Andretti Autosport becomes the hunted at Iowa Speedway


When the Verizon IndyCar Series brings its drama to Iowa Speedway, the narrative changes.

Despite its 2015 struggles, Andretti Autosport is the team to be feared in Saturday’s Iowa Corn 300.

“I’d like to think so,” Marco Andretti said in a team press conference Friday. “The team, for whatever reason, rolls off pretty strong here.”

That’s the understatement of the year.

In eight races at the .894-mile track since 2007, six have been won by a car owned by Michael Andretti, including the last five. It started in the inaugural race with a Dario Franchitti win. The current streak begin in 2010 when Tony Kanaan, now with Ganassi Racing, took the victory. The next four races were won by Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“I think last year we started to struggle a little bit, but they definitely pulled the rabbit out of the hat there in the end (with Ryan Hunter-Reay winning),” Andretti said of Hunter-Reay’s 2014 win. Hunter-Reay was able to overtake Kanaan on fresher tires after the Brazilian led 247 of 300 laps.

“It was frustrating to watch,” Andretti said. “Ryan and I were running together the whole time. My engine blew up, then I was watching from my bus.”

Andretti watched his teammate win his second race of 2014 (after the Indianapolis 500) and his second at Iowa in three years. The win also marked the last time Hunter-Reay visited victory lane. Through 12 races, the 2014 Indy 500 winner is 14th in points, has an average finish of 13.1 and has not finished in the top five since the fourth race at Barber Motorsports Park.

The American driver didn’t lead his first laps of the season until Fontana two races ago.

“Always love coming back to Iowa,” Hunter-Reay said. “Hopefully we can get our season turned around here.

“I didn’t want to peak too early (this season),” he joked. “(I) wanted to sneak up on everybody here. Hopefully we’re going to do that.”

Hunter-Reay was third fastest in Friday’s first practice session, but was a team high 12th in the second and final session.

Iowa also represents the last place Marco Andretti earned an IndyCar race at, in the 2011 edition. That was 73 races ago.

“That monkey is as big as anything right now,” Andretti lamented. “Just sort of what Ryan is doing for his season, I’m doing in my career right now. We’re hoping to get a bunch of race wins. We have plenty of podiums (20), plenty of laps led (986), but that’s not good enough for me or anybody, really.”

While Andretti is eager to win, his part-time teammate Justin Wilson is just happy to be racing in IndyCar in any capacity. The Engishman rejoined Andretti Autosport at Milwaukee last week to finish out the final five races of 2015.

“This is where I feel want my career to be,” said Wilson, whose best finish at Iowa is 10th in 2012. “This is what I want to do. Jumping back in just felt like being at home. Everything was familiar, I knew what to do, knew where to be at what time. It’s a much more comfortable feeling once you have that experience.”

The fourth variable in the Andretti equation is the most successful in 2015. Carlos Munoz, who earned his first IndyCar win and Andretti’s only one of 2015, in a rain-shortened race at Detroit. He makes his second start at Iowa after finishing 12th in 2014.

“I think Iowa and me, we are not really good friends,” Munoz said. “I’ve been good in qualifying here in Indy Lights (one pole), but we struggled a little bit in racing in Indy Lights. Last year was a really tough race. Like Ryan said, you have to have a really good car. It’s going to be really physical as well.”

Even if Munoz doesn’t consider Iowa a friend, he knows anything can happen after last week at Milwaukee, especially at a track his team typically holds court at.

“You never know who is going to win, Munoz said. “Milwaukee, I wouldn’t have put my dollars in on (Sebastien) Bourdais. This is IndyCar, anything can happen till the last lap.”

IndyCar Power Rankings: Alex Palou still first as Newgarden, Ferrucci make Indy 500 jumps

NBC IndyCar power rankings
Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network

The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.

Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..

Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
  2. Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
  3. Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
  4. Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
  5. Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
  6. Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
  7. Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
  8. Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
  9. Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
  10. Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.

Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)


PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship

RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete

RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas

RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top

RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory

RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500