As rare as a doubleheader sweep would have been for Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden – there have only been two such feats in this sport since 1981 -- the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend at Iowa Speedway nearly had something that’s never happened in this sport: Duplicate podiums.
Until Newgarden’s car spun into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 236 of 300, the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google was racing toward another 1-2-3 finish led by Newgarden, Pato O’Ward and Will Power in that order.
O’Ward went on to win the weekend’s 300-lap second race, beating Power to the finish line by 4.276 seconds for his fourth career series victory. O’Ward has won on a superspeedway (Texas Motor Speedway in 2021), a street circuit (The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit in 2021), a permanent road course (Barber Motorsports Park in 2022) and now a short oval.
The victory also brought O’Ward back into championship contention. He heads to this weekend’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course just 36 points out of the series lead with five races remaining. Realistically, six drivers are solidly in the mix for the Astor Challenge Cup, with Marcus Ericsson leading Power by eight points, Newgarden and Scott Dixon by 34 points and reigning series champion Alex Palou by 44 points.
Scott McLaughlin is seventh, 86 points out of the lead.
O’Ward led the final 66 laps of Sunday’s race to thwart some of Team Penske’s dominating statistics. Over the past seven races at Iowa Speedway, Roger Penske’s cars have led 1,617 of the 1,950 laps (82.9 percent), with Newgarden leading 920 of them after adding 356 laps over the weekend. Aside from O’Ward, the non-Penske drivers in the field combined to lead 25 laps last weekend.
Newgarden’s Turn 4 incident cost him a chance to take the series points lead, but his teammates gained significant ground. They will be the favorites to win this weekend as Team Penske has won eight of the 12 series races contested on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS circuit. Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta won the GMR Grand Prix on May 14.
O’Ward Learning, Improving
O’Ward scored his fourth series win in his 50th start, and he showed plenty of moxie over the weekend on a track that demands patience and aggression.
The driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet said finishes of second and first at this short track are signs that he is becoming a well-rounded driver.
“I mean, I would hope I’m getting better – I think I am,” he said, laughing.
“The more laps you do, you gain knowledge. I mean, these guys lap circles around me in terms of knowledge – Will, Scott and Josef. Whenever you’re up to fight with them, they’re super quick, specifically the Penske (drivers). The Penskes were extremely, extremely hard to fight with. Everything had to go perfect in order to either (overtake) them on a pit stop exchange or (pass) them on the track.”
O’Ward noted that races at Iowa Speedway hinge on being able to manage tires, which requires a driver to use his head.
“You have to be smart, not just if you’re leading, but the leader also has to be smart because he’ll go through traffic,” he said. “I think that’s why the races here are so good.”
Ericsson, CGR Happy with Iowa Finishes
Ericsson finished eighth and sixth in the two races, which would be mixed results for a driver leading the standings this deep into the season. But the driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was pleased with how his weekend unfolded.
“It’s been a great day,” Ericsson said of his Sunday performance. “Started 15th and worked my way up to, I think, fourth at one point. Toward the end we lost a bit of balance the last stint and a half. The car went to a bit oversteer, and I really couldn’t keep up the pace.”
Ericsson said Chip Ganassi Racing had shown confidence coming into the weekend, but he said much of that was overstated.
“If you would have told me before the weekend that I’d still be in the lead I would have taken that because this is our weakest track on the calendar and it’s a doubleheader,” Ericsson said. “So, we were pretty worried about it even though we put on the stone face and said we were all good. But we were worried about this weekend.
“We’re still ahead, so I’m really happy about that.”
CGR drivers finished fourth, five and sixth in the Sunday race with Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda), Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Ericsson. Palou was 13th in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. All four cars finished in the top 11 of Saturday’s Hy-VeeDeals.com 250 presented by DoorDash.
Two drivers reached consecutive start milestones in Sunday’s race. Dixon became the second series driver with 300 starts in a row – Tony Kanaan holds the record with 318 – and Graham Rahal achieved 200 consecutive starts. Other top active streaks include Simon Pagenaud’s 177 and Newgarden’s 163.
Helio Castroneves tied A.J. Foyt for third place on the sport’s all-time career starts list with 369. Mario Andretti (407) and Tony Kanaan (389) lead the category.
The 356 laps that Newgarden led over the weekend helped him pass Rodger Ward and Bobby Rahal in the sport’s lap leader list (the category’s statistics date to 1946). Newgarden stands 16th overall with 3,286 laps led. Among active drivers, only Dixon (fourth at 6,505), Castroneves (fifth at 6,073), Power (eighth at 4,683) and Kanaan (11th at 4,077) have led more. Andretti leads with 7,595.
Up Next: IMS Road Course
The turnaround time for the next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race will be short, but at least the Indianapolis-based teams, for which there are many, won’t have far to travel.
Load-in for the Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is Thursday afternoon with the first practice on the road course Friday at 9:30 a.m. (ET). Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award is at 1 p.m. Both sessions air live on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Saturday’s action features the pre-race warmup at 8:15 a.m. with NBC’s broadcast of the 85-lap race beginning at noon. NASCAR’s Xfinity Series follows that race with the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard at 3:30 p.m.
Sunday, NASCAR’s Cup Series stages its second race on the IMS road course, the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard, at 2:30 p.m.