After qualifying second, Josef Newgarden mused that Iowa Speedway lends itself to both competitive races and blowouts. “Iowa, you can have some amazing racing — a lot of side by side, multiple lanes, really exciting stuff to watch. And also you can have someone that just gets it so right on that day, and they win by a lot.”
Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300 provided both. There were over 950 passes recorded on the day, but for most of it Newgarden and his Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet were laying a beating on the field. Yet he was overhauled in the closing stages by James Hinchcliffe, who turned his disappointing season around in dramatic fashion.
After showing strength early on, passing polesitter Will Power for second, Hinchcliffe’s Arrow Electronics Honda shadowed the dominant Newgarden most of the race before finally catching him in traffic with 44 laps to go and, after a decisive pass, pulling away as emphatically as Newgarden had earlier.
But nothing comes easily at Iowa. With six laps remaining, Ed Carpenter got sideways and was clipped by Takuma Sato, bringing out a yellow that threw out a tactical dilemma: To pit or not to pit? The advantage of fresh tires was so huge that it was tempting but Hinchcliffe, after a spirited discussion on the radio with his crew, opted to stay out. It proved the right choice as the race wound up finishing under yellow, consigning Newgarden to an unrepresentative fourth and Robert Wickens — who’d also been challenging for a podium spot in the second SPM entry — to fifth, while Hinchcliffe cruised home to his first victory since Long Beach last year, ahead of Spencer Pigot and Sato (whose car was remarkably unscathed by his incident with Carpenter).
“For everybody at Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports and Arrow Electronics, this is such a good feeling after what happened in May,” Hinchcliffe told NBC Sports, referencing his failure to qualify for the Indy 500. “We knew we had it in us — didn’t qualify great but we had a good car. The first stint was great; the second we made a change and went too far, then went a little too far the other way the next stop; but that last stop the thing was a rocketship. Great battle today with Spencer and Josef at the end. The guys were great in the pits, Honda power back on top — heading to Toronto like this, I’m so stoked.”
Newgarden was the opposite of stoked after seeing his dominant lead — he led 229 of the 300 laps — dwindle away, but the reigning series champion accentuated the positive from his day.
“I think I was more surprised at how much he picked up,” said Newgarden of Hinchcliffe’s late surge. “We had a great car today — the Hitachi car right from the beginning was solid. We just didn’t have it at the end — sometimes you can’t forecast that completely. We put on the car what we thought would be right for the day and for the first half it was. And it just went away from us.”
Newgarden expressed no regrets over the late pit call that wound up costing him second.
“We tried to do what we could to get competitive there at the end and we just ran out of time — you don’t know how that’s gonna play out, you just make the best bet possible. It was a great day that could have been but wasn’t.”
Newgarden at least had the consolation of moving up to second in points, now just 33 behind Scott Dixon, who had a miserable race en route to 12th.
There was no consolation necessary for Pigot, who came through the late-lap confusion to claim a career-best second place, having raced in the top five much of the way.
“It was a tough race,” Pigot told NBCSN. “Right from the get-go I knew we had a fast car from the way we were getting through traffic, but I think as the stints went on we just seemed to get stronger and stronger and before we knew it we were right up towards the front, which is great. I can’t thank the guys enough. My engineer Matt [Barnes] made some really good decisions and gave me a really great car. A real team effort here —it was fun, it was tough, a lot of close racing, but I really enjoyed it.”