IndyCar Returning To Iowa With Doubleheader

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 20 2021

Iowa Speedway is back on the IndyCar Series schedule.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDYCAR’s version of Major League Baseball’s “Field of Dreams” will return to the NTT IndyCar Series schedule in 2022 with a summertime doubleheader on Iowa Speedway’s D-shaped, short-track oval.

A Midwest-based grocery chain, has partnered with the series in a multi-year agreement that will bring Iowa Speedway’s 0.875-mile “bull-ring” back to the schedule after a one-year hiatus. The Hy-VeeDeals.com 250 is booked for Saturday, July 23, 2022, followed by the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 on Sunday, July 24.

“We’re extremely pleased to return Iowa Speedway to the NTT IndyCar Series calendar,” Roger Penske, founder/chairman of Penske Corporation and owner of the series, said in a statement. “Over the years, Iowa has proven to be a fitting showcase for North America’s premier open-wheel series. A key oval and a hallmark on our schedule, we deeply missed seeing our fans in Iowa this year and look forward to what’s ahead.

“The state is rich with racing history and has a strong appreciation for INDYCAR and its terrific drivers and teams. The fantastic addition of Hy-Vee and their commitment to our sport underscores the added value. Thanks to Hy-Vee and the State of Iowa for welcoming the return of INDYCAR racing to Iowa Speedway.”

The addition of two oval races also addresses INDYCAR’s desire to increase its presence on tracks featuring four left turns. That suggestion was made in separate RacinToday.com interviews with open-wheel icon Mario Andretti and six-time/reigning series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing before the 2021 season-opener in April.

The revised 16-race, 2021 NTT IndyCar Series schedule includes only four ovals on three venues, including Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis. NBC Sports Network’s live coverage will begin at 8 p.m. (EDT).

Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth hosted an INDYCAR doubleheader May 1-2 as a prelude to the 105th Indianapolis 500 on May 30 around Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s famed 2.5-mile oval. Those races were won, respectively, by Dixon (TMS-1), Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP (TMS-2) and Helio Castroneves of Meyer Shank Racing (IMS). The current schedule largely has been contested on a combination of natural-terrain and street-course layouts.

“The versatility factor and to appreciate certain drivers that are a factor everywhere _ whether you go to a short-track, superspeedway, street course, you go natural road-course _ that’s something to be appreciated,” said Andretti, winner of 52 career INDYCAR races, highlighted by the 1969 Indy 500. “When you look at the action we’ve seen on the ovals, I mean it’s as good as ever.

“I mean, some of the Indy races are the best I’ve ever seen. Now Indy, of course, attracts (casual fans). But some of the other ovals…I think St. Louis (Madison, Ill.) is doing very well. Texas, for some reason they haven’t had the crowds that they are deserving, quite honestly, because the races have been good. That’s not an easy place to drive with the high-banks and everything. Again, I’m enjoying it.”

Dixon, meanwhile, kick-started the 2021 oval campaign with a dominating victory in the Genesys 300 at TMS on May 1. Dixon schooled the field by leading a race-record 206 of 212 laps in his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda for his first victory of the season and record fifth at “The Great American Speedway.” Dixon had shared the TMS open-wheel record for wins with Castroneves, all during his tenure with Team Penske. Dixon posted his 51st career victory, one short of tying Andretti for second on a list topped by native Texan A.J. Foyt Jr.’s 67 wins.

“I’ve definitely been pushing hard to get to more ovals,” Dixon, of New Zealand, said in advance of the TMS twinbill. “You’ve got to look at what INDYCAR was founded on and what the popular races are. I think we definitely should strive to get back to Richmond, maybe a Kentucky, a Kansas _ some of those tracks that worked really well. I know it’s something that’s high on their (INDYCAR’s) radar.”

The NTT IndyCar Series was among the first to compete at the Newton, Iowa, facility designed by former NASCAR Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace. INDYCAR has conducted 15 races at the track known as “The Fastest Short Track on the Planet” since Scotland’s Dario Franchitti prevailed on June 24, 2007.

“The state of Iowa made a commitment to the sport of racing when the Iowa Speedway was built, and Thursday’s exciting announcement of Hy-Vee’s partnership with the NTT IndyCar Series reaffirms that,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement.

Plans for the 2022 event include several entertainment/festival-like activities. “With our strong connection to local communities and involvement in the state, we plan to host an event that will receive national attention and make Newton an annual destination for racing fans,” said Randy Edeker, chairman/CEO and president of Hy-Vee. “The weekend will be filled with multiple attractions and events that celebrate everything that is great about Iowa and NTT IndyCar Series racing.”

West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee was first involved in the series as primary sponsor for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 15 car in Race 2 of the 2020 Iowa Speedway doubleheader. Driven by Graham Rahal, the Hy-Vee Honda finished third. Hy-Vee later sponsored the team’s No. 45 car driven by Spencer Pigot in the 2020 Indianapolis 500.

Hy-Vee has provided primary sponsorship this season on RLLR’s No. 45 car, driven by 2019 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Santino Ferrucci, for the Indy 500 and selected events. The supermarket chain also was primary sponsor of Rahal’s entry at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and will return with the second-generation driver for Saturday’s night event at WWTR.

Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske is a three-time winner at Iowa Speedway and the most recent to celebrate in Victory Lane. Other champions at the track include recently-crowned, four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Castroneves of MSR along with Indy 500 and series champs Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport and Ganassi’s Tony Kanaan and Franchitti.

The entire 2022 NTT IndyCar Series schedule has yet to be announced. For more details about the Iowa Speedway event and to sign-up for ticketing information, visit www.INDYCARatIowa.com.

Since opening in 1997, World Wide Technology Raceway has catered to INDYCAR’s elite, with all 12 races won by drivers who had either won a series championship (or soon would) or an Indianapolis 500.

Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Sonsio Team Penske Chevrolet) and Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda/Chip Ganassi Racing) not only have combined to win the past four series championships, they also were winners in last year’s COVID-19 impacted doubleheader. Newgarden also won the 2017 race, making him the track’s winningest INDYCAR driver.

Team Penske’s Will Power and Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing were the NTT P1 Award winners at WWTR last season. Power owns the track’s one-lap qualifying record at 23.7206-seconds/189.709 mph set on Aug. 25, 2017.

Beginning with the first INDYCAR race at WWTR, the winning driver has claimed the championship three times _ Alex Zanardi of CGR (1998); Newgarden (2017) and Dixon (2020-Race 1).

With four races remaining, Dixon sits third in the standings, 34 points behind series leader and Ganassi teammate Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda). Newgarden occupies the position behind Dixon, 55 points out of the lead.

With the right set of circumstances, Palou is susceptible to losing as many as 48 points to another driver in this race. Something similar nearly occurred during last Saturday’s Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, when mechanical failure caused Palou to finish 27th among the 28 car-and-driver combinations.

Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) enters the event 21 points out of the lead. The native Mexican’s fifth-place finish at IMS, coupled with Palou’s trouble, chopped 27 points off the Spaniard’s lead.  Swede Marcus Ericsson’s ninth-place finish in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing drew him to within 62 points of the lead, increasing the chances of five drivers being in this title chase.

Exiting WWTR, the season’s final three races _ Sept. 12 at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, Sept. 19 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California and Sept. 26 on the Streets of Long Beach, Calif. _ will be staged on either permanent road-courses or temporary street circuits.

Romain Grosjean’s oval-track debut looms as an intriguing subplot at WWTR Saturday night.

The 10-year veteran of Formula One’s road-racing battles launched his rookie INDYCAR season with a wait-and-see approach to ovals. The Frenchman initially decided to sit them out. But with World Wide Technology Raceway being a short-track and Grosjean’s familiarity with INDYCAR’s safety elements, he has opted to give “roundy-round” racing a shot. Grosjean said he felt comfortable during last month’s test at the track.

“I want to see how it’s going,” Grosjean said. “Everyone (in INDYCAR) seems to be enjoying ovals. I still prefer road-courses (because) I like braking late. But I’m looking forward to it and seeing what we can get out of it.”

Grosjean drives the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with RWR _ basically the same entry Santino Ferrucci wheeled in his INDYCAR oval-track debut in 2019. Ferrucci posted top-10 finishes in three of his four oval races that season, including a fourth-place finish at WWTR. Last year, Alex Palou _ the current championship leader _ showed well with this organization in the first four short-oval races of his career, posting an average finish of 13.0 at this track and Iowa Speedway.

Grosjean is betting he will become the latest oval newcomer to enjoy success with team-owner Coyne.

“There is not much room for mistake,” Grosjean cautioned, “and that’s something you need to keep in mind rather than just trying to go (all-out) straight-away.”

Oval-track specialists Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter will make their final starts of the season Saturday night.

Kanaan, the 2004 INDYCAR champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, will wheel the No. 48 Carvana Honda that INDYCAR rookie and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jimmie Johnson has driven on the road courses and street circuits. This will be Kanaan’s fourth race of the season. The popular Brazilian finished second at WWTR in 2003.

Carpenter, the series’ only owner/driver, will pilot the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet that Conor Daly has driven on road-courses and street circuits. Daly will move to the No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet that Max Chilton drives most of the season.

The Road to Indy program will join the NTT IndyCar Series at WWTR, with Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 action Friday and a single Indy Lights race on Saturday. NTT IndyCar Series on-track activity begins with a 90-minute practice Saturday at 1:15 p.m. (EDT) and NTT P1 Award qualifying at 5 p.m. Both sessions will be carried live exclusively on Peacock Premium, NBC Sports’ streaming service. The 260-lap Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline will air live on NBCSN at 8 p.m., with the green flag estimated to fall at 8:45 p.m.

Current point standings (top-10): 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 415; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 394; 3, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 381; 4, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 360; 5, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 353; 6, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 312; 7, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 311; 8, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 295; 9, Will Power, Team Penske, 278; 10, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, 269.


Sunday, April 18 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, April 25 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport)

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing)

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing)

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit (Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn. (Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Will Power, Team Penske)

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (NBCSN)

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif. (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (NBCSN)



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 20 2021
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