by Chris Leone
Images via Chris Owens/IndyCar (1); Joe Skibinski/IndyCar (2)
After a well-earned vacation period, the NTT IndyCar Series returned to action on Sunday with a trip north of the border to the streets of Toronto. Now, six days later, they’ll be back on track again at Iowa Speedway on one of the sport’s shortest tracks.
The Iowa 300 has been a staple of the IndyCar schedule since 2007, when Dario Franchitti took the checkered flag as part of his first championship season. It marked the first of seven victories for the team now known as Andretti Autosport at the .875-mile oval; no other team has more than two wins at the track, though three drivers—Franchitti, three-time winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, and defending winner James Hinchcliffe—have multiple race wins in Iowa.
A return to the winner’s circle would be the first top five of the season for Hinchcliffe, who comes off a season-best sixth place in his home race from Toronto. It’d also be Hunter-Reay’s first victory since last year’s season finale from Sonoma Raceway, although he has a podium at Circuit of the Americas and three other top fives on his 2019 resume.
If the season so far is any indicator, it’ll likely be Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, and Simon Pagenaud fighting it out at the front of the pack. Newgarden won here in 2016 in his final season with Ed Carpenter Racing before joining Team Penske, and could badly use another win to increase his championship advantage to more than four points over Rossi. Pagenaud’s career best finish in Iowa is fourth, which he scored on the way to the 2016 title, while Rossi is still searching for his first Iowa top five.
One thing is for certain, though: whoever wins on Saturday night may not have too many others joining them on the lead lap. Only five drivers completed all 300 laps in Iowa last year and in 2016, making the 10 drivers who did so in 2017 feel like an anomaly. It makes Iowa the kind of tricky, high-attrition race that feels like a throwback to a bygone era of IndyCar competition.
Qualifying for the Iowa 300 will take place on Friday, while the race will go green on Saturday at 7PM ET on NBCSN. After Iowa, the NTT IndyCar Series will return to road course action on July 28 with a visit to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.