IndyCar: Iowa Corn Indy 300 recap

Photo: IndyCar

The .875-mile oval that is Iowa Speedway is a “bull ring” in every sense of the word and produces classic short oval racing for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Every race features a near-perfect combination of car setup, driver bravery and skill – notably as they work through lapped traffic – and strategy that often produces one of the best races of the year.

And Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300 was no different. All told, there were nearly 1,000 on-track passes, a number of drivers charging forward after starting from the back, and (somehow) only two caution periods to break up the seemingly non-stop action in the 300-lap race.

And in the end, IndyCar got its seventh different winner of the 2018 season, and somewhat of an upset one at that, while a couple of heavy hitters were left scratching their heads afterward.

A look at big stories to emerge from Iowa is below.

Just How did Hinch Pull That Off…?

James Hinchcliffe celebrates winning Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300. Photo: IndyCar

For all intents and purposes, Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300 looked like Josef Newgarden’s to lose. He led 229 laps, may have lapped the field if not for a Lap 140 caution when Zach Veach brushed the wall, and appeared to almost be on cruise control through the first two-thirds of the race.

So, just how did Hinchcliffe overpower Newgarden in the final stint?

Keen observers would have noticed Hinchcliffe’s prowess in the opening laps. Starting 11th, Hinch had powered all the way up to fifth by Lap 20, took third on Lap 38 – passing Simon Pagenaud in the process – then got around Will Power for second on Lap 41.

However, his charge to the front stalled after the first stops and he couldn’t gain ground on Newgarden. Hinchcliffe explained that this was down to a setup change on their first pit stop.

“So in the first stint, the car was really good. We just made a tiny change to try and dial in a little more understeer. It was pretty free in that first stint. We overshot it and had way too much understeer in the second stint,” he detailed.

As such, he and the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda team tried reversing the change on their next stop, but went too far the other way – he even lost a spot to Takuma Sato after a scary moment in which the car snapped loose, something that nearly sent him into panic mode.

“(The second stint) was when I was starting to panic a little bit because we still had about 30 laps left in the stint and I was maxed right on the weight jacker, max on the front bar. It was kind of dire straits for a bit. We were surprised how far the balance went for a relatively small change,” he explained.

In the end, he and the team managed to dial the handling back in by going back to the settings they had in the opening stint, and doing so made the car come back to life in the final 100 laps.

“I just said, ‘Hey, look, the first stint was the best stint; let’s go back to whatever we did there,’ and that’s what we did, and the thing just came alive. We were able to run both lanes, and that’s really what helps you when you come up on lap traffic, and it’s all about lap traffic at a short track like this,” Hinch detailed.

Hinchcliffe hung with Newgarden when they were by themselves – he kept the gap between one and two seconds consistently – and used lapped traffic to his advantage to make the race-winning pass with 45 laps to go.

The win is Hinchcliffe’s first of the year and comes as he and the team are still rebounding after failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in May. He acknowledged that their misstep there will remain a topic of conversation until next year’s Indy 500, but also asserted that the team has been running strongly since then.

“Even if the conversation dies for the next little while, as soon as (May 1, 2018) comes around, it’s going to come back up. Yeah, for sure. But days like this, and honestly weekends like we’ve had – I think Road America was actually one of our best races of the entire year, and ninth place doesn’t look like that, but if you were on the inside and saw what happened and how we performed on Sunday, I think you’d be pretty impressed. It was a really good performance from everybody. Same kind of thing in Texas. We’ve just been on a bit of a roll,” Hinchcliffe revealed.

The late yellow certainly helped Hinchcliffe and SPM seal the victory, but rest assured, they flat out earned this one on merit well before the final caution.

The win vaults Hinch back into the top 10 of the championship – he sits eighth, 24 points behind Graham Rahal for seventh.

Dixon’s Day at Iowa Both Lucky and Unlucky

Scott Dixon endured a difficult day at Iowa Speedway, but remains the points leader. Photo: IndyCar

It’s rare to see Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing be a complete non-factor during a race, but that’s exactly what happened at Iowa on Sunday.

Starting sixth, Dixon never was able to work his way forward – he got balked battling with Alexander Rossi in the opening stint and struggled with handling woes – and was outside of the top 10 by the end of the first round of pit stops.

From there, Dixon was never back in the top 10 on merit. And in the final stint, the team mistakenly got his front tires switched around – the right-front was placed on the left side, and the left-front was placed on the right side – which forced on extra stop in the final laps.

It meant that Dixon languished in 12th at the end, four laps off the lead, an unheard of result for possibly the best driver and team combination in IndyCar.

“We kind of got stuck behind (Alexander) Rossi on the first stint and his pace kind of backed us up,” Dixon explained post-race. “Each time we changed lanes with the (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda), his spotter must have been telling him where we were going, and he kind of just kept putting the block on. That’s how it goes sometimes. That’s racing and it’s no one’s fault. The big problem for us was the tire issue toward the end, having the fronts on backward. That really put us in the hole and we should have finished better than we did.”

The result opened the door for championship rivals to gain big ground on Dixon, but it’s here that Dixon’s unlucky day actually turned a little lucky for him.

Ryan Hunter-Reay (45 points behind Dixon entering Sunday’s race) ran in the top five early on, but battled radio problems that prevented him from communicating with his Andretti Autosport No. 28 DHL Honda team. He faded in the second half, and ended up 19th after suspension problems surfaced in the back of the car.

Alexander Rossi (tied with Hunter-Reay entering Sunday) ran in the top 10 in the opening stint, but stalled in the pits on his first pit stop, losing valuable time in the process.

Rossi never got back up near the front from there, but did salvage a ninth-place finish at the end.

And Josef Newgarden (who was fourth, 50 points behind Dixon entering Sunday) was poised to make a big dent in Dixon’s lead. Alas, losing the lead to Hinchcliffe and then pitting under the late yellow dropped him to fourth, and the race never got back going again to give him a chance to get back to the lead. Newgarden ended up finishing fourth.

In all, Dixon managed to keep the championship lead, and didn’t lose much ground. He leads Newgarden by 33 points, with Rossi 41 back in third, and Hunter-Reay 52 points back in fourth. Will Power, who finished sixth, sits fifth in the standings, 53 points out of the lead.


  • The top three (Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot, and Takuma Sato) all scored much-needed and popular results. It’s always refreshing to see new faces grace the podium – this is Hinch’s first win of the year, and the first podiums of the year for Pigot and Sato (also the first podium of Pigot’s career) – and these results could easily springboard them into more in the final six races of the season.
  • Short ovals can often bite you if you miss the setup even slightly, and a few big names were bitten badly by setup bugs on Sunday. Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan, past Iowa winners, are the most prominent names on that list, finishing 16th (Andretti) and 17th (Kanaan). Zachary Claman De Melo, who ran well at the Indy 500 and at Texas Motor Speedway, languished in 19th. And Harding Racing retired the No. 88 Chevrolet of Gabby Chaves after 99 laps due to handling issues – its Chaves’ first DNF since Pocono Raceway in 2015. It doesn’t take much for a setup to go the wrong way on a short oval, and setup woes bit several drivers on Sunday.
  • Zach Veach continues to show strong pace, but the results don’t show the progress. On Sunday, for example, he charged up to seventh after starting 14th, and continued inside the top 10 even after a brief fire due to a fuel spill on his first stop. Alas, a brush with the wall on lap 140 ended his chances of a strong finish, but he gets better with every race, and his day in the sun may be coming.
  • Graham Rahal quietly ended up seventh, overcoming handling issues of his own during the first half of the race. Take away his crash from Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, and Rahal might be the most consistent driver this year – outside of that day in Detroit, his worst finish is ninth (at ISM Raceway and the INDYCAR Grand Prix), but a lack of wins and podiums (he finished second at St. Petersburg, his only podium of 2018), leave him seventh in the championship, 107 points out of the lead. That gap puts any championship hopes in serious doubt as the series heads to its final six races.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now heads to Toronto next weekend for the Honda Indy Toronto (July 15, 3:00 p.m., NBCSN).


Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500