Newgarden gives Team Penske hope at Newton
NEWTON — IndyCar powerhouse Team Penske has never won at Iowa Speedway, even though the open-wheel series has been running at the track for more than decade.
This offseason, Penske brought in the driver who last year executed perhaps the most impressive run that Iowa had ever seen.
Josef Newgarden broke an IndyCar record in Iowa for Ed Carpenter Racing, leading 282 out of 300 laps to win despite a broken right clavicle and a fractured right hand.
Newgarden will return Sunday, this time in the No. 2 car for Penske.
Newgarden is race in the standings, behind teammates Simon Pagenaud (second) and Helio Castroneves (third) and ahead of Will Power (sixth).
“We’ve got the Iowa king on the team now this year. So if we don’t win it this year, we’re in trouble,” Power joked about Newgarden
Power will start from the pole, giving Penske three straight qualifying wins on the 0.894-mile oval. But none of the previous 10 race winners in Iowa started first.
Newgarden started second last season and slipped by Pagenaud, the pole sitter, early on to seize the control he never relinquished.
“I think I’m as surprised as everybody that Team Penske hasn’t won a race here. It’s not like they haven’t been strong here,” Newgarden said. “They’ve got great equipment (and) they’ve got good knowledge around here. But, coupled with what I learned last year, I think can help a little bit. Hopefully that’s enough to get one of us in victory lane.”
Four-time series champion Scott Dixon hasn’t won at Iowa, either– and he might have a tough time changing that Sunday.
Dixon was docked 20 minutes of practice timer Saturday after IndyCar cited his No. 9 Chip Ganassi team for three minor violations during his winning weekend at Road America two weeks ago.
Dixon will start 17th, by far his worst position on the starting grid this year.
“Definitely a tough day when you lose that much running time in one day,” Dixon said.
One of the bigger reasons that Penske has never won at Iowa is because Andretti Autosport has been so dominant, winning six of the last seven races.
History suggests that this could be the weekend that Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion, turns his season around.
Hunter-Reay has recorded just two top-10 finishes in 2017 — and it’s been five races since he’s been better than 13th.
But Hunter-Reay won at Iowa in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Two years ago his win in Newton kicked off an impressive finishing stretch that pushed him from 14th to sixth in the standings.
J.R. Hildebrand will join Power on the front row despite hitting the wall in qualifying. Hildebrand has never won in 55 career starts.
“So much credit to the team for giving me something I could be confident in out there,” said Hildebrand, who will remain in his primary car after repairing the back wing that brushed the wall. “I will never question (my crew) getting the car back together again.”