Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI Notebook: Iowa

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The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda visited their first short oval of 2017 (and the only oval for USF2000). While USF2000 saw a return to normalcy of sorts, Indy Lights saw a bit of a championship shakeup.

Below are reports on both races.

INDY LIGHTS: LEIST GAINS GROUND ON KAISER WITH THIRD WIN OF 2017

Matheus Leist had to start tenth at Iowa Speedway, but immediately was on the charge and ran in the top three by lap 30.

He then made quick work of both Kyle Kaiser and Colton Herta, using an outside pass on the latter in turns three and four, to vault himself into the lead.

Leist ran unchallenged from there and led the final 69 laps to score a decisive victory, his third of 2017 and his second straight on an oval (he won the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May).

“I’m so happy. I think this was my best race this year,” an elated Leist said afterward. “Of course, the Freedom 100 was great but I led the whole race. Here, I needed to move forward and I did. I’m so happy for the team – we needed to make some points today.”

He added that the car’s strong handling allowed him to maintain his lead without abusing the tires. “The car was just so good so I was able to open a gap, save my tires and get the win. It is a very difficult championship since everything here is new to me so I am being realistic. We’re in a good position now so if we can keep winning, we can keep fighting,” he finished.

The win also sees Leist make a big dent in Kyle Kaiser’s championship lead. Kaiser, who had been running second to Leist in the second half of the race, began falling back as the finish drew closer. Both Santi Urrutia and Dalton Kellett passed him on lap 77, dropping Kaiser to fourth. Herta then mounted a charge and passed Kaiser with eight laps remaining, dropping Kaiser to fifth.

As a result, Leist has closed to within 12 points of Kaiser as the series heads to the Streets of Toronto next week.

Behind Leist, Urrutia managed to outduel Kellett for second, while Kellett came home third, which matches his best finish of the season (he finished third at the Freedom 100).

Herta finished fourth to keep himself in the championship picture, and he now trails Kaiser by 36 points.

USF2000: ASKEW’S DOMINATION RETURNS

Oliver Askew won from the pole at Iowa Speedway. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

After having a tough outing at Road America, where he finished 17th and third, Oliver Askew regained his dominant form from earlier in the season to claim his sixth victory of the year at Iowa Speedway. In his first oval start, Askew started from pole and led all 60 laps on his way to victory.

Having never run on ovals before, Askew wasn’t entirely sure how things would go. “I had no experience on an oval at all coming into this year, so I don’t think anyone knew what to expect. The team told me it was halfway and I thought that should have been the race distance!” Askew quipped.

Askew credited his dominant run down to setup changes made by Cape Motorsports overnight. “We struggled a bit yesterday but we made a really good change last night and were quick today,” he explained. “It’s hard to pass here but we knew that if we got the pole and through the first couple of corners, we’d be set. It was awesome to be able to pull away.”

Title rival Rinus van Kalmthout came home second, nearly four seconds back of Askew, while Calvin Ming rounded out the podium in third.

With his win, Askew increases his championship lead over van Kalmthout to 32 points. Kaylen Frederick, who finished sixth, remains in third, but at a deficit of 89 points to Askew.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Reviewing Danica Patrick’s highs and lows at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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So much of Danica Patrick’s fame can be traced to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s where she became a household name 13 years ago when she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and emerged as a transcendent athlete.

It’s where everything started. This Sunday, it’s where everything will end, too.

In her last warmup before starting the final race of her career, Patrick had a bumpy final practice Friday on Carb Day. She was eighth fastest, but her Dallara-Chevrolet was in the garage most of the session because of an electrical problem in the engine. After returning during the final 10 minutes of the session, Patrick’s No. 13 seemed to be OK.

“At the end of the day, these are things you’re actually glad for, because if this had happened Sunday, we would have been done,” she said. “I’m glad to get the issues out of the way early on. Overall, today felt good. We made some changes when I went out the second time, and I’m feeling good about starting seventh on Sunday.”
Though she has had her share of success – along with a fourth in her debut, there was a third in 2009 and six top 10s in seven starts — Patrick has learned well how to handle frustration at the 2.5-mile track, too.

Fuel mileage might have kept her from winning her debut, a pit collision ruined 2008, and an unstable setup made 2010 a wild ride.

For a review of her up-and-down history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and her legacy in racing, watch the video essay above that ran during Friday’s NASCAR America Motorsports Special on NBCSN.