Early qualifying draws bite Pagenaud, Newgarden, Dixon in Iowa

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Practice speeds indicated that Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud would fight for the pole for Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300 (5:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), with Newgarden going fastest and Pagenaud ending up third.

However, early qualifying draws saw them go out first (Pagenaud) and third (Newgarden), which ultimately put paid to their chances for the pole. Pagenaud ended up qualifying 11th, while Newgarden qualified 16th.

Pagenaud referenced his early draw in a press conference prior to qualifying, and acknowledged it might be problematic. “I’m first in line, so I’m going to be the guinea pig for everybody. Anyway, but that’s the luck of the draw,” Pagenaud said of qualifying early.

After his run, Pagenaud described it as one of the wildest runs he’s ever made. “That was a bit of a scary ride. I don’t know if it was the different kind of rubber laid down by the other series or what, but the Menards Chevy was a little loose,” he detailed.

However, Pagenaud is no less confident heading into the race. “I’m not worried about anything though. I know the car is strong. My teammates that went out later in the session had good runs, so we’ll just need to work through some traffic to get to the front,” he finished.

Newgarden, too, expressed confidence, despite the qualifying struggles. “With the order, Simon (Pagenaud) and I were guinea pigs. The track was a little slick and the Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet was loose, but I’m really confident we’ll be good for the race. This was all about timing and having to go out third,” he explained.

Scott Dixon, too, was bitten by an early qualifying draw that saw him make the second run of the session, and he could do not better than 17th. This made a tough day all the more challenging, as a penalty from Road America for entering the track after the checkered flag waved on a practice session cost he and the No. 9 NTT Data team 20 minutes of time in the morning practice.

Scott Dixon struggled in qualifying after going out third. He’ll start the Iowa Corn Indy 300 from 17th. Photo: IndyCar

“Definitely a tough day when you lose that much running time in one day,” Dixon said of the penalty. “We didn’t have any testing here, and I think we expected the track to not degrade as much with the track temps and ambient coming up a bit. But it was just all over the place on my run. Not a whole lot of grip and we were all over the place in the No. 9 NTT Data car unfortunately.”

The points leader entering Iowa, the door is already open for his title rivals to make big gains, with all of them qualifying ahead of Dixon. Pagenaud starts 11th, with Helio Castroneves third, Takuma Sato fifth, Josef Newgarden 16th, Will Power first, and Graham Rahal tenth on the grid.

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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”