PREVIEW: Iowa Corn 300

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ longest race in terms of lap count and shortest in terms of racetrack length occurs this weekend, with the 300-lap Iowa Corn 300 at the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway bullring (Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Weather pending, it will be the third completed oval race of the year and the first of a back-to-back run of races, and first in a three-in-four-weeks stretch.

Here’s some of the talking points going into the weekend:

2016 Iowa Corn 300 – Talking Points

Track changes 

Iowa Speedway’s notorious bump in Turn 2 has been a big talking point but may have been smoothed out this year. Yet the surface in Turns 3 and 4 could be an issue this year.

“They did a pretty nice job in Turns 1 and 2, shaving some of the bumps, but they are still popping up and now there are bumps in Turns 3 and 4 where they had to patch the surface, so the grip is very uneven,” said Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet.

Added Takuma Sato, driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda, “Iowa is a great track. It is one of the most exciting short ovals and we have such close battles in very tight competition. It’s physical – we pull over 5 Gs – so you can see the cornering speeds are quite impressive. I think Iowa always produces great entertainment because it is a very competitive race. I enjoy driving this challenging track and love the venue.”

Night to day

The big change this year is it moving from a Saturday night race to a Sunday late afternoon race. Traditionally a night race, Iowa has been a day race before, most recently in 2013. With the race occurring in the afternoon it will be a hotter affair and perhaps quite slippery over the course of the race.

Will Power’s roll heads to Iowa

At a track he hasn’t traditionally done well at, Will Power and the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet team seek their third straight victory. His most recent decent finish there was fifth in 2010. But if he can continue his roll of form of late that’s propelled him into championship discussion, look out.

Andretti’s quest for seven straight

As noted separately, Andretti Autosport will look to go for its seventh straight win at Iowa, and eighth overall, having won seven of the first nine Iowa Speedway races. Ryan Hunter-Reay also goes for his third straight Iowa win and fourth in five years, while Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz look to break winless runs. Alexander Rossi makes his Iowa debut, and having impressed at Phoenix before pulling off the upset win at Indianapolis, he could be a good pick this weekend.

Penske’s search for any Iowa result of note

By contrast to Andretti Autosport, Team Penske has never won at Iowa. In fact, the team hasn’t even finished on the podium since 2010, when Helio Castroneves finished second.

The last top fives? That same year. Castroneves was second with Ryan Briscoe fourth and Power fifth. The team has not scored a top-five at Iowa since.

Recent finishes of Penske drivers at Iowa since the Dallara DW12 came into being? Not brilliant. It’s simply bizarre to fathom because the team is so good.

  • Juan Pablo Montoya: 2015 (24th), 2014 (16th)
  • Helio Castroneves: 2015 (11th), 2014 (8th), 2013 (8th), 2012 (6th)
  • Will Power: 2015 (10th), 2014 (14th), 2013 (17th), 2012 (23rd)
  • Simon Pagenaud: 2015 (14th), 2014 (11th, then with Schmidt), 2013 (6th), 2012 (5th)

No pole winners have become race winners

Here’s your Iowa Speedway winners and where they’ve started, and then the pole winners and where they’ve finished:

  • 2007: Dario Franchitti (Started 3rd), Scott Dixon (Pole, Finished 10th)
  • 2008: Dan Wheldon (3rd), Scott Dixon (4th)
  • 2009: Dario Franchitti (4th), Helio Castroneves (7th)
  • 2010: Tony Kanaan (15th), Will Power (5th)
  • 2011: Marco Andretti (17th), Takuma Sato (19th)
  • 2012: Ryan Hunter-Reay (7th), Dario Franchitti (25th)
  • 2013: James Hinchcliffe (2nd), Will Power (17th)
  • 2014: Ryan Hunter-Reay (13th), Scott Dixon (4th)
  • 2015: Ryan Hunter-Reay (9th), Helio Castroneves (11th)

TK’s due

Tony Kanaan has led 317 laps at Iowa Speedway in the last two years – 247 in 2014 and 70 last year. An engine issue took him out last year but prior to that, he’d come third of each the previous three years (2012 to 2014) and second in 2011, after winning in 2010. Needless to say, the driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet is due to break through.

Newgarden’s pain threshold

The Iowa Speedway race will be a tougher test for Josef Newgarden, driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, and he knows it. He’ll be relying on JR Hildebrand’s setup help from last week’s test; Newgarden’s teammate and team owner, Ed Carpenter, traditionally runs well at Iowa and will look for a decent driving result in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. Newgarden has finished second here each of the last two years but this is his biggest test yet.

No Sage; how does Chilton fare?

The kid I dubbed IndyCar’s “new, needed, black hat” last year is arguably the most notable absence year-on-year in Iowa. Sage Karam was the star attraction in last year’s race, even if his driving tactics raised the ire of, most notably Carpenter and Graham Rahal. But he won’t have an encore.

In his place is Max Chilton, who’s in desperate need of a good result himself and could well surprise in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet this weekend. Chilton scored an emotional win in Indy Lights here a year ago and has strangely fared better on the ovals than road and street courses this year, Phoenix proving his best result to date. He won’t ruffle feathers like Karam did, but will Chilton be able to emulate or exceed the third place that Karam scored here last year?

Old dogs vs. the young chargers

This race has always proven a good test of experience vs. youthful exuberance, with experience usually winning out. Karam and Newgarden’s star turns in recent years aside – and last year had a really forward looking top-five with Ryan Hunter-Reay winning over Newgarden, Karam, Rahal and Carlos Munoz – it’s been the veterans like Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves that have traditionally run the strongest here.

How will, as NBCSN IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy once called a battle between he and Jimmy Vasser at Milwaukee, the “old, salty sea dogs” fare against the young chargers who are keen to win on Iowa’s shortest track? It’ll be fun to watch.

Pagenaud’s points lead

Simon Pagenaud’s points lead has been a story throughout the year.

After the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and his third straight win, it was 76 points. But that was before finishes of 19th, 13th, second and 13th in the last four completed races – the first of which, the Indianapolis 500, was a double points race.

Yet here’s been his points gap to second:

  • Indianapolis 500: 57 points to Scott Dixon (292-235)
  • Detroit 1: 59 to Helio Castroneves (313-254)
  • Detroit 2: 80 to Dixon (357-277)
  • Road America: 74 to Castroneves (375-301)

Pagenaud is lucky that lead has only gone down a net of two points in the last four races. Any further stumbles though – a la teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in this race last year – will open the door back up for those behind him.

The final word

Scott Dixon has never won at Iowa – a rare track he hasn’t ticked off – but the driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet is good at explaining it:

“Iowa Speedway is such a tough track for racing Indy cars. You have very high g-force loading and there is always a lot of action on that little bullring-style track. You really have to be on your game with traffic and the quick lap times. It’s got a lot more character having weathered in over the past few years and the bumps in Turns 1 and 2. The track grip has come down a little bit as well, which makes it interesting. I really love this event and especially the fans that attend – they really love Indy car racing and show their support.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local and CT):

Saturday, July 9
10 – 11:15 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/two timed laps), NBCSN (Live)
6:15 – 6:45 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Sunday, June 26
1 p.m. – Systems Check
4 p.m. – Driver Introductions
4:35 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
4:40 p.m. – Iowa Corn 300 (300 laps/268.2 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

1. Ryan Hunter-Reay
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Sage Karam
4. Graham Rahal
5. Carlos Munoz
6. Ed Carpenter
7. Marco Andretti
8. Ryan Briscoe
9. Sebastien Bourdais
10. Will Power
11. Helio Castroneves (Pole)