A Lap 10 crash in Saturday night’s Iowa Corn 300 looked set to severely dent, if not crush, Juan Pablo Montoya’s 54-point lead in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
But the Colombian survived more than seemed possible after his rivals seemed to get lost searching for points and results in the Iowa cornfields.
Scott Dixon, who started fourth, entered the race second in points and was well positioned to gain on Montoya when he went out.
But his day was compromised with a mechanical issue that sent him to the garage on Lap 234. It took what was a likely podium finish out of play, although his Chip Ganassi Racing crew performed a minor miracle to get him back out by Lap 269.
Dixon looked set to end 19th, which became 18th when he passed the retired Takuma Sato with three laps remaining. If Dixon wins the title by one point, this will be the reason why.
Next up in the title contender roller coaster was Helio Castroneves, who entered the race weekend tied for third with Graham Rahal but moved one point ahead after scoring the pole position earlier on Saturday.
Castroneves faded as the race went on, only leading in the middle stint after a dice with Josef Newgarden, who led a race-high 111 laps.
He did not take tires ahead of the final restart and fell behind Rahal, Will Power, Marco Andretti and Ryan Briscoe, all of whom did, by the finish. Castroneves finished 11th.
Rahal’s was a day of recovery after starting 17th. A flat tire prompted an unscheduled pit stop, and knocked him two laps down early. But for his benefit, the first pit stop cycle completed under green, which allowed Rahal to get back on the lead lap.
Rahal lost a lap again on another yellow flag period when a persistent shifting issue kept him in the pits longer than planned. Race leader Newgarden trapped him a lap down.
But through another cycle Rahal got back on the lead lap, even with the shifting issues continuing. Takuma Sato’s crash left Rahal out front in the final 35 laps before pitting for the final time.
With fresh tires, Rahal recovered to fourth, and actually made the most headway on Montoya in points. Rahal gained 25 points and is now 42 back of Montoya, now into second.
Will Power failed to make much headway himself, ending an anonymous 10th. He’s within 55 points now, but still more than a race distance back.
All told, things could have been a lot worse for Montoya after his disaster in Iowa.