Marcus Ericsson

A return to exciting short-track oval racing at Iowa Speedway is on tap for the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend, and it comes with twice the action and music to boot.

The three-day event features an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, an Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race and four major concerts as Newton, Iowa, welcomes back race fans.

SEE: Race Details

The last NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at the track was in 2020, with former series champions Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden winning for Team Penske. Newgarden’s win was one of his series-leading three at Iowa Speedway. (Ryan Hunter-Reay also won three times.)

The Hy-Vee 250 presented by Doordash will be held at 4 p.m. ET Saturday with the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google to follow at 3 p.m. ET Sunday. Both races will air live on NBC, with flag-to-flag coverage also on the INDYCAR Radio Network.

With 26 car-and-driver combinations, there will be much to consume in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races. Here are Five Things:

A Pivotal Stretch Ahead

These two races represent the first part of seven to go. There are three oval races, three permanent road course events, and a street circuit left – winner take all.

Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) is the series leader in pursuit of his first series championship. A title would be the 15th for Chip Ganassi’s organization, including the third in succession by the third different driver (Scott Dixon won in 2020, Alex Palou in 2021). Only Team Penske has won more season titles in this sport, with 16.

Ericsson’s advantage is a relatively comfy 35 points over Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet), but Power is one of the four former series champions within reach of Ericsson. Palou, the reigning series champion, is 37 points out of the lead in CGR’s No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda with two-time series champion Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) and Dixon, the six-time series champion in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, each trailing Ericsson by 44 points.

While Newgarden has won three of the past six Iowa Speedway races, including the most recent on July 18, 2020, Ericsson might still emerge from this doubleheader weekend as the series leader. The Swede finished ninth for CGR in the two 2020 races and was 11th as a series rookie with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2019, looking remarkably comfortable for a driver with little oval-track experience at that point in his career. He should be much more prepared for this weekend.

Still, Newgarden is the driver to beat. He has led 1,150 of the 2,000 (57.5 percent) over the past six races at Iowa Speedway, with three wins. Over the past five races, Team Penske drivers have led 1,158 laps, with no other team leading more than 86.

An Unconquered Track

After tying Mario Andretti for the second-most wins in INDYCAR history – 52 each – Scott Dixon will have two opportunities this weekend to pass the legend on the career chart. But this is one of the tracks Dixon has yet to conquer.

Dixon leads all active drivers with wins on 25 circuits, including both the oval and the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. His best finish at Iowa Speedway is a pair of seconds, in 2019 and Race 1 of 2020, and he has started on the pole three times, once by virtue of being the points leader (2008).

Will Power has similar results at Iowa Speedway – a pair of second-place finishes and three poles – and likewise has never reached victory lane, and that’s noteworthy. Power leads all drivers with wins at 12 of the 15 circuits on this year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule. His missing three: Iowa Speedway, the streets of Nashville (a second-year event) and Portland International Raceway.

Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) has won races at 10 of the current tracks, Dixon has won at nine of them. Castroneves won in 2017 at Iowa Speedway.

Overall, Power has won at 22 tracks, Castroneves 19. Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) each have won at 12 different tracks. No other active drivers have won more than 10 races in their NTT INDYCAR SERIES career.

Interestingly, the aforementioned drivers are the drivers most likely to win the pole at Iowa. Power leads with three, with Dixon, Castroneves and Pagenaud each having two in their careers. However, only one of the 15 races at this track have been won from the top qualifying position (Newgarden in the most recent race).

The Teams to Watch

Andretti Autosport and Team Penske have been the dominant teams at Iowa Speedway.

Michael Andretti’s organization won its first five races at the track with five different drivers (Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe). Hunter-Reay added two more wins to give the team seven wins in the track’s first nine races.

Lately, Team Penske has dominated, winning the past three races and five of the past six largely with Newgarden at the front of the pack. But Helio Castroneves (2017) and Simon Pagenaud (2020, Race 1) also have won for Roger Penske’s organization.

Arrow McLaren SP and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing are other teams that could fare well. Arrow McLaren SP finished third and fourth in Race 1 of 2020 with Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, respectively, and Askew finished sixth in Race 2. As Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the team won the 2018 race with James Hinchcliffe – Robert Wickens was fifth – and Hinchcliffe finished third in 2019.

RLLR saw Graham Rahal (No. 15 High Rock Vodka Honda) deliver his best drive of the season in Toronto – he finished fourth – and Iowa Speedway has been a good track for him, with 10 top-10 finishes in 14 races while driving for four different teams. He led five of those races. This also is one of teammate Jack Harvey’s better tracks. The driver of the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda finished seventh in both the 2020 races.

Conor Daly (No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing) is another driver to keep an eye on given how well he has performed at two of the shorter oval tracks – Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway – in recent years with different teams. Daly won the pole and finished eighth in Race 1 of 2020 at Iowa Speedway. He led both of that year’s races at the track.

The Qualifying Format

As the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to an oval for the first time since the Indianapolis 500, the process of determining the starting lineup is worthy of a refresher.

One car at a time, each competitor will turn two green-flag laps in the Saturday session held at 10:30 a.m. ET on Peacock Premium, with the first lap determining the place in Saturday’s 250-lap Race 1 starting order and the second lap doing the same for Sunday’s 300-lap Race 2.

Indy Lights will qualify somewhat differently in its Saturday session at 9:30 a.m. ET. In the single-car session, cars will be ranked for that day’s 75-lap race (12:15 p.m. ET) by the cumulative time of the two green-flag laps.

From Racing to Concerts

Iowa Speedway’s weekend schedule is packed.

Friday’s action, which features free admission, begins with practice for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at 3:15 p.m. ET with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice following at 4:30 p.m. Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network will have coverage of the latter.

On Saturday, a Tim McGraw concert will follow after qualifying sessions.

The 250-lap Hy-Vee 250 presented by Doordash rolls off at 4 p.m. on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network with a Florida Georgia Line concert capping the festivities.

On Sunday, Gwen Stefani begins the show with a concert at 1 p.m. ET, followed by the second NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of the weekend, the 300-lap Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google at 3 p.m. (again on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network). Blake Shelton completes the event with a concert following the race.

The Iowa Speedway doubleheader is part of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ stretch of five races in four weekends. After the trip to Newton, the series returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Gallagher Grand Prix on the road course on Saturday, July 30 and the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville on Sunday, Aug. 7.