Ed Sheeran

The theme was damage control for Alex Palou entering the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend at Iowa Speedway.

Part of that was secured on Saturday’s eighth-place result, but the Spaniard went even further with a third-place finish in the Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade on Sunday.

Palou rolled off 12th Sunday and fluctuated in and out of the top 10 for most of the day. The complexion of his race changed over the final 50 of 250 laps as he secured his position into the top five. A late restart came on Lap 247, which saw his No. 10 The American Legion Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing charge around the likes of Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin and Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist to secure his series-leading seventh podium finish of the season.

“Yeah, we knew it was going to be a tough weekend,” Palou said. “We thought it was going to be maybe a little bit less tough after we tested here, but honestly yesterday we had a lot of pace. Not like Penske pace, but like second series pace, and that was great. We just didn't really have that final lap that you need to finish fourth, fifth, and we finished eighth.

“Today was the opposite. Today we had no pace. I was struggling to overtake. I was struggling to keep the tires under the deck, and the team just put me in the position that we are now. So, yeah, it was all up to the team today.”

With the result, he also minimized the potential damage to his championship lead, which fell from 117 points ahead to 80 after rival Josef Newgarden swept both races on the 0.894-mile oval. Five races remain in the 2023 season.

“I’m looking forward,” Palou said. “It was a place and a weekend that I was not looking forward to even before starting the season because it's a place I struggle personally to place. As a team, we know we need to find a little bit more, which we did. Yeah, I was still struggling a lot.

“Super happy with the podium today and with the P8 yesterday. I'm looking forward to the next couple of races, which we know that we have a good car, and I have a lot of confidence that I can extract kind of the same from what we have.”

Malukas Works Magic

David Malukas built one of his most complete performances of the season Sunday.

After qualifying third, the 21-year-old Chicago native battled tough among the top five early on and remained a top-10 mainstay for most of the race. A wild late-race restart with four laps to go saw him convert a 10th-place run into his final finishing position of eighth – his fourth top-10 of 2023.

“We had a really good qualifying, managed to get the car into P3 and unfortunately, this race, we just didn't have the pace,” Malukas said. “At the end of the day, these guys around us, they just have a car that doesn't fall off when the tires go, and ours did. I feel like it has something to do with the heat. I feel like anytime it's a hotter day, our car ends up struggling a little bit more.

“So, that's something that I feel like I've learned throughout these two years. For the result that we got, I think that was the best we could have done with the car we had today.”

Although Malukas made it known to multiple outlets he won’t return to Dale Coyne Racing with HMD next year, his determination to finish the fight with his current team remains at full effort.

“Oh, 100 percent,” Malukas said. “With everything happening for the future, nothing's going to change for what me and this team have right now. I love all these guys. I think me and the team did a really great job today. We maximized what we could, and we go into the next one. Of course, we had two good results, consistent, it's what we need. We've had a very up-and-down season, and we really need some consistency right now.”

Brabham Delivers in Late INDY NXT Call-Up

A whirlwind few days for Matthew Brabham ended with a terrific fourth-place finish in Saturday night’s INDY NXT by Firestone race at Iowa Speedway.

The 29-year-old Australian-American was in Spain when he received the call from co-team owner Ricardo Juncos requesting his services for the weekend in the recently vacated No. 75 Juncos Hollinger Racing (JHR) entry. Brabham, who finished third in last year’s championship driving for Andretti Autosport, stepped in despite having no experience with or understanding of the series’ new-for-2023 Firestone tire and little practice time.

“Yeah, it's just been a blur, to be honest,” Brabham said. “And I've just been thrown in the deep end once again. I was in Spain, and I just made it in time to make the driver's briefing. Then I got fitted to the car afterward, and then we had some issues in practice. I had 20 laps after not being in a car for the whole year, and I only had 20 laps on that new tire.”

Brabham ended up qualifying 11th in the 16-car field, directly behind teammate Rasmus Lindh. Although Brabham fell two positions at the end of Lap 1 of 75, he and Lindh began to methodically march forward.

The pair remained lined up in that order while running fifth and sixth but climbed one spot higher each when Nolan Siegel, the championship leader entering Iowa, spun off Turn 2 after contact with Hunter McElrea while running second on Lap 60 and brought out the caution. After the restart on Lap 64, Brabham remained in Lindh’s tire tracks as they worked around McElrea and rolled to their respective finishes; Lindh scoring his first-ever INDY NXT podium in third, followed by Brabham.

“It was an awesome race,” said Brabham, a three-time Stadium Super Trucks champion. “Congrats to Juncos Hollinger Racing because getting third and fourth is a great result for the team, especially starting from back where we did. We put on a show. It was awesome fun.”

Although this year marks JHR’s full-time return to INDY NXT, Brabham believes the team is “right there” to fight for wins and podiums each weekend. He also acknowledged his strong pace and performance in the unique situation.

“Yeah, I don't think there's too many people that can do what I did, having sat out of INDY NXT the whole year and come in and only get 20 laps of practice and then put on a race like that,” Brabham said. “You know, there's only a few people that probably could do that and, and I'm one of them. It's definitely a lot of fun, and I'm very grateful to all the opportunities that I've had.”

Brabham has spent this year competing in Stadium Super Trucks, Trans-Am and some sports car racing. However, his love and passion for open-wheel racing has him eager to return INDY NXT or even one step higher in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

“Yeah, I would love to be back in the series and racing in INDY NXT,” Brabham said. “I'd love to be in INDYCAR, too. Working on INDYCAR for next year. Hopefully, I could do something, whether it's testing or racing or whatever. Just trying to get back into that INDYCAR field because that's where I feel like I belong, and that's the main goal.”

Odds & Ends

  • Christian Lundgaard, who turned 22 today, earned a 13th-place finish.
  • Ed Carpenter finished 23rd in his 200th career INDYCAR start.
  • There were 1,168 on-track passes today (second most for an INDYCAR SERIES race at Iowa Speedway), which made for 2,670 over the two races. Additionally, there were 379 on-track passes for position today, an INDYCAR SERIES record at Iowa Speedway.
  • After sweeping both races this weekend, Newgarden celebrated by going to the post-race concert featuring Ed Sheeran. Global pop superstar Sheeran waved the green flag to start the race today (main photo, above).
  • Newgarden tied the legendary Rick Mears for 13th on the all-time INDYCAR SERIES win list with his 29th career win.
  • Additionally, Newgarden is the third driver to win five consecutive oval events in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, with A.J. Foyt the first to accomplish the feat in 1964, along with Al Unser in 1968 and 1970. Foyt won seven straight in 1964, while Unser won five in a row in 1968 and 1970.