For the first time of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, I was watching and covering the racing from afar. It will be like that next week too as I’m still on the NASCAR side of things. Don’t worry, I’ll be back at the end of the month at Mid-Ohio. With that being said, I was able to watch the race just like everyone else on Sunday. What I saw, well there were some interesting storylines to come out of the Iowa Corn 300.
Here are my main takeaways.
Late Race Blunder Could Cost Newgarden a Title
James Hinchcliffe passed Josef Newgarden with 44 laps-to-go in Sunday’s race and set his sails on ending his 24 race winless drought. If the race went green the rest of the way, he would end up in victory lane for the first time since the 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Unfortunately, a late caution flag flew with seven laps left.
Should he pit or stay out?
Second place Josef Newgarden and third place Robert Wickens came down pit road instead. It was setting up to be a situation like we saw back in April at the ISM Raceway in Phoenix. Hinchcliffe would be restarting with the lead but on older tires. Would Newgarden and Wickens have enough time to pass him for the win?
Originally, the drivers were told we’d go back to green with either two or even one lap left. That’s the whole reason they pitted in the first place. Instead, we’d never go back to green and Hinchcliffe won the race but Newgarden and Wickens had pit for literally no reason.
Newgarden, despite leading a race high 229 of 300 laps would finish fourth and Wickens fifth. The Penske driver leaves Iowa 33 points down in the standings but he gave up eight points by pitting.
Does that cost him a championship?
Over the last several years, the series championship has been decided by single digits. Does Newgarden giving up eight points when it wasn’t even his fault cost him a title?
Title Contenders Struggle
Heading into Sunday’s race, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi were the hottest drivers in the series. That’s why they were the top three drivers in the points standings. Leaving Iowa, they came back down to earth.
Rossi, had a fast car all weekend and likely would have been a player for the win if he didn’t slide through his pit stall on his first pit sequence. He’d finish two laps down in ninth as a result. Dixon, was never a factor and finished four laps off pace in 12th. It was his worst finish of the year.
Hunter-Reay struggled in the second half of the race and would come away with a 19th place effort. It was his worst finish since an 18th place run in the INDYCAR Grand Prix. Since that race in mid-May, Hunter-Reay had rattled off five straight top five finishes. That propelled him from ninth to second in the championship standings. Now, he leaves Iowa fourth, 52 points out.
Will Power even struggled a bit. He started on the pole and led 23 laps, but he constantly fought to stay on the lead lap all day. He finished sixth.
Hard Race To Figure Out
I don’t know what to make out of Sunday’s race. We saw a thrilling battle for the win in the end. We saw a bizarre controversial finish. We saw a record amount of passing throughout the field. All check the boxes. But, in the end, we saw just five cars on the lead lap. Eighth place (Simon Pagenaud) was two laps down. 11th place was four laps off pace. Scott Dixon finished 12th but was also four laps down.
For most of the day, it was Josef Newgarden passing everyone with ease and in a class all by himself. Everyone else was passing and doing so consistently, but they were all multiple laps down.
Was that a good race?
I enjoyed it but then again I know this day and age people don’t like races where one driver has that big of an advantage.
Record Setting Race
To tie this in with the previous point, the reason the field got so strung out in terms of the amount of lapped cars was due to the record setting day of cautions. We had two in total which was a race record. The 16 caution laps were also the fewest ever. The average speed of 149.436 mph, that too was a record.
It was a fast race for sure.
Pigot Comes In Clutch
I wrote on Saturday how this was a future deciding race for Pigot. The same No. 21 Chevrolet that he is driving led 282 of 300 laps in a win by Josef Newgarden in 2016 and finished runner-up with JR Hildebrand last season. While this is a completely different car, Pigot needed to perform.
He was fast in practice on Saturday but qualified a disappointing 18th. That didn’t stop him though. Pigot, charged hard and ran in the top three for most of the afternoon. He’d come away with a runner-up finish and for the second straight race, had a career day.
In Road America, he finished eighth. The race prior at Texas, he finished 11th. In fact, since the calendar turned June, Pigot has finished in the top 11 in four of the last five races.