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.
Rough Weekend From MSR Camp
Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud didn’t fare well this weekend in Iowa. They started 21st and 25th for Saturday’s race and 16th and 24th on Sunday. They’d finish just P16 and P23 for Race 1 and P21 and P23 for Race 2 that saw a myriad of problems for both cars.
Rough Finishes For Good Starters
Conor Daly qualified on the 2nd row for both races. Jack Harvey came from 7th each day. Daly finished 19th in Race 1 and 16th in Race 2. Harvey was 19th and 20th respectively.
Solid Outing From The Rookies
Iowa isn’t an easy track to figure out but what was impressive was some of the rookie drivers. Some of them finished P10-P11-P12 and P14 on Saturday and then 5th, 8th and 11th on Sunday. While Jimmie Johnson isn’t a series rookie, he did get a pair of top 11’s including a 5th place result on Sunday.
David Malukas was 14th and 8th respectively while Christian Lundgaard was 10th on Saturday. Callum Ilott was 12th and 11th on both days which to make matters even more impressive, Lundgaard and Ilott had no oval starts prior to this season.
Kyle Kirkwood Struggles
The one rookie to struggle was Kyle Kirkwood as he crashed on Sunday. He now has crashed in 4 out of his last 6 starts on the season including 3 of the last 4 races at that.
Grosjean Best Andretti Driver This Weekend, Starting To Heat Up Again
Romain Grosjean put some intra team drama behind him and quietly had a really good weekend at Iowa. Despite this being his first race weekend here (he tested a few weeks ago) and just his 4th oval he’s ever raced on, Grosjean had a pair of top 10 finishes on the .894-mile track. He was 7th on Saturday and 9th on Sunday. That pushed him to scoring 6 top 10 finishes in 12 races run this season. He had 6 top 10’s in 13 races as a part-time rookie last year with Dale Coyne/Rick Ware Racing. He’s also been running at the finish in 10 of his 12 starts this season compared to 10 in 13 races last year.
Grosjean now has 3 top 10 finishes in his last 5 starts on the season and going to a track that he won the pole at in May 2021 and scored a runner-up in both races on last year.
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.
For some reason, Pato O’Ward and Scott McLaughlin have gotten up to speed on ovals very quickly in their brief INDYCAR careers thus far. McLaughlin has 6 top 5 finishes so far and among his 6 top 5 finishes in the sport, 4 of which came on ovals. That’s shocking in a sense that he had no prior oval experience before coming to the NTT INDYCAR Series in October 2020.
O’Ward has 8 podiums in his last 10 oval starts himself.
He made 6 oval starts in 2020 finishing 12th at Texas, 4th and 12th at Iowa, 6th in the Indy 500 and 3rd and 2nd respectively at World Wide Technology Raceway In 2021, he made 4 oval starts that saw him finish 3rd and 1st in Texas, 4th in the Indy 500 and 2nd at Gateway. This year he was 15th at Texas, 2nd in the Indy 500 and 2nd and 1st in Iowa.
That’s 14 oval starts with two wins, 4 runner-ups and 10 top 5 finishes. That’s nearly half of his career top 5’s coming on these types of tracks.
Same can be said for Jimmie Johnson. He finished 6th back in March at Texas, was fast at Indy and now finished 11th and 5th respectively in Iowa.
O’Ward/Newgarden Shining On All Types Of Tracks
Josef Newgarden has won 4 races this season and all came on a different type of track. He won on a superspeedway (Texas), a street course (Long Beach), a natural road course (Road America) and now a short oval (Iowa). That’s all 4 disciplines to what INDYCAR has to offer.
Oddly enough, Pato O’Ward has 4 career INDYCAR wins and all 4 comes on these types of tracks. He won on a superspeedway (Texas), a street course (Belle Isle), a natural road course (Barber) and a short oval (Iowa).
Hard To Repeat With O’Ward In The Field
The doubleheader format started in the series in 2013 and only two times has someone swept both races in the same weekend. Scott Dixon did it in Toronto in 2013 and Graham Rahal at Belle Isle in 2017. Josef Newgarden had a great shot this weekend in leading 206 of 250 laps in his Saturday win and cruising to what was shaping up to being a easy win on Sunday. Until his suspension gave out on him while leading.
Newgarden had 1 more pit stop left and was dusting the field on Sunday. He led a race-high 148 laps. However, he failed to sweep the weekend.
2-for-17 now. This format started with three races (Belle Isle, Toronto, Houston) in 2013, fell to Belle Isle and Houston in 2014 and just Belle Isle as the standalone from 2015 through 2019. During the 2020 season, due to COVID, we had it in Texas, Road America, Iowa, World Wide Technology Raceway, Mid-Ohio and on the IMS road course. Last year it was back to Belle Isle again before moving to here this weekend.
Oddly enough, 3 of O’Ward’s 4 career trips to victory lane came on the 2nd day of a doubleheader weekend.
Iowa Deserves To Stay On The Schedule
Now that we’ve witnessed life without Iowa in 2021, I don’t want to see a future schedule without Iowa as a part of it. They knocked it out of the park this weekend. From capacity crowds with temperatures soaring near the century mark on Saturday to a packed house back a day later on Sunday, Iowa shined on a busy weekend.
From concerts to thrilling racing, this was everything that I had hoped it would be.
The box scores don’t look as good as the on track action produced. Josef Newgarden crashed from the lead on Sunday. There was plenty of passing through the field on the second day of racing as to why just 2 drivers that started in the top 5 even finished in the top 9. We saw the 7th, 18th, 13th, 15th, 9th, 14th and 10th place starters finish 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th respectively.
The Saturday box score shows the podium came from the top 4 starting spots. It shows just 3 drivers led laps with 1 of them leading 208 of the 250. Just 5 cars were on the lead lap with the ones completing all 250 laps finishing 6.1784-seconds back, 20.2822-seconds back, 20.3748-seconds arrears and 21.9844-seconds behind.
Still, the racing was far better than what that shows. If you missed the race, you missed a good one. Most of the event was drivers running within a second or two of one another up front and plenty of passing throughout the field.
We saw 772 total on-track passes on Saturday, 372 of which were for position.
The Lap 17 spin from Jimmie Johnson in Turn 4 really spiced up the race. 11 of the 26 cars pit took advantage of the caution and pit on Lap 19. They came through the field quickly. Colton Herta and Jimmie Johnson moved their ways into the top 5 swiftly.
It created some wild moments for the first couple of stints before it worked itself back out when Felix Rosenqvist crashed on Lap 111. From there on, it still was intense battling for the lead between Newgarden, Power, O’Ward and even Marcus Ericsson.
The only reason as to why the separation in the end was due to the longer final stint. Ed Carpenter crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 164. The leaders hit pit road on Lap 167. They’d have to go the final 83 laps without a stop. On a day that saw no one go more than 60 laps on a set of tires prior, it saw everyone slipping and sliding in the end.
This was enough to merit a return. While some want a Saturday night show, I’m good with a pair of day races with the tire fall off that we witnessed. A night show could add more natural grip which would diminish the show.
For a schedule that keeps losing ovals, this one needs to be retained for years to come.