Iowa Speedway

NTT P1 Award winner Will Power led nearly half of the 250 laps in Saturday’s Hy-Vee Homefront 250 presented by Instacart at Iowa Speedway, a sure sign of the strength of his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

But, oh, the reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion knows he has far to go Sunday to extend his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one series race win. Power finished Saturday’s race in fifth place, but the race leader prowled in his mirrors in the final laps.

Teammate Scott McLaughlin in the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet was closer to scoring the race win, finishing 3.3755 seconds from doing so. But that even distance felt like a lot after the other Team Penske driver, Josef Newgarden, put another whoopin’ on the field.

Power, who led 119 laps, and McLaughlin, who ran second for 198 laps, are driven to win races, and right now they’re not close enough to Newgarden at Iowa Speedway to do so. They’ll likely need something dramatic to happen to beat the driver of the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, or Newgarden will walk away with yet another victory at this short oval.

For those keeping score, Newgarden has a record five wins at this track. The rest of this field has five combined. Neither Power nor McLaughlin is among the latter.

Yet, Power and McLaughlin know they’re not far off, especially if anything can derail Newgarden in Sunday’s Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade. Last year, a mechanical failure sent Newgarden’s car sliding into the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier in the second half of the race. There also are 27 other cars for Newgarden to deal with, and there was much discussion about traffic following Saturday’s race.

If Newgarden can’t complete the weekend sweep, Power and McLaughlin want to be there to capitalize, and it’s possible they can be.

Saturday, Power started on the pole with McLaughlin alongside on the front row, both ahead of third-place Newgarden when the green flag dropped. They maintained those positions throughout much of the first third of the race.

On Lap 95, Newgarden passed McLaughlin.

Said McLaughlin, “When I saw him coming I was like, ‘Ah, this old mate.’”

Newgarden took 26 laps to overhaul Power in Turn 2, but he had a couple of good chances before that. After Power relinquished the position on Lap 121, he brushed the Turn 4 wall while on the outside of a lapped car.

“I just got a little high,” said Power, who described it as “square” contact and thus was able to soldier on.

“I know how much force goes through the suspension at this track, (so) we’ll probably have to change that for tomorrow. We had more push, but I didn’t think it hurt the car too bad.”

For all the laps Power led, Newgarden led 10 more to score the bonus point toward the championship standings. Newgarden’s victory, coupled with Alex Palou’s eighth-place finish, tightened the pursuit of the Astor Challenge Cup a bit, with Newgarden now second to Palou, 98 points separating them. Another Newgarden win Sunday could make things interesting.

McLaughlin’s confidence heading into Sunday is buoyed by the fact a lapped car caused him to lose several seconds entering pit road during his final stop.

“So, I was a bit slow coming in, (losing) three or four seconds,” he said. “It was a bit of catch-up from there. We got back (close), but … I can’t wait to come back tomorrow.”

McLaughlin said the hope he has for Sunday comes from, of all places, Newgarden, who took the time during the week to compare both of their onboard cameras from last year’s race he won.

“I’m going to get him at some point,” McLaughlin said. “I’m very determined.

“What I learned with Josef during the week, during the last couple of weeks, has been huge. It’s a nice little rabbit to chase when he’s out in front. When you can keep up with him, that’s a nice feeling. Gives me a lot of confidence.”

Without a lot of chaos in Sunday’s race, Power said beating Newgarden might be difficult, and it starts with Newgarden’s ability to navigate traffic.

“He’s really good at reading that stuff,” Power said.