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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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Tony Kanaan says his message of IndyCar-NASCAR unity aimed at fans

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Over a 22-year IndyCar career featuring its share of adversity, Tony Kanaan has learned to embrace trying to find the positives in a negative situation.

He believes NASCAR and IndyCar will find a tiny silver lining from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The series will race together at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course in a July 4 doubleheader, which he believes sends a message of unity he’d like to see from the world during this dark period.

“It’s time to send that message (of unity),” Kanaan told “Happy Hours” hosts Kevin Harvick and Matt Yocum in a Wednesday afternoon interview on SiriusXM’s NASCAR Channel. “If we don’t come out of this situation as better people, globally, in every way, shape or form … it’s just being kind to people. Hopefully, we’ll be sending the right messages, doing radio shows together, doing live on Instagram together, doing races together.

ON NBCSN: IndyCar at virtual Barber Motorsports Park, Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson wants to run IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader

“I was bugging Jimmie Johnson to say, ‘Can I be a guest in NASCAR on iRacing?’ I think the misperception, and probably a little our fault as well, is that people don’t know how (IndyCar and NASCAR drivers) respect each and how we think each other’s jobs are so cool.”

It was Kanaan’s comment last week that “it’s not us and them. It is the motorsports world’ that prompted Harvick to ask the 2004 IndyCar champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner about his views on past IndyCar and NASCAR divisions.

Harvick noted that “over the years, IndyCar and NASCAR have that separate stigma as far as the fans, but the racers in the middle, we talk with each other. We’re just racers. I think it’s absolutely great” the doubleheader will happen.

Kanaan said he felt it was the right message to send because of the fans. “For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way,” he said. “We always respected each other and thought each other’s jobs were cool. That tweet was for our fans who say, ‘Those cars are too fast. Those cars are too slow.’ It’s time for us to stop. It’s a racing family.

“For people who don’t understand about racing, any race car is cool. Doesn’t matter if it’s a go kart, a sprint car, a  Cup car, it doesn’t matter. … The situation, we’re in, we’re all equal. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. We’re all in the same boat now. We can’t do what we love. It just clicked. I said it’s time to send that message. Hopefully this will be the end for ‘you guys and us’ for the fans. For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way.”

The GMR IndyCar Grand Prix is scheduled to be run July 4 on the IMS road course ahead of the Xfinity race, which will mean that the NTT Series’ Firestone rubber will be on the asphalt before the Goodyears of NASCAR hit the track.

Recalling a NASCAR test many years ago at Nazareth Speedway when he turned laps a second faster because there’d been an IndyCar race the previous day, Harvick asked Kanaan whether the varying tire compounds might present a challenge.

“I don’t there is a solution for that,” Kanaan said. “It’s part of the job, and we need to realize that you guys run different tires. We run softer tires. It’s no different than (IndyCar) racing with the trucks at Texas. It’s probably harder on an oval than a road course.

“But I like it. It’s part of the challenge and makes the race weekend more interesting, the people who can manage that as well.”

Even though he is sidelined, Kanaan still will stay busy this weekend, racing in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. IndyCar iRacing Challenge event at virtual Barber Motorsports Park on NBCSN. He will be tuning in Sunday at 1 p.m. on Fox and FS1 as NASCAR hits Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Last Sunday I had my alarm set for 12:40 p.m., because at 1 o’clock (NASCAR was) on,” Kanaan said with a laugh. “I told (wife) Lauren, ‘Let’s turn the TV on and watch the NASCAR race!’ I was excited, and it wasn’t even real. She’s like, ‘Man, look at you … I said, ‘That’s what we got.’ It’s been a weird year.”

Harvick also will be racing Sunday, having recently joined Kanaan in installing a new racing simulator at home.

“Let’s do this Kevin: Come do an IndyCar race on iRacing,” Kanaan said. “I’ll do NASCAR. Now that you have a sim. What do you think?”

“Well, I’ll have to go to my 7-year-old to figure out how to drive it fast,” Harvick said.

“He’s been practicing. I’m really good at crashing.”