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IndyCar Series at Iowa: Five things to watch

Josef Newgarden's dominating performance at Iowa in 2016 earned him his third career victory. Can he do it again in 2017? (Associated Press file photo)
Josef Newgarden's dominating performance at Iowa in 2016 earned him his third career victory. Can he do it again in 2017? (Associated Press file photo)
Crashes and struggles on track have been the norm for three-time Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. (Associated Press photo)
Crashes and struggles on track have been the norm for three-time Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. (Associated Press photo)

More Information

INDY CORN 300 at Iowa Speedway, Sunday, 5 p.m., NBCSN.

TRACK FACTS

Type: 0.875-mile D-shaped oval
Opened: 2006
Capacity: 30,000
Lap record: 17.2283 (Helio Castroneves, 2014, IndyCar Series)

RACE FACTS

Laps: 300
Distance: 262.5 miles

INDYCAR AT IOWA

Races: 10
Winningest driver: Ryan Hunter-Reay (3)
Winningest team: Andretti Autosport (7)
Winningest engine manufacturer: Honda (7)

RECENT RACE WINNERS AT IOWA

2012 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2013 - James Hinchcliffe
2014 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2015 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2016 - Josef Newgarden

POINTS STANDINGS (after 10 of 17 races)

1. Scott Dixon, 379
2. Simon Pagenaud, -34
3. Helio Castroneves, -37
4. Takuma Sato, -56
5. Josef Newgarden, -61

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, July 07, 2017 04:22 pm

The IndyCar Series invades the heartland of America this weekend, with the short oval of Iowa Speedway hosting the series for the 11th consecutive year on Sunday afternoon. 

A season ago, Ed Carpenter Racing's Josef Newgarden led 282 of 300 laps on the way to capturing his third-career victory. Now at Team Penske, Newgarden and "The Captain's Army" hope to equal the dominance displayed by the team's drivers earlier this season at Phoenix, another small oval. 

Here are five things to watch this weekend from the Hawkeye State: 

1. TEAM PENSKE

The aforementioned Roger Penske and his quartet of talented drivers owned Phoenix earlier this season, with the foursome combining to lead all 250 laps and Simon Pagenaud earning the victory. 

But don't be so quick to think that Penske will own Iowa as well. 

Through the first 10 IndyCar Series races at Iowa Speedway, Team Penske has exactly zero victories. It has come close, including a second-place finish by Will Power in 2016, but the premier team in the paddock has yet to claim the nifty-looking gas pump trophy awarded to the winner of this event. 

That said, Penske drivers represent four of the top six in the points standings, with all capable of winning on Sunday afternoon.

2. HUNTER-REAY HEROICS? 

It hasn't been the season Ryan Hunter-Reay expected. 

With just two finishes in the top 10 and entering the weekend mired 15th in points, 2017 has been a year to largely forget for the 36-year-old American. 

But optimism is high headed to Iowa, where Hunter-Reay has won more IndyCar races than anyone else. The four-year stretch of races between 2012 and 2015 at the circuit saw Hunter-Reay post a trio of victories and a runner-up. He struggled with speed and grip last year, qualifying 20th and finishing last after mechanical issues. 

Can Hunter-Reay return to form at a track he and the Andretti Autosport team have dominated? 

3. THE ICEMAN 

We can cease with the "Scott Dixon has not won since..." talk after the New Zealander captured the victory at Road America two weekends ago. 

With his first triumph of 2017 in hand, Dixon has now cemented himself as the favorite to win his fifth series championship with just seven races remaining.

Interestingly, the two short ovals remaining on the season schedule — Iowa and Gateway — are the only two circuits remaining on this year's slate in which Dixon has not won. 

Despite not having a win at Iowa, Dixon does have six top-5 finishes and has led 126 laps at the track. With a 34-point cushion in the points, a victory this weekend would further put Dixon's championship competitors in the rearview. 

4. MARCO'S HOPE

Remember when Marco Andretti last won an IndyCar Series race? 

It's been awhile. 

The third-generation driver was victorious at Iowa Speedway in 2011, his second career win. 

Andretti has been unable to return to victory lane since. 

Returning to the place of his last victory coupled with the strength of Andretti Autosport at Iowa Speedway, there is hope that the 30-year-old could contend towards the front of the field this weekend. 

Then again, Andretti has not finished any better than seventh at Iowa since a runner-up finish in 2012. 

5. TWO-WEEK SPRINT

This weekend at Iowa followed by a trip north of the border to the streets of Toronto next week will further bring into focus the race for the points championship. 

Mainly, can anyone catch Dixon? 

The two primary contenders to push Dixon are likely a pair of Team Penske teammates. Pagenaud sits in second place in the standings and has put together a trio of top 5s in the last three races. His strong performances in the second half of the season in 2016, including wins at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, propelled him to the series title. 

A little further back is Will Power, who is sixth in points, 63 behind Dixon. While he has some drivers to jump, Power has shown the ability to go on a hot streak. With a pair of victories in hand and three straight finishes in the top five, he could be the guy who is in the best position to challenge Dixon for the title at Sonoma in the season-ending race in September. 

More Information

INDY CORN 300 at Iowa Speedway, Sunday, 5 p.m., NBCSN.

TRACK FACTS

Type: 0.875-mile D-shaped oval
Opened: 2006
Capacity: 30,000
Lap record: 17.2283 (Helio Castroneves, 2014, IndyCar Series)

RACE FACTS

Laps: 300
Distance: 262.5 miles

INDYCAR AT IOWA

Races: 10
Winningest driver: Ryan Hunter-Reay (3)
Winningest team: Andretti Autosport (7)
Winningest engine manufacturer: Honda (7)

RECENT RACE WINNERS AT IOWA

2012 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2013 - James Hinchcliffe
2014 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2015 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2016 - Josef Newgarden

POINTS STANDINGS (after 10 of 17 races)

1. Scott Dixon, 379
2. Simon Pagenaud, -34
3. Helio Castroneves, -37
4. Takuma Sato, -56
5. Josef Newgarden, -61

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