As loyal readers of this space know, the Iowa race always gets a (!) because it's one of the best races on the schedule on a track that sits in one of the best states in the Heartland. And I was born here, so there's that.
I went with all caps because this was the first year that I saw the race in person, and if you saw my previous post you'd know that Kevin and I were pretty blown away by the experience. The cars look so fast -- especially when it gets dark and the lights take effect -- and it's just a fun way to spend a Saturday night.
So let's go through a few storylines and the top finishers, shall we?
*The Weather. No doubt the rain that hung over the area all weekend long was a question, and with very dark clouds forming as the race was starting, I was pretty worried we were going to get it in. Kevin, who fancies himself an amateur meteorologist, swore he saw some cloud rotation and a funnel, but while it was an awesome display of weather thankfully there was no lightning or locusts or anything like that.
The rains did come, about 30 laps into the race, but the small cell moved through and we were back to it in about 26 minutes. What was nice about the rain is that the temperature dropped and made the rest of the race very comfortable. Before the rains came it was an absolute blast furnace, with the heat index well into the 90s. So it was some good relief. What's amazing is that looking at the radar after the race, it was hard to believe the storms that are still racing east as I write this missed us completely.
*The Decision. No, not Lebron, I'm talking about the decision of Andretti Autosport and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to go with tires for Ryan Hunter-Rey and Josef Newgarden, respectfully, during the final caution with just over a dozen laps to go. The roll of the dice worked as they were rockets on the final restart and moved up from 10th and 11th place to first and second.
Lots of teams make calls like that over the course of the season, and why not? Both guys had been mired in the mid-field for most of the night, so taking tires and going to the end of the lead lap is no big deal. It doesn't always end up like last night, but it's a risk worth taking, and sometimes it pays off big.
Since I was there (and have a lot to say), I'm going to run through the Top 10.
Winner: Ryan Hunter-Reay. What made Michael Andretti's call to bring his franchise in for tires even more crucial is that it gave RHR a chance to break a string that has seen some horrible results since winning the Indy 500. Since kissing the bricks, he hadn't led a lap since and had four finishes of P16 or worse. Racing isn't about who is fastest, it's about who crosses the line first. Up until that final restart, RHR had been having a very, very average race, but that final call made all the difference. Now he has three wins this year -- nine in his last 40 races dating back to 2012 -- and is back in the title picture again.
Funny story: after the race Kevin said, "Man, Ryan Hunter-Reay ALWAYS wins!". Turns out he's right...sort of. Kev and I have gone to three races together (Milwaukee 2012-13 and Iowa) and he has won them all.
Second place: Josef Newgarden. For the second week in a row, Newgarden had a gawd-awful qualifying run, and then followed that up with a really great race. After crashing at Pocono and starting last, he eventually moved up to finish eighth, and in qualifying Friday he was so bad he only started ahead Carlos Huertas, who was seeing Iowa for the first time and was way out his element. Josef gained five spots ahead of the rain and by my count was running as high as seventh with 50 laps to go. His rush to the front was equally impressive to RHR's, and personally I felt he had the stronger car of the two and just ran out of laps. But he and his team needed this one badly.
Third place: Tony Kanaan. Like Newgarden, TK had the same fate two weeks in a row -- but not of the good kind. After a really bizarre strategy call at Pocono left him short on gas and forced him to pit from the lead with three laps to go, he was in front for 247 laps Saturday night, most of the time comfortably in front, and was clearly the class of the field, only to be run over by the RHR-JNew freight train. Still, he looked motivated all weekend long, and his effort the last two weeks shows he and the team are getting there.
Fourth place: Scott Dixon. Like teammate Kanaan, Dixie has been looking for a ray of light for weeks, and seemed to find one when he won the pole and ran well for the second week in a row. He now has four top-5 finishes in his last six races -- why is there a part of me that doesn't think he's quite out of it yet?
Fifth place: Ed Carpenter. Believe it or not, this was just Ed's second top-5 at Iowa since IndyCar started racing there, and despite the finish it will be mostly remembered for his incident with Juan Pablo Montoya that led to the final caution period of the night. I didn't see the incident live but looking at the replay it was clearly Ed's fault, or well, it was his spotter's fault. Here's a fun fact, if you add the total points between Ed and Mike Conway (320) they would sit ninth in the standings, which goes to show that along with two wins his decision to split the races was the right one.
Sixth place: James Hinchcliffe. Speaking of spotters, Hinch didn't need one on Saturday night, he needed a life coach. There is no doubt that Hinch is having his struggles, and even when he was making hay before the rain delay, he wasn't happy, saying over the scanner that he feared if the temperatures dropped his understeer problems would move forward into the front of the car.
He was right, as he had to deal with a big push after dark and just never felt comfortable all night long, at one point saying "this isn't fun". Still, he fought a couple of really good on-track battles during the race, especially one with Simon Pagenaud that was a lot of fun to watch. With only two top-5 finishes on the season, he needs to really make the most of his home games in Toronto this weekend to regain some confidence.
Seventh place: Graham Rahal. Despite a 15th-place starting spot, Rahal was happy with his car and had a quiet, if unspectacular, night. Sitting 19th in points, he needs to start stringing some good finishes together.
Eighth place: Helio Castroneves. Helio's finish doesn't reflect the night he had, as he ran towards the front for a lot of the night and 34 laps right after the rain delay. And here's the weird thing: outside of RHR his finish was the best of the drivers who were in the top eight in points, and as a result he is the new points leader (462), nine ahead of Will Power.
Ninth place: Ryan Briscoe. Like Helio, another guy who probably deserved a better finish. Though he never ran at the point he was in the top four for a huge chunk of the race and at some points seemed to be one of the stronger cars on the track. He's figuring something out too, with five top-10s in his last six race.
Tenth place: Charlie Kimball. How does a guy with seven top-10 finishes sit 16th in points? Well, he's cancelled that out with five finishes of P17 or worse, including P31 and P17 at Indy and Pocono, where double points were at stake. Consistency has been a problem for Charlie since he came to the series in 2012, as great efforts have been followed by lackluster ones.
Sixteenth place: Juan Pablo Montoya. OK, I'm adding one more because JPM might have been the driver who was the most fun to watch Saturday night. After falling off the lead lap due to a problem with his rear wing, and a subsequent pit lane fail, Montoya drove insanely hard the rest of the night. I'm sure the stat is out there somewhere, but I bet he passed more cars than anybody on the track. I've gotta say, he was pretty amazing.
So that's how we saw it from section 104, row 7, seats 29 and 30! What a great race, and I look forward to heading back there again next year.
After three oval races, we head north to Toronto and play two this weekend. This season has been total, utter madness, and with two races (one a standing start) awaiting us in Canada, it should be more of the same.