What to Watch For: IndyCar at Iowa (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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NEWTON, Iowa – The 300-lap Iowa Corn 300 is set to kick off shortly (5 p.m. ET, NBCN), with the race back to a day race after its usual stint at night.

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

Here’s what to watch for ahead of the tenth race of the season, which is labeled as Round 11 owing to the postponed Texas race being moved to August 27.

NIGHT TO DAY 

Again, with the race change back to daylight, the big question is temperatures on Sunday – and how hot it might be.

Ambient temperatures may range anywhere from the mid-to-high 80s, with track temperatures bordering on 115 to 120 degrees, following this morning’s rainfall that has washed all past rubber off the track.

The green track changes the conditions a bit, but it still should be hot and slippery. As double practice pacesetter Tony Kanaan identified, the addition of ARCA’s General Tire (Continental subsidiary) only made the low line worse.

“It’s actually worse now because ARCA ran a lot. I’m comfortable both lines but it will still be pretty tough,” said the driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

THE BUMPS IN 3 AND 4

Kanaan also described how the bumps in Turn 3 and 4 and how unsettling they are.

“It’s lot bumpier in 3 and 4. With old tires, you have the tendency to slide a lot more. And it’s bumpy. So a lot will try to run the high line. For those who can run the low line longer, it might be a big advantage.”

TIRE DEG

Firestone has brought an updated left side compound compared to what was run at the 99th Indianapolis 500 in 2015, while the right sides are the same compound and construction as at Texas.

Figure this will be a four-stop race and as tires fall off, the field will separate itself.

HIGH, WIDE AND HANDSOME

Those drivers that can run the high line consistently won’t burn their right side tires off as fast. The low line will be quicker, but only works in short spurts.

The nice thing about Iowa is that it’s a two-groove racetrack and passing should be significantly easier than it was at the only other short oval this year at Phoenix.

KANAAN, NEWGARDEN AND PAGENAUD VS. THE FIELD

In practice Kanaan, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were the three top cars in the field. Kanaan starts sixth while the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet start alongside each other on the front row.

Beyond those three, drivers to watch include Ganassi’s younger pair of Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball, who hope their race pace is on par with their qualifying spots of fourth and fifth, then the three other Team Penske entries of Helio Castroneves (starts third), Will Power (eighth) and Juan Pablo Montoya (11th). Power goes for his third straight win on Sunday, while Team Penske looks to break its Iowa duck, having gone winless in the land of corn.

BIG TRAFFIC JAM

With 17-seconds and change laps, you bank three per minute – and invariably, if your car is off the pace, you’re in for a long afternoon.

Surviving, staying on the lead lap and getting through traffic will be key.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”