The lengthy rain delay before Saturday night’s Iowa 300 may have been rough on the fans both at the track and watching on TV, but race winner Josef Newgarden believes it it turned out to be a good thing for the show.
“It was fun that we raced under the lights. If the weather didn’t happen, it wasn’t really going to be a night race.” noted Newgarden. “It was actually kind of nice that the weather delayed it from that standpoint. Every other standpoint, it wasn’t a good thing. No one likes waiting around. We certainly don’t like making the fans wait. The ones that went home, completely understandable — got pretty late there. The ones that stuck with us, it was real nice they got to see a full show. I think we’re all pretty pumped about that.”
Runner-up Scott Dixon admitted the long delay added to the surreal nature of his race, in which he fell off the pace early and got lapped, only to rebound thanks to a strategy from his Chip Ganassi Racing crew and a dose of good fortune.
“Yeah, I’m getting old, I was getting ready to go to bed at 10:30,” joked the 38-year-old New Zealander, whose eventual finish was his 90th in first or second place in 316 career IndyCar starts, a staggering 28 percent. “It was tough. For all the fans that stayed out — weathered the storm literally — huge, huge thanks. I think it was well worth the wait. Hopefully everybody that did come and stayed for the race enjoyed the show. Felt pretty exciting from where we were sitting. Imagine from the outside, too.”
Despite the standout finish, Dixon admitted he never really got a handle on his car.
“It was just one of those nights where we just really didn’t have the pace,” he said. “We burned through the tires really quickly. We tried adjusting the balance. I was really loose on the first (stint). Second one lots of understeer.
“Huge credit to the team. They hung me out pretty long before the last caution. It enabled us to stay on the lead lap, get that lucky yellow there, get new tires. We were the first on the new set of tires. Had a good restart, were able to pick up some cars.”
In addition to better lighting conditions, Newgarden said the nighttime start bolstered the cars’ performance, but also added complexity to the challenge of racing on the short oval as the temperature cooled.
“I think the grip was just higher overall, a little more downforce, a little more power from the engine,” said the Team Penske driver. “That’s the biggest thing you notice with the track temp coming down and the ambient. I felt the balance got a little tougher as the night went on. It became more difficult to follow other cars as it cooled off. People you could kind of carve up really well for the first half of the race, seemed like the last 100 laps just got more difficult. I think the grip was coming up, but the balance went more loose. The cars were a handful to drive. I think people were getting loose off the corner.
“I think we were still just a bit better than most people at cutting through the pack,” he added. “That’s what matters here. A lot of people were fast in clean air. It’s how you get through the pack. That’s what this place is about.”
Iowa Speedway has gone back and forth between day and night races for IndyCar, but Newgarden cast his vote to stay under the lights.
“I think night is better just because it’s always more exhilarating, I find. The more races we can have under the lights with IndyCar would be better. They look better. It’s obviously cooler in the summertime, easier on the fans, easier on us. I think it’s just a lot more fun. It really brings the atmosphere out and makes it exciting.
“I’d like to have it again at night. Hopefully weather is not the reason we’re doing it. It’s tough because I think it hadn’t rained here in like two or three weeks, then it rains literally 20 minutes before the race is supposed to start!
“This place is a little bit difficult because you get the weepers here. If we didn’t have those, we maybe could have started an hour or two sooner. We had to work with what we got.
“Again, thanks to the fans who stuck around. We understand the ones that had to go home. The ones that were here, we hope they enjoyed the show.”