Team Penske loves Iowa Speedway.
Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud used different strategies and came away with the victories in the Iowa INDYCAR 250s last weekend.
Pagenaud rallied from 23rd starting position to claim Race 1, while Newgarden became the first pole winner to covert the top starting spot to a win in Race 2.
Here are three things learned from Iowa INDYCAR 250s:
Arrow McLaren SP improvement
Will Arrow McLaren SP look back at the Iowa INDYCAR 250s as the race weekend where it broke into the elite of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES?
Over the 500 laps of racing at Iowa Speedway, the two Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolets were among the fastest cars in the field even if the results for both cars didn’t reflect their outright pace.
“Certainly, the pace was there all weekend,” said Arrow McLaren SP Managing Director Taylor Kiel. “As a team, we brought our A-game in preparation for this event. We had the cars that could win, but unfortunately did not get it done. “
Rookie Oliver Askew was the standout for the team in each race. A week after Pato O’Ward scored his first NTT P1 Award and his first podium finish, the reigning Indy Lights champion notched his first podium in Race 1 with a third with O’Ward in fourth.
He backed up the podium in Race 2 by taking advantage of better tires late in the race. He gained four positions and finish sixth – the third top-10 of his young career.
“You can’t complain about two top 10s and especially my first podium,” Askew said. “Really proud of Arrow McLaren SP, Chevrolet and everyone on this team. I know Pato had a really good shot at a podium and a win there, so we’re definitely on the right track. Two podiums in two race weekends for us, we have quick fast cars and looking forward to the next few races to keep the momentum going and really have a good run at the rookie of the year championship."
The pair of strong finishes is enough to move Askew to the top of the Rookie of the Year standings (115 points), just one point ahead of Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh’s Alex Palou. (114 points)
But Race 2 was also a case of what might have been for the squad.
O'Ward used the advantage of the high-line at the start and gained five positions. Eventually, the Mexican moved up to second and found himself on the tail of the leader Josef Newgarden.
Running just behind the Team Penske driver going into the final round of pit stops, the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP team went for the lead on pit lane. The stop looked clean until O'Ward left the box and the team realized one of the wheels wasn't tight.
The mistake cost O'Ward a lap and a shot at fighting for the win. He finished the race where he started in 12th. O'Ward still remains firmly in the championship hunt, sitting fourth with 162 points.
“Pato drove an excellent race and we let him down in the pits,” Kiel said. “Very disappointing and unfortunate because we had the car to win for sure. We will regroup, find ways to improve and we will come back stronger for Mid-Ohio."
Quietly in contention
His two teammates have already won this season, but Chip Ganassi Racing's Marcus Ericsson may not be too far behind them in scoring a win.
The second-year Swedish driver had back-to-back ninth-place finishes at Iowa, making him one of seven drivers to finish in the top 10 in both races. More importantly, it gave the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing team five-straight top-10s, the longest streak of any team in the field.
Ericsson has been pretty consistent in 2020 as he returns to NTT INDYCAR SERIES tracks with a year's experience. Yet depite his year-over-year improvement, the Swede was disappointed not to finish better in at Iowa.
“We got a bit unlucky with the yellows and lost the positions we had gained with our pace,” he said. “I was happy with the way I drove and got to make some good overtakes. But that’s racing and sometimes that happens with the yellows. We were up there again and in the mix, collecting points and finishing races. We’ll build on this again tonight and hopefully get up to the front very soon.”
Harvey finally gets deserved finishes
Meyer Shank Racing and driver Jack Harvey had been the hard-luck story of the first four races of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
In their first full-time season together, the team had shown speed on road courses, qualifying on the front row at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Road America, but having nothing to show for them.
Their first appearance at Iowa might be a sign that the team’s luck has changed. Harvey, making his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES starts at Iowa Speedway, brought the AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda home in seventh position on both Friday and Saturday night.
“I thought that was a really solid weekend for Meyer Shank Racing,” said Harvey. “If you would have said before this weekend we’d have two seventh-place finishes and two top 10s in qualifying, we’d have taken that for sure. I’m so proud of everyone at Meyer Shank Racing who have had constant and relentless determination to have a good season. We’re just going to keep rolling with our momentum into the boss man’s home race at Mid-Ohio in a few weeks.”
The back-to-back top-10s, Harvey’s first top-10s since he finished 10th at Mid-Ohio in 2019, came as a relief to team co-owner and race strategist Michael Shank, especially given the team’s struggle at Texas in the season opener, another oval where Harvey had limited experience.
“We really needed a weekend like we had to get back on track,” he said. “Jack really did a great job. These weekends don’t give you much track time so you’re just kind of thrown into it all and have to learn quickly, but Jack had no issues with that. The guys had great stops today and our strategy worked in our favor. Having two top ten qualifying runs and two top-10 race results really puts us back in the game. I’m very pleased with this weekend.”