He didn’t lap the Top 10 and he only finished a few seconds ahead of his teammate, but there was never, ever a doubt that Saturday night’s Iowa 250 belonged to Josef Newgarden.
In scoring his third career win at Iowa Speedway and becoming the first pole-sitter ever to make it to victory lane there, Newgarden led 214 of 250 laps in his Hitachi Chevy and continued his amazing dominance at this 7/8ths-mile short track.
“It feels really good,” said the 2019 NTT IndyCar champion after notching his first win of 2020. “I don’t know what we’ve got do to keep the bad luck off of us, but hopefully this is a start. Our guys did an amazing job yesterday. I was so disappointed for them because I felt like they had the winning car. They put in the work and we just weren’t able to get rewarded for it. I was so determined to come back today. I think everyone was determined to come back and have a really good race. And we just ran hard.”
Other than pit stops, Newgarden was never passed on the track, although Will Power kept it close most of the 90-degree evening and finished 2.7 seconds behind in the Penske Chevy.
“It felt good. ‘Been nice to have a win, but if you do a good job in this series, you get screwed; so we’ve just got to soldier on,” said the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Graham Rahal, who lost out on chances at a win at the Indy Grand Prix because of an untimely caution, finally got a good break Saturday night, and that helped propel him from 19th to third in his RLL Honda.
“We needed it. I’m proud of this team and we’re going to be contenders this year,” said the second-generation driver following his second podium finish in this still-young season.
Twenty-four hours after pulling off a last-to-first jaw-dropper in his Menard’s Chevy, Simon Pagenaud again showed his muscle by coming from 23rd to fourth.
“It was a dramatic weekend, but we persevered,” said the 2016 IndyCar champion. “We weren’t quite as hooked up tonight, but a first and a fourth is good for the championship.”
Points leader Scott Dixon hung in there to take fifth in the PNC Honda after starting 18th, and leads Pagenaud by 49 points heading to Mid-Ohio in three weeks.
“I think we knew this weekend was going to be one of our biggest challenges in terms of race weekends,” Dixon said. “We haven’t been as strong at Iowa as we’ve been at other tracks. We worked on it and tried some things and learned a lot, and we were able to work our way up and get a good result for the PNC Bank car.”
Pato O’Ward and Conor Daly both appeared headed for a podium finish before a botched pit stop and untimely yellow flag dropped them to 12th and 14th, respectively. O’Ward (Arrow McLaren SP Chevy) managed to pass Power and put the pressure on Newgarden only to have trouble with his left-rear tire being attached on his final pit stop on Lap 172.
Daly started third and was seldom out of the top five all night, but Ed Carpenter’s brush with the Turn 2 wall on Lap 114 shoved him back to 10th in the ensuing stops and then a late pit stop for fuel robbed him of finishing third for Trevor Carlin.
“Tough night for us,” Daly said. “The No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet was really strong all race, and even after we came out on the wrong side of Ed (Carpenter)’s yellow, we were still pushing up at the front, running pretty consistently in the top three. We made a strategy call there at the end to stay out under the yellow and wait to take tires until about 35 to go. Unfortunately, in tonight’s race, it just wasn’t the right strategy. I’m gutted for the team because the car was great and had serious podium potential; but we just had some bad luck. Obviously, I’m still feeling good about our pole from yesterday, but it would’ve been really nice to come away with a top-three finish this weekend.”
The only other caution came on Lap 180 when Ryan Hunter-Reay spun into the inside wall exiting the pits for the second straight night. This time, he KO’d himself with a damaged left front.
“I was looking to make up a lot of track time on that out lap, and I short-shifted out of second gear, knowing that first (gear) was my problem last night. I got on it in second … and it just came around. I almost caught it, but almost doesn’t count.
“It sucks. The guys on the 28 team certainly don’t deserve that. We were really looking forward to getting the ball rolling here for the season. It’s been one thing or another, and obviously this is down to me. It’s unfortunate — DHL and AutoNation, they deserve results and we are working on it. I was just pushing 110 percent and just asked a little too much of it there.”