Pato O'Ward

It was a calm, third-place drive by Pato O’Ward in Saturday’s Hy-Vee Homefront 250 presented by Instacart at Iowa Speedway.

The result gives 24-year-old Mexican his fifth podium finish through the opening 11 races this season and reinforces the .894-mile oval as a strong track for his No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. The Iowa bullring is the site of O’Ward’s most recent of four victories in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, which came in the second race of the doubleheader last year.

“Absolutely, it's one of the places where we come in here, and we know that we've had a very good past here,” O’Ward said. “It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to have the exact same results.

“I think today was a little bit of what we had last year but definitely not as strong. Last year I felt like we were on par with where Josef (Newgarden) was, and really what makes you lead or be second in line is usually if you can get them on the undercut or whatever.”

“Today, I definitely felt like I was a bit more on the defensive. I didn't feel like I was attacking as much, and I couldn't put the car where I needed to. It was a really, really hard race, probably the hardest Iowa race that I've done, just to keep it where we had it.”

O’Ward will start 11th for Sunday’s Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade at 2 p.m. ET Sunday (live on NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).

Sato ‘Frustrated’ despite Top-10 Finish

Takuma Sato wanted more in Saturday’s Hy-Vee Homefront 250 presented by Instacart.

The 46-year-old from Japan started 11th and was one of the few to be a solid mainstay within the top 10 throughout most of the race, finishing ninth – and leading a lap – in the No. 11 Deloitte Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.

While some would view it as a solid showing for a guy who hadn’t competed in an NTT INDYCAR SERIES round since finishing seventh May 28 in the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Sato sat on the pit wall processing how to improve for Sunday’s finale of the doubleheader weekend. Sato is racing only the five oval races this season.

“Still a little bit frustrated,” Sato said. “We would've loved to finish a little higher than this. I think the car has got good potential, but there was a little bit of balance issues some of the stints, and we had to change on that, strategy-wise. Everybody is in the same boat, but it's a little peaky. But we are looking into it tonight and want to get better for tomorrow, but certainly I enjoyed the race.”

Sato, a two-time Indy 500 winner, explained in further detail the issues that need correcting if there is any hope of fighting further up the grid for tomorrow’s 250-lap race.

“Yeah, what it is, is basically car doesn't work together in terms of the mechanical/aero,” Sato said. “They're doing different things. So, we need to really get back on the harmony of that. At one point, the car wants to go straight. At one point, the car wants to turn. And that sort of balance is extremely important to here, particularly when the tires went to the degradation at halfway. So, after Lap 30, the second half of the stint, that's when we really struggled, not just the pace, but just balance really killed you.”

Although none of the Chip Ganassi Racing quartet ended up on the podium, all four drivers finished in the top nine spots in the 28-car field.

Sato will start 13th Sunday.

Letterman the Bag Boy

David Letterman became Hy-Vee’s newest employee in the buildup to the standout weekend by the supermarket chain.

The legendary late-night host, who represents one-third of the ownership for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, flew into Des Moines for the race weekend and rolled into one of Hy-Vee’s locations Friday in Grimes, Iowa. Letterman, sporting a signature Hy-Vee apron and “Dave” name tag, spent roughly an hour at the store off Gateway Drive, roaming the aisles and chatting with customers while also posing for photos.

"This is my first time in a Hy-Vee store. We don't have them where I live and I've known of them through the racing team, but what I've known of them is the tip of the iceberg," Letterman told the Des Moines Register. "So, I walk in here, and it's the world of the future."

It was all part of the enjoyment in the buildup before heading to nearby Newton for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ doubleheader at Iowa Speedway.

Lundgaard Wins Pit Stop Challenge

The dream week continued for Christian Lundgaard.

Five days after claiming his maiden victory in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in the Honda Indy Toronto on July 16, the driver of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s (RLL) No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda rolled to the win in Friday night’s Hy-Vee Race Weekend Pit Stop Challenge.

The event began with Devlin DeFrancesco (No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) pulling the upset over Josef Newgarden (Team Penske). The Canadian’s pit crew nailed a stop and sent him on his way to a run in 12.18 seconds, edging out the two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion’s performance of 12.60.

That showing was followed by Graham Rahal’s (RLL) pit crew getting the best of O’Ward (Arrow McLaren) by a slim .018 of second (12.329). Lundgaard closed the opening round with a commanding run of 13.148 seconds against current points leader Alex Palou (Chip Ganassi Racing).

DeFrancesco logged the fastest time among the three winners of Round 1, vaulting him into the finals. Meanwhile, it was a battle among teammates in the semifinal, with Lundgaard’s 12.679-second run enough to bounce Rahal’s 13.454.

In the final, Lundgaard’s 12.142-second stop was good enough to beat the stop of 14.387 by DeFrancesco.

Lundgaard quickly leaped from his car and into the arms of his crew members, as the group huddled and jumped in celebration of the victory and the grand prize of $20,000.

Odds & Ends

  • Happy Birthday, Scott Dixon! The six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner turned 43 years old today.
  • Another driver set to celebrate his birthday is Lundgaard, who will turn 22 on Sunday and be treated to 250 laps around Iowa before tuning into the post-race concert delights of Ed Sheeran.
  • Sheeran, also the official starter of the Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade on Sunday, apparently has requested to meet Roger Penske during this busy weekend.
  • Jack Harvey received a nine-position starting grid penalty from INDYCAR for Saturday’s race after being in violation of Rule 9.3.3 (Avoidable Contact). At the Honda Indy Toronto on Sunday, July 16, the driver of the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda was going through Turn 1 and made contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was then sent into series debutant Tom Blomqvist, triggering a seven-car crash. Harvey qualified 17th on speed, with the penalty demoting him to 26th for Saturday’s race.
  • Conor Daly finally has his own AutoNation/SiriusXM firesuit for Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 Honda entry, in which he has returned as a substitute for Simon Pagenaud. The native Hoosier was left wearing MSR teammate Helio Castroneves’ racing pajamas when called as a last-minute replacement July 2 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on after Pagenaud’s heavy crash left him not medically cleared to race.
  • With Newgarden claiming his 28th career win, he is 14th on the all-time wins list. He was tied with Johnny Rutherford entering today. Rick Mears is 13th with 29 wins.
  • Championship leader Palou tied his worst result of the season Saturday, finishing eighth and continuing his streak of finishing every NTT INDYCAR SERIES round through the opening 11 races this season in the top 10.
  • There were an Iowa race record 1,502 on-track passes in Saturday’s 250-lap race.