Event: INDY NXT by Firestone at Iowa Speedway, 75 laps
Track Specs: .894-mile tri-oval, with 12-14 degrees of progressive banking
Tune In (all times Eastern): Race – 11 a.m. ET Saturday, July 22 (Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network); Qualifying – 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 21 (INDYCAR LIVE, INDYCAR Radio Network); Practice – 3:15 p.m. Friday, July 21 (INDYCAR LIVE, INDYCAR Radio Network)
Last Year’s Winner: Hunter McElrea (Andretti Autosport)
Last Year’s Pole Sitter: Hunter McElrea (Andretti Autosport)
Spotlight: Seven down. Seven to go. That’s the theme heading to the eighth round – and the first oval race – of the 2023 season for INDY NXT by Firestone.
The championship has tightened after points leader Nolan Siegel suffered a 15th-place finish at the last round, at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Now, the 18-year-old California native holds a 16-point advantage over fellow HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing teammate Christian Rasmussen (244-228).
The Andretti Autosport duo of Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster are third and fourth, respectively, in the title race at 205 and 202 points. Although it took until Round 7 for an Andretti driver to get into Victory Lane with Foster’s maiden series win at Mid-Ohio, the group heads to the cornfields as winners of the previous two INDY NXT by Firestone races at Iowa, including last year’s triumph with McElrea. (Pato O’Ward won the race in 2018, with no event run at Iowa in 2019-21. The 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.)
While the goal for McElrea is to replicate last year’s success, the driver who can’t hide his giddiness for the first oval of the year is Rasmussen. The Dane finished runner-up to McElrea a year ago and was fastest at last month’s test.
“I'm super excited for Iowa,” Rasmussen said. “I had a super-good test there. I really still felt like we were the class of the field at the test. HMD Motorsports has given me a great car there for the ovals. We paced the test (on June 8), so I'm looking to do the same thing for the race.”
Although Rasmussen, from Denmark, lost the points lead after a crash at Road America last month, he hasn’t felt a sense of urgency or pressure to reclaim it. Instead, the 23-year-old is demonstrating his maturity by relying on lessons from his rookie campaign in 2022.
"Going through last year, where I had a poor start and really started on the back foot and had to catch up the whole year, I learned a lot from that,” Rasmussen said. “Just approaching the weekends a little more calm. Now, I'm in a position to do that because I am super close in the championship fight.
“It's just about approaching the weekend with getting as many points as you can. If that's a win, take the win. If that's a top three, top five, whatever it is, just get the points. As tight as the championship is, every little thing helps. So, it's just about getting max points every single weekend and then seeing where you end up.”
Notes & Nuggets: There have been 12 INDY NXT by Firestone races at Iowa since the series first arrived at "The World's Fastest Short Track" in 2007. The list of winners includes current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers such as Josef Newgarden (2011) and O’Ward (2018).
The only active team on the grid to claim victory at Iowa Speedway is Andretti Autosport, which has two wins. Sam Schmidt Motorsports, no longer in the series and having evolved into Arrow McLaren in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, scored the most wins at the bullring oval, with five.
Only four times has the Iowa winner gone on to win the championship in the same season: Alex Lloyd (2007), Newgarden (2011), Sage Karam (2013) and O’Ward (2018).