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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Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
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Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
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