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Pagenaud, Penske seek breakthrough in Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa (AP) Every year, Team Penske arrives in Iowa with a host of championship-contending drivers and leaves without a win.

The 10th edition of the IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway could be Penske’s best shot at breaking through.

The grueling demands of Iowa’s 0.875-mile bull ring typically rewards the most skilled drivers. Penske has plenty of those, as Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and Will Power entered the weekend first, second and third in the point standings.

Pagenaud will start Sunday’s race from the pole, followed by Josef Newgarden, Castroneves, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball.

Still, Penske has lagged far behind Andretti Autosport, winner of the last six races and seven of nine overall on IndyCar’s shortest track.

“We’ve been close many times,” said Castroneves, winless in Iowa despite two poles and five starts on the front row. “The good news is Team Penske is one, two, three, and that’s our goal to keep going all the way to the end of the season. But we have a big test here.”

Andretti could use another strong showing in Iowa to push at least one of its drivers into championship contention.

Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi leads the way for the team in 10th, just one point ahead of teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay has won the last two races in Iowa. Last season’s victory helped turn a miserable season into a decent one as Hunter-Reay went on to win at Pocono and finish sixth in the standings.

Hunter-Reay has also finished in the top four in each of his last two races.

But replicating his previous success here might be tough.

Hunter-Reay had a miserable qualifying session and will start 20th out of 22 cars. Although no driver has ever won from the pole in Iowa, no one has taken first after starting from so far behind either.

“It doesn’t really change my mentality at all. Every year I have to come back and work just as hard to get it done. Seems like it gets harder and harder every year, actually,” Hunter-Reay said.

Perhaps Sunday will provide Newgarden an opportunity to thrust himself into the championship conversation. Newgarden took second behind Hunter-Reay in 2014 and 2015, and he’ll start on the front row at Iowa for the first time all season.

“Yeah, it’s always tough. I mean, when you qualify second you think `Ah!’ It’s just really hard to qualify second. You almost wish you qualified fifth or something. That sounds really stupid, but it’s always tough; we needed that last little bit,” Newgarden said. “But it’s nothing to complain about. I think we have fast cars.”

Should Penske fail to win yet again in Iowa this weekend, it can take solace in the fact its drivers will get at least two more chances here.

Iowa Speedway announced Saturday that it has extended its agreement with IndyCar through 2018.

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.