we had a car competitive enough to win.”
That comfort is clear that he’s a threat on ovals and with 1 more left at World Wide Technology Raceway next month, you can’t count him out.
Great Points Weekend For Dixon/Ericsson, But Palou Sliding Backwards
They didn’t expect to be very strong this weekend. Short ovals aren’t their top tracks. A day after Chip Ganassi Racing put all 4 of their cars in the top 10 P4-P6-P9-P10 in practice on Friday, they struggled in qualifying on Saturday morning. Their top qualifier for Race 1 is points leader Marcus Ericsson in 12th. Scott Dixon and Alex Palou would share Row 7 in starting 13th and 14th respectively yesterday. Jimmie Johnson started 15th. For Sunday’s race, they’d roll off P12 (Palou), P13 (Johnson), P15 (Ericsson) and P18 (Dixon).
Ganassi won 2 of the 1st 3 years here but has been 0-for-14 since.
However, they had a great points weekend under the circumstances. They put all 4 cars in the top 11 on Saturday including 3 in the top 8 (P5, P6, P8, P11). On Sunday, all 4 cars were in the top 13 with 3 in the top 6 (P4, P5, P6, P13).
Ericsson still holds the points lead albeit only by 8. But he’s had 19 top 10 finishes in his last 22 starts including 8 straight top 8 finishes and a top 11 in all 5 of his Iowa starts too.
Dixon was 5th on Saturday and 4th on Sunday to score his 4th straight top 5 on the season and 5th in the last 6 races run. He went from 6th in points to in a tie for 3rd.
Palou is going backwards with just 1 top 5 in his last 8 races including being 6th and 13this weekend without a lead lap finish in either.
Dixon/Power Winless Still At Iowa But Likely Will Need To Win At Some Point This Season
Will Power and Scott Dixon are generational drivers. They have 93 combined NTT INDYCAR Series victories. Dixon’s 52 wins rank him in a tie for 2nd most ever. Power has 41 trips to victory lane which is 1 shy of tying Michael Andretti for 5th most ever.
They’re remarkably 0-for-16 at the Iowa Speedway.
Power has 6 poles here and for a track that promotes track position, he’s never won. In fact, he’s had 7 front row starts in his last 8 Iowa tries but not only hasn’t won, he’s had just 3 podiums. However, all are consecutively.
While he didn’t have a car good enough to win either day and the pole winner has only won just once in 16 Iowa tries, to get a podium each day moves him from 35 points down in the standings to 8. Here he comes.
Same for Dixon. He had a top 5 both days at Iowa and now has 5 in the last 6 races. He went from 6th in points leaving the Indianapolis 500 to a tie for third (-34). With 5 races left in the year, he has a realistic shot at a record tying 7th title.