Colton Herta

Colton Herta salvaged something positive amid a challenging Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend on July 22-23 at Iowa Speedway.

The doubleheader weekend provided promise after qualifying sixth and fifth, respectively, for each race. However, Saturday’s Hy-Vee Homefront 250 presented by Instacart saw the Californian’s contest derailed after needing an early pit stop in hopes of improving the handling, but that stop was lengthy due to an issue during the servicing by his pit crew. He never recovered and finished four laps down in 19th.

Herta reversed course in the Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade on Sunday, keeping his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Autosport solidly in the top 10 throughout. A late restart with four laps to go set up a wild finish that saw Herta put pressure on Scott Dixon for sixth, but he following six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon across the finish line to claim a seventh-place result at the .894-mile oval.

“It would've been nice to get P6, but Dixon got that inside line, and that was our preferred line all weekend,” Herta said. “So, I just couldn't carry the speed on the top lane against him. It was a good fight. It was really close. It was a hard fight. That was some of the most fun I've had, that last restart. Very little grip.

“You see Dixon would shoot up the inside of me, but he'd slide up half a car length or whatever, and I'd have to move up and we were both sliding all over the place. It was fun, and it was probably right on the limit for what you want to do around the ovals.”

Herta sits eighth in the championship standings with five races remaining. With 270 points remaining on the table, it is unlikely he makes up the 201-point deficit to leader Alex Palou (477-276). But he is within reach of Scott McLaughlin, who is fifth at just 53 points ahead (329).

In terms of how he looks at the recent race weekend as the championship takes shape, Herta provided a blunt assessment.

“Yesterday was a nightmare,” Herta said after Sunday’s race. “That was pretty awful, and we can't really ever have that. But today it was probably the best we were going to get. We were really no good here. So, to finish behind the Penskes and Ganassis, I think was going to be the maximum for us. I think the McLarens should have finished in front of us, also, but for some reason they couldn't get it together.”

Although Herta flirted with the top five at one point in Sunday’s race at Iowa, he became one of the 23 drivers in the field of 28 to go at least one lap down to the dominant drive of Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who won both races.

In total, Team Penske’s drivers led 492 of 500 laps on the weekend and put all three of its drivers in the top five in both races. Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi Racing led six laps, with Arrow McLaren making up the other two, and both teams were able to have one driver each represented in the top five.

Despite having four drivers in its lineup, Andretti Autosport only had one driver finish in the top 10 in each race. When asked what the team needs to be more competitive at the short oval where it has seven previous victories but none since 2015, Herta provided a straightforward response.

“Just grip,” Herta said. “It's a big change. I don't know. There's a big difference between us and the frontrunners, and it has been the whole time I've been here. We'll keep coming here and testing every year, but we need to figure something out because obviously nobody can touch the Penskes. But now the Ganassis are kind of out of our reach at the moment. We need to be a little bit better.”