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What Drivers Said after Iowa qualifying; Rapid Fire with Hunter-Reay on wildest celebration

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Saturday practice and qualifying for the Iowa Corn Indy 300 (Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think we’ve got great cars. I think it was a great qualifying performance from our team, and Will (Power) did a couple great laps. I think we all can be pretty happy. Simon (Pagenaud) is not too far behind us. We’ve just got to try and execute now tomorrow. I think this afternoon’s (practice) session is going to be really vital for us now that we’ve sort of gotten the short qualifying run out of the way, but it’s all about tomorrow now. This place you can have some fun if you get in a situation like that. Maybe that’ll present itself. I think with the way this aero kit and this tire is going to work this weekend, I think most people will take that late yellow, but maybe not. Maybe people will try and take a risk and stay out. But if you have new tires around this place, it could really be a couple magical laps to try and work through the field. It’s going to be really interesting to watch how people react to coming to pit lane and how they do it. It’s really going to be dictated to what your competitors are doing around you. I think that’ll be an interesting element to watch for the race, but it’s going to be all about taking care of your tires, like we’re talking about. I think that’s the key around this place is how do you take care of your tires, how do you use other lanes. That’s what you’ve got to be good at.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):“Unfortunately we crashed in practice this morning. I’m happy that my guys managed to put the car back together again. They did a great job as they only had three hours but we’re still struggling with the car setup. We have to figure out something faster for tomorrow. We’ll keep working hard and try to race to the front. We’ll have some time to figure out something in the final practice but right now it’s not fun to drive a car like this.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Honestly, the track changed so much from this morning, it’s kind of disappointing. We thought we had pretty good qualifying sim pace on the Arrow Electronics car, but we were expecting to make a little gain. Everybody’s struggling and everybody’s lost a little time. We actually had so much understeer that I was trying to drive through it and it went loose. It caught me off guard a little coming out of Turn 4, and unfortunately, I still had another lap to do; I had to keep my foot in it and hope that I held on. Like I said, the Arrow car has been really good over long runs all year long, especially on these ovals. That’s what we’ve been good at – taking care of our Firestone tires – and that’s the key for tomorrow.

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): ” This is a crazy place. I thought I was coming to grips with oval racing, and then here in Iowa, it’s a whole new animal. It’s bumpy like Detroit and it’s a bit of a struggle. Ultimately, we have a pretty good car here; the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Lucas Oil Honda is doing well. The big thing for me, I really thought I understood how to drive an oval… I’ve never had to run on the outside and it actually works sometimes. On that qualifying run I had too much understeer, so I went up into Turns 3 and 4 to free it up a bit, and it’s all just blowing my mind. It’s the most foreign thing I’ve ever done. To be honest, I was worried I wasn’t going to crack the top 10 in this one, so I can’t complain with starting seventh.

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think last year we qualified around 17th or 18th here so I’m much happier this time around. We didn’t get to test here like several of the other teams, so we were king of the ‘best of the rest’ who didn’t test here, in the PNC Bank car today. But it’s not bad at all. We have a really good race car and that’s pretty much what we worked on this morning, and what we’ll focus in on again for tonight.”

ED JONES (No. 10 DC Solar Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Turns 1 and 2 aren’t too bumpy, but the balance that we had on the car made it a bit loose on entry which was a little challenging on our laps. Both laps I kind of lost the front end and had to chase it a bit. The second lap ended up being worse and I thought I was going to have to lift even more. It wasn’t optimal, but we gave it our best and I think we have a good DC Solar car in race trim for tomorrow.” 

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon P1 Award winner): “It wasn’t easy, but the Verizon Chevy was great. You have to drive it. It’s quite difficult over all the bumps, but we kind of unloaded well and we tested here. It’s the start of a good weekend. I’ve had a couple of bad ones and I want to have a really good weekend this weekend. I got a little feedback from Simon (Pagenaud) prior to the run. He said there’s a bit of push and we kind of adjusted for that but we were thereabouts in the window obviously, so the car was good. It’s difficult for everyone with hot temperatures, bumpy track and low grip. It’s about driving. The race will be so different (from qualifying). The tires really degrade and you’ve just got to really work on having a consistent car and stint.” 

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It wasn’t very good, we struggled this morning. The track was really slippery, it was hotter right now, this morning it was a little cooler so it was a handful. We went the quickest of what we did all weekend so I guess we did something right. It was kind of nerve-wracking, I’m not comfortable in the car, I haven’t been this uncomfortable in a long time. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Luther Automotive Group Honda): “The Luther Automotive Group car accelerates pretty darn well so I expected to be in the first few rows so I’m definitely disappointed. We had a huge amount of understeer and that hurt us but we’ll keep chasing it. It was weird; it felt like the front tires weren’t even on the ground which isn’t anything like this morning. We knew with the hotter track temp we would be chasing that a little bit but it’s not overly hot here today. In race trim, up high we’ll be perfectly fine. But in the car, what do you do? I softened the bar and went left on the (weight) jacker which is all the tools you have. Other than that, just hang on.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “The SealMaster crew did the best they could with just the one hour of practice. Not being able to do the test with Firestone a few weeks back (due to wet track conditions) really hurt us. The car was pushing, then loose, a little bit of everything. I had no grip and the car was bouncing up and down. It’s a shame because we usually find solutions, just not in one hour. We will just have to go back, review the data and see what we can come up with for tomorrow.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): ” Today, the No. 19 Paysafe car isn’t quite going our way. Like in Texas, we didn’t have a great qualifying, but we were there in the race and that’s kind of the plan for here as well. It’s much different here in an Indy car versus an Indy Lights car. It’s probably the place where I’ve felt the biggest difference so I’m trying to wrap my head around everything and trying to figure out how to work the car here. It’s a bumpy track so it’s difficult to run both the high and low line, you just have to find a spot that works for you. It’s also tough to follow here, so we’ll see how tomorrow goes and hope for the best.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It is difficult compared to last year. We are down over 1000 pounds of downforce from where we qualified in 2017. It’s a big difference. We were all running max downforce earlier, but track temp and air temp are both up and a lot of cars are struggling. If you would have said I would have had this lap time going in, I would have thought we’d be starting near the back. Conditions are so different than where they were this morning in practice.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It was definitely tricky. This morning, we had a pretty good run and I was really happy with the Fuzzy’s Vodka car. This afternoon, we just didn’t really have the grip. I was struggling with front grip and also with rear grip on both ends of the track. Hopefully, we can find some more pace tonight.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “I like it, I love it. I think it is a much better package than in the past. It is not easy in traffic; you really have to drive the car. Then you have to work with your engineers and your teammates to get the best package you can get. I’ll tell you what, that is what a short oval should be about. I don’t mind pedaling the car. It makes it more fun all the way around.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “I’m really proud of these Carlin guys. We didn’t test here last week like a lot of teams did, but we showed up this morning with a car that was really consistent. We ran a lot of laps on a set of tires in the morning practice session, but we didn’t get a clean qualifying run with traffic because of that late yellow. I’m just proud of this team for showing up with a solid car with no experience here in an Indy car. I had my hands full a couple of times during that qualifying run where the car tried to rotate on me a little bit. Things didn’t quite shake out how we wanted it to in qualifying, but we’ll work on the race car tonight and see where we are tomorrow morning during warmup.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “I was completely confused by our (qualifying) run, honestly. This morning, the car was perfect to the top five – on edge even. We didn’t change anything at all and come out for qualifying and had a ton of understeer. Obviously, the track changed a bunch and we just didn’t do enough to account for it. We’ll start 14th, which is much lower than we wanted but the team has had strong cars here, so we’ll work on things more tonight and do our best to charge our way through tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We missed the balance a little bit on the NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Honda, but at the end of the day we were competitive this morning and pretty strong in the test. I’m not concerned about the car that we have. It’s just always difficult sometimes when you have different rubber and are trying to predict. We just predicted a little bit wrong today, but this race is a crazy one. I actually love this race – it’s one of my favorite ovals. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, this will by far be the best starting spot I’ve had around here and hopefully we can execute on that.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We just missed it a little bit – but good job by the team, the No. 28 car was decent. We got a little bit light overall – I couldn’t commit to full throttle leaving the corner, just a bit too much understeer. It’s unfortunate to not be on pole, but when we miss it and we are still starting P3, it’s not too bad. Tomorrow is where all the points are paid and I think we can get the DHL team a fourth Iowa Corn 300 win.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “We were in a relatively better position in qualifying than we were in the first practice but the conditions were quite a bit different.  Since we skipped the test here, it was a quite hectic first practice.  We struggled with both speed and balance. There was a sketchy moment with some push. It’s quite challenging. I was quite surprised at how hard it is to get a good balance with the new aero kit. I am not really satisfied at all with it currently, but we will try to get it better for the race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “That was an odd qualifying session. I feel like we’ve made improvements, but it didn’t really show in our run. As a new team we’ve never tested here, so we’ve only done 40 or 50 laps this morning and that’s it. I felt like we made really good steps forward with the car from this morning’s session. Honestly, if I wouldn’t have looked at my dash after that run, I would’ve said that was a good chunk quicker than my time this morning, but the time just wasn’t there. I’m thinking that the increase in temperatures made the track grip drop, but it really isn’t overly hot so I was expecting to go quicker than this morning. It’ll be interesting to see what the quickest guys do in qualifying and if they end up going quicker than they did this morning.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): ” We just finished qualifying for the Iowa Corn 300. Unfortunately, I think we were on the unlucky side with all the (ARCA) stock cars and Indy Lights cars because we were one of the first cars to qualify. The track is going to progressively get cleaned up by the Firestone Tires, so it’ll get better for the guys going out later. The car was really good in practice, we made some changes, so I think the car is going to be great for the race tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “The qualifying run today was the closest I’ve come to crashing here since I crossed the finish line backward a couple years ago. I don’t know how we missed it that much, we weren’t too bad in Practice 1 but in qualifying the car felt horrible. We were super loose, and I felt like I was turning right the whole time.”

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Tony Kanaan’s “New Reality” in IndyCar

Photo by Stephen King, INDYCAR
Stephen King, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Tony Kanaan is one of the most popular drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series from the fans who love his aggressive racing style and his fearless attitude. His team owner is the most popular man in the history of Indianapolis 500 – the legendary AJ Foyt, the first driver to win the famed race four times in his career.

In 2019, this combination would rather win races than popularity contests.

Kanaan has won 17 races in his career but hasn’t been to Victory Lane since a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California when he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014. He left Ganassi’s team following the 2017 and joined Foyt’s operation last season.

Foyt always admired Kanaan’s attitude and racing style because it reminded him of his own attitude behind the wheel of a race car. But in 2018, the combination struggled. Kanaan led just 20 laps for the season and finished 16thin the IndyCar Series points race.

“A lot of work has been done because obviously, we struggled quite a bit last year,” Kanaan admitted. “That was the challenge when I signed with AJ was to try to make this team better. It is not an easy task, especially with the competition nowadays.

“It’s a lot slower process than I thought it would be.”

Kanaan believes the biggest keys for him is to “keep digging and be patient.” But he’s also in a results-driven business.

The driver called it a long winter, but he has helped lure some of his racing friends to the team to help improve the two-car operation that also includes young Brazilian Matheus Leist.

At 84, Foyt still has control over the operation, but has turned the day-to-day duties over to his son, Larry. Just last week, the team hired Scott Harner as the team’s vice president of operations. Harner was in charge of Kanaan’s car when both were at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The second year, we are trying to be better,” Kanaan said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality we have. There are a lot of new teams coming along so we have to step up. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the Big 3 teams, we are fighting everybody.

“We are working on it. I like the way we are heading. AJ has been extremely open to my ideas.”

Kanaan has moved his family from Miami to Indianapolis to be near the race team’s shop. The team also has another race shop in Waller, Texas and that is where Leist’s car is prepared.

Although Kanaan doesn’t believe it’s ideal to have two different racing facilities, he believes being closer to his team will help build a more cohesive unit for this season.

At one time, Kanaan would show up at the track with a car that could win the race. No longer in that situation, he has had to readjust his goals.

“The biggest challenge is to accept that and understand your limits on equipment and on the people that you have,” Kanaan said. “Being on some of the teams that I’ve been on in the past, with four-car teams and engineers and all the resources you can get and the budget; then to come to a team with limited resources, I have to self-check all the time. With that, comes a lot of pressure as well and block out people’s opinions like, ‘Oh, he’s old or he’s washed up or the team is not good.’

“You need to shield that from your guys, because psychologically, that gets to you. You need people to work well, even if you have a car that is going to finish 15th.

“What is our reality? Racing can be lucky, but we try to make goals. We are greedy, we try to improve, but we are trying to be realistic. I have to re-set and understand this is my reality now, and I have to accept it.”

At 44, Kanaan is the oldest driver in the IndyCar. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and if his career ended this year, it would be one of the greatest of his era.

But Kanaan isn’t ready to call it an “era.” He has more he wants to accomplish.

“The mistake I have made in my career is counting your days,” Kanaan said. “The best line I ever heard is when I signed with AJ, he told me he drove until he was 58, so why am I talking about getting old?

“In his mind, I still have 14 years to go.”

There remains one race, more than any other, that Kanaan’s boss wants to win. It’s the one that made Foyt famous.

“For my boss, winning the Indianapolis 500 is all he cares,” Kanaan said. “I could not finish a single race this year and if I win the Indy 500, that would be enough for him.

“We are not in a position to win a championship and I accept that. So, we focus on the Indianapolis 500. We had an awesome car last year and were the fastest on the second day.”

Foyt and Kanaan believe success at Indy may be in the numbers.

“AJ is all about numbers and his number was 14,” Kanaan said. “He found out Dallara was making chassis No. 14 at the end of the year. AJ bought that chassis and said that is the one we are going to race at the Indy 500. I’m not allowed to drive that car until Opening Day at the Indianapolis 500.

“That’s how big the boss is about the Indy 500.”