IndyCar: Scott Dixon leads Ganassi front row sweep in Iowa qualifying

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As we mentioned earlier this week, Andretti Autosport has won five of the seven Verizon IndyCar Series races at Iowa Speedway. But the only other IndyCar team that’s won at Iowa will lead the field to green tomorrow night in the Iowa Corn Indy 300 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Chip Ganassi Racing, which won back-to-back Iowa races in 2008 (Dan Wheldon) and 2009 (Dario Franchitti), swept the front row in tonight’s qualifying session on the 7/8-mile oval.

Defending series champion Scott Dixon’s two-lap average of 186.256 miles per hour was enough to knock off Target teammate Tony Kanaan’s average of 185.891 mph.

Dixon was able to take advantage of some advice from Kanaan and mutual teammate Ryan Briscoe, who both took their own qualifying runs before him.

“Both TK and Ryan went before us out there, and they thought the track had a bit of understeer,” Dixon said to NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “So we were able to make some wing changes on the car – obviously, to get it to turn a little bit better. And it worked out perfectly for us.

“But you never really know sometimes how your car’s gonna be compared to theirs, and putting more front wing in – sitting in a qualifying line, it’s not always something you want to hear because it just makes the car looser. But it was definitely the right call.”

As for Kanaan, he hopes to rebound from a bitter disappointment one week ago at Pocono. The Brazilian led a race-high 78 laps, but was unable to make late fuel strategy work for him.

“We haven’t delivered yet, so tomorrow will be the opportunity to redeem what happened last week,” said Kanaan, who continues to search for his first win as a member of the Ganassi camp.

Current series championship co-leader Helio Castroneves will start on the inside of Row 2 thanks to his average of 185.789 mph.

His second lap of 186.809 mph was fast enough to set a single-lap qualifying record for Iowa, but his first lap of 184.575 mph was what kept him from the pole.

Briscoe posted an average of 185.339 mph and will start to Castroneves’ outside on Row 2. Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz (185.027) and KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (184.968) make up Row 3, while Charlie Kimball (Ganassi; 184.743) and Marco Andretti (Andretti; 184.726) will be in Row 4.

Will Power, who shares the championship lead with Penske teammate Castroneves, was first to take a qualifying run and he settled for ninth on the grid (184.683). He’ll be in Row 5 along with Ed Carpenter (184.589).

Other notables include: Simon Pagenaud in 11th, Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay in 13th, defending Iowa champion James Hinchcliffe in 14th, and last week’s winner at Pocono, Juan Pablo Montoya, in 19th.

Rookie driver Jack Hawksworth, returning to action after not racing at Pocono due to a myocardial contusion sustained in a practice crash, qualified 20th.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES AT IOWA – IOWA CORN INDY 300
Qualifying Results

1. Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 186.256 mph
2. Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 185.891
3. Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 185.685
4. Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 185.339
5. Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 185.027
6. Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, 184.968
7. Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, 184.743
8. Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 184.726
9. Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 184.683
10. Ed Carpenter, ECR-Chevy, 184.589
11. Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 184.380
12. Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 184.316
13. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, 183.747
14. James Hinchcliffe, Andreti-Honda, 183.348
15. Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, 183.201
16. Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, 183.089
17. Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, 183.083
18. Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, 182.455
19. Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 182.317
20. Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 181.243
21. Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 180.987
22. Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, 177.849

Danica Patrick to sign off driving career at 2018 Indy 500

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With her full-time career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now coming to an end, following the end of the 2017 season this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Danica Patrick is embarking on a new path in 2018 with the two biggest 500-mile races in North America.

Patrick confirmed plans to participate in North America’s most marquee 500-mile races, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, during a press conference today in Miami. A team for the Indianapolis 500 has not been determined, and her options for the Daytona 500 are limited to NASCAR teams with three or fewer full-time cars, because a four-car full-time team cannot enter a fifth for the Daytona 500.

Patrick ended her full-time career in IndyCar after 2011 to head to NASCAR. She drove 10 races in 2012 before her first full Cup season in 2013, where she won the pole for that year’s Daytona 500 and ultimately finished eighth.

Her Cup career has seen her finish between 24th and 28th in points with seven career top-10 finishes, all between sixth and 10th place. She ranks 27th heading into this week’s finale too.

It was her IndyCar career though where she first entered the national conversation after a few years of apprenticeship driving for Bobby Rahal’s Barber Dodge and Formula Atlantic teams. A fourth place finish in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 with a number of laps led launched her into the racing stratosphere and helped produce the Indianapolis 500’s biggest rating in years.

Ultimately her best finish in the ‘500 in seven starts was third place in 2009, behind Helio Castroneves and the late Dan Wheldon.

She won at Motegi, 2008, for her first and only win in IndyCar.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 29: Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Team GoDaddy Dallara Honda, makes a pit stop during the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

A visibly emotional Patrick announced this was the end of her full-time driving career to kick off the press conference, but switched to her future plans once she got through the opening remarks.

Patrick “never thought” she’d do the Indianapolis 500 again but when tossing around future ideas, the concept of running both Daytona and Indianapolis came up.

“I never thought I would do it. I always thought never, but I never said never. Here I am,” she said.

“Out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ That was really the first sort of idea that got me excited. Let’s do it. I called Haley (Moore, longtime PR rep). What did I just say I would do? She said, ‘Hell yes that’s a good idea.’

“I’m still surprised.”

Patrick will need to participate in the Indianapolis 500 refresher program for drivers that aren’t full-time drivers, so that will provide her a couple hours additional track time before practice opens to the full field in mid-May.

The new 2018 Dallara universal body kit comes into being this year too, and Patrick thinks she has improved as a driver over the last six seasons to be able to come back.

“(Going) 240… it’ll be no problem,” she deadpanned. “It’ll take a bit of adjusting. It’s different for sure. But I think I’m a better driver now. It’ll take a bit of acclimating. Yeah, I would like to get in a car before I get to Indy.”

Patrick said running the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 “could” occur with her same teams she last ran with full-time, Stewart-Haas Racing and Andretti Autosport, respectively. But her options remain open for both.