Last to First shows Pagenaud, Penske, Ready to Fight Dixon, Ganassi

Indycar 250s

by Justin Burtis

Newton — A hot afternoon at Iowa Speedway saw a unique qualifying format tried for the first time, as the NTT IndyCar series lined up for the first race of a double header at the Fastest Short Track on the Planet.

Each racer would take two laps for qualifying, the first would count for Friday night’s race, the second would set the grid for Saturday night. Early on, there was a big gap between the first and second laps. Alexander Rossi had a first lap average speed of 172.26 to start fifth, while his second lap of 168.63 set him 21st for race two.

That changed when Connor Daly set averages of 175.18 mph and 174.96 as he hit the right combination of downforce, set-up, and track temp. However, some big hitters were left on deck and Daly was left waiting to see if the Penske boys or Colton Herta would knock him off. The anticipation built and as competitors failed to reach his average, it looked like he would get his first pole.

Simon Pagenaud had fuel pump issues and could not set any laps, failing to jump off from pit lane. As he started from the back, both Joseph Newgarden and Will Power set fast times, but did so on lap two. As I stood near the start of the tri-oval, I was able to watch Connor Daly’s mom celebrate his first ever pole position. Her joy was such a sight to behold as she tried to yell from the stands to her son’s pit box. While her voice did not carry that far, it seemed like she could walk on air up and over the fence and down to the pits, if not for the limited access. She soon was bouncing her way to the hospitality set-up in turn one, and Daly was set to start from row one ahead of Newgarden.

Tony Kannan was honored as the grand marshal and gave the word to fire the engines from his car. When the green dropped, Daly got away well ad seemed to set a good early pace as the field kept it clean around the first corners of the race. But the reigning series champ would soon close the gap and pass Daly, surging into the lead and quickly putting seconds between himself and Daly.

Towards the end of the first stint, Power passed Daly and began to close on the leader. Takuma Sato made the call to put early, setting up a different strategy compared to most of the field. He took the lead and held it for the second segment of the race, as the field filtered through the pits. Rossi made his second stint work, gaining a number of positions on fresh tires. Daly had some early pace but soon reached a point where he could not advance.

With some good trips to pits, both Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, who had started 17, had begun to make inroads into the top-10. The Arrow McLaren SP cars of Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward also showed some good pace early in their stints.

It was all green from the start but after his second stop, Will Power tried to make a pass on the outside and a slightly lose left front would not turn. Crashing into the wall on lap 142, the Aussie driver came to a halt on the front stretch as his tire bounded down into turn one.

This yellow harmed but did not destroy most of the strategies of the drivers. However, the restart brought another yellow. With everyone not inline, the restart was aborted but that did not get through to the rear drivers in time. IndyCar does not rerack the field in running order until later in the race and as Colton Herta tried to get going, but Rinus VeeKay slowed back down, causing Herta to launch over the rear and bounce off the fence. A chilling moment but because of the vastly improved safety features to both trach and car, both drivers were unhurt.

With 26 laps of caution, this killed a lot of the strategies that had been put in motion at the start of the race. Sato and the early pitters now did not have their early stop advantage that would have paid off later in the race. Those who stopped at about the expected times now had to stop once more with the green out. Pagenaud and Dixon both stopped under the first yellow and now they had enough fuel to reach the end.

The final 80 laps went by without incident. Newgarden was able to stay in front of Pagenaud on the restart to avoid going a lap down. After his pit, he came out flying on fresh tires, which led him to a fifth-place finish. Both Askew and O’Ward came out on rocket ships after their final stops. Both pitted and exited ahead of Newgarden and quickly un-lapped themselves, coming home third and fourth respectively, the first podium finish for the young career of Askew.

Jack Harvey had a solid final stint to finish seventh, as both Rossi and Daly, who had pitted before the yellows, ended sixth and eighth, unable to make much hay with older tires at the end.

Dixon made the charge between laps 220-230, as the Kiwi drove up to the back of the Frenchmen. He dove to the inside in turn one but could not get it done and had to check up. He would try to stay close as the laps ticked down but lapped traffic caused problems as did late pitters on fresh tires, who flew by the leaders to get back on the lead lap.

Dixon closed again with two laps to go, but had nothing left as Pagenaud, last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, picked up his first victory of the season.

“I do not even know how I got there (to the front), I will have to watch the race myself,” said the race winner. “But I want to thank these guys (his crew) for so much.” When asked about starting from the back again, Pagenaud said, “I do, I never give up! If I have to gotta do it again, I will do it again.”

“Short ovals, when you have a good car under you, are really fun.”

The impressive win put Pagenaud second in the driver’s championship, though Dixon picked up plenty of points with his second-place finish.

Newgarden will lead the field to the green tonight as the second race gets underway a little before 8 again in Newton. The ARCA series will also race later in the afternoon.

Posted by on Jul 18 2020. Filed under Professional Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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