IndyCar: 5 Takeaways from the Iowa Doubleheader

IndyCar Iowa Doubleheader
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A historic return to Iowa Speedway saw many things, including ridiculously fast speeds, crashes, and near-domination from a certain driver. Read on for the big takeaways from IndyCar’s Iowa doubleheader.

1 – Newgarden Barely Misses Sweep

It was the HyVee Iowa Doubleheader weekend. But we could’ve renamed it the Newgarden Iowa Doubleheader given the Team Penske driver’s performance this weekend. In the first race on Saturday afternoon, Newgarden stole the lead away from teammate Will Power on Lap 80 and simply refused to look back. Power and Pato O’Ward threw all that they could at the two-time series champion, but Newgarden soldiered on, earning him a well-deserved fourth victory at Iowa Speedway.

In Sunday’s race, it was much of the same. Newgarden continued to lap almost the entire field while leading Power and O’Ward around and around. That all came to a rather violent halt on Lap 236 of 300 when Newgarden’s rear right suspension failed and sent him careening into the wall outside of Turn 4, ending the 31-year-old’s chances of a sweep. A visibly frustrated and emotional Newgarden emerged from the infield care center and put it as simply as he could: “I want to cry.” he told NBC. Approximately an hour after the race, Newgarden fainted and hit his head, causing him to be airlifted (due to post-race traffic) to a nearby Des Moines hospital. As of the writing of this article, Newgarden was reported to be awake and alert.

2 – O’Ward Returns to Championship Fight

After a recent slip in the points, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward said that his strategy for the remainder of the season was simple, and that was to win. The young Mexican fell just short on Saturday afternoon but still took home some quality points with an impressive second-place finish.

It appeared as if his race on Saturday was going the same way. O’Ward was running comfortably in the top three, occasionally swapping places with Power or Jimmie Johnson. That all went away quickly when Newgarden suffered his aforementioned suspension failure, dropping a surprised Pato into the lead. The four-time race winner was tasked with holding off the entire field for 50 laps, and that he did, besting Power by four seconds at the checkered flag. After the win, O’Ward moved himself up to fifth in the points standings, just 36 points behind leader Marcus Ericsson.

3 – Johnson Shows Off on the High Side

In your first appearance at a track, after having run just two oval races in an IndyCar, you probably wouldn’t be expected to run well, even if you’re a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. However, Chip Ganassi’s Jimmie Johnson proved any and all doubters wrong with two impressive performances at Iowa. After starting 15th on Saturday and spinning early, Johnson went on to lead 19 laps and even settle into the top five for a while. This was no fluke either. Johnson dared to run the highest racing line physically possible, passing multiple cars in a singular turn on multiple occasions on his way to an 11th-place finish.

Starting 13th on Sunday, the 46-year-old driver of the No. 48 wasted no time clawing his way up to the front and staying there. Once again, Johnson hung around the top five, but unlike Saturday, he stayed there for almost the entire race, battling the likes of O’Ward, Ericsson, and Scott Dixon. When the checkered flag flew, JJ found himself in fifth, the best finish of his young IndyCar career. “We knew that we could run well…” said Johnson after the race, reminiscing a few years back when he first considered moving from NASCAR to IndyCar.

4 – Ericsson Retains Championship Lead

It feels like any day now that either Power or Newgarden will take over the championship lead, and for most of Sunday afternoon, Newgarden was a prime candidate. But the combination of an unfortunate mechanical failure for Newgarden and two top 10 finishes for Marcus Ericsson ensured that the Swede remains the top dog, albeit by an ever-closing gap to Power. Ericsson, along with Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jimmie Johnson situated themselves on the high line for a large part of both races, allowing for some “code brown” level passes around the outside of other cars.

Speaking on the championship situation after the race, Ericsson said “…we can only focus on ourselves.” During NBC’s coverage of qualifying Saturday morning, it was discussed what exactly Ericsson needs to take the championship in 2022. Above all else, it was “one or two wins.” While they didn’t come to him at Iowa, leaving a weekend as the championship leader has to make a driver feel pretty good.

5 – Iowa Doubleheader Shines in Return to Calendar

Barring 2021, Iowa Speedway in the little town of Newton has been a staple on the IndyCar series calendar since 2007. After a disappointing absence, Des Moines-based grocery chain HyVee and IndyCar teamed up to bring racing back to Iowa in a big way. Visible on television were plentiful red banners donning the HyVee logo, among hospitality areas, mobile grocery stores, and even concerts with huge names like Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and Gwen Stefani. The Speedway noted that the entire weekend was sold out, and fans attending in-person bragged of a “music festival” atmosphere.

After last week’s Peacock controversy, I couldn’t think of anything that IndyCar needed more than a well-advertised, star-studded racing event taking up six total hours of network television time on a summer weekend in July. Do not be surprised if the Iowa Doubleheader becomes IndyCar’s next big thing.

Championship Standings after Iowa Doubleheader

  1. Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing – 406 points
  2. Will Power, Team Penske – 395 points
  3. Josef Newgarden, Team Penske – 369 points
  4. Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing – 369 points
  5. Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP – 367 points

Next Race

  • Gallagher Grand Prix
  • Saturday, July 30th – 12:00 P.M. EST
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course – Speedway, Indiana
  • 2021 Winner: Will Power

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