Newgarden to 'muscle through' injuries at physical Iowa Speedway

Ed Carpenter Racing driver will start second in IndyCar Series' Iowa Corn 300 beside pole-sitter Simon Pagenaud

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NEWTON — Iowa Speedway’s physical demands are a lot on any racecar driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Laps in just more than 17 seconds, averaging 185-plus mph and 4.5 lateral G-forces through the turns at the 7/8-mile make it the most demanding track in the sport, in fact.

So when you consider even Iowa Corn 300 pole winner Simon Pagenaud, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2010 Iowa Speedway winner Tony Kanaan all mentioned how physically taxing Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300 is going to be given the forecast and racing surface, what Josef Newgarden faces is at a different level.

He downplayed it after qualifying second on Saturday, but Newgarden still is recovering from a broken right hand and clavicle sustained in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway last month. His hand especially will take a beating around the rough, short Iowa Speedway.

“I feel pretty good physically,” Newgarden said. “I feel good enough right now to be able to muscle through the race here. This is the most physical track we go to all year, and it’s going to be tough, but I think I feel fine enough to make it happen. Our cars are really good, so that makes my job easier. If you don’t have good enough cars, it could be a really long race day.

“The team has given me what I need, and I think I’ll have enough to go out and make it happen.”

 

Newgarden was third fastest in the opening practice of the day Saturday, and his runner-up starting position matches his finishes in the last two IndyCar races at Iowa Speedway — losing both to Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The two weeks he had between the suspended Texas race and Road America, where he finished eighth, then two more weeks since then have allowed him to rest and heal fairly quickly, but even if he minimized the pain he’s feeling now and its effect on him in the car, he knows a full race will be especially taxing on his hand.

Still, Newgarden isn’t focused on it, and the injuries won’t at all play a factor in decision-making for the car.

“My right hand still is bothering me a little; it’s still broken,” Newgarden said. “Ideally you don’t want to get in the car unless you can drive it flat-out, and around this place you have to. There’s really no room to not drive the thing flat-out. I’ve been working on things just as I would.

“You treat it normal, make the car fast and make the car work for me as always.”

Even with the injuries, Newgarden stands as one to watch for the race Sunday, though his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy is smack-dab in the middle of a Team Penske sandwich atop the leaderboard.

 

Pagenaud is on pole ahead of Newgarden and Castroneves, with Ganassi drivers Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball rounding out the top five. Kanaan qualified sixth, with Newgarden’s teammate and owner Ed Carpenter seventh.

The French driver Pagenaud claimed Team Penske’s 500th pole position all-time, and backed up the speed he showed in the IndyCar test at Iowa Speedway last week. He, too, acknowledged how physical Sunday’s race was going to be, and joined the chorus of drivers who said how the race will play out is almost impossible to predict because the conditions will be unlike anything they’ve faced in the last several years.

“We had a really good test last week, and I was really happy with the long run car — more than the qualifying car,” Pagenaud said. “I think we’ll be OK, but you never know with the conditions changing.

“We just have to focus on the little details now, and that certainly gives an advantage.”

Chevrolets took the first eight positions on the grid and nine of the top 10 qualifiers, following the trend of last year’s race in Newton.

But Pagenaud, Newgarden, Kanaan and Castroneves all felt the race itself will be much more about tire degradation and how each individual race team — more than even an entire organization as a whole — adjusts and deals with the new and variable track conditions will determine the winner.

Andretti Autosport, which has won the last six Iowa races and seven of the nine run overall, did not show a ton of speed in qualifying. Its top qualifier was Carlos Munoz in 15th, and saw Alexander Rossi 17th, Marco Andretti 19th and Hunter-Reay in 20th. But even with that lack of single-lap speed, how the race plays out could be totally different.

“I don’t know what to expect as far as how the race is going to play out, but I know for a fact the track is going to be a tough one,” Kanaan said. “I think here it’s down to each team. Engines are pretty similar, downforce is similar. It’s more of who dials the car in better than the others.”

IOWA SPEEDWAY, IOWA CORN ANNOUNCE EXTENSION

Iowa Speedway President Jimmy Small was joined by IndyCar President of Competition Jay Frye and Iowa Corn Growers Association CEO Craig Floss to announce an extension of IndyCar’s race and the Iowa Corn title sponsorship for the speedway for two more years.

The Verizon IndyCar Series is locked into trips to Newton for July 9, 2017 and July 8, 2018.

“If you build it, they will come. That’s what we’re here to announce. We are here to say, sort of edit that a little bit, adds just it: If you build it, they will keep coming,” Small said of the announcement, calling back to the famous Field of Dreams line. “Really excited about that and going to see a heck of a show this weekend and happy to announce this is part of our long-term strategy.”

Iowa Speedway’s partnership with Iowa Corn as its race’s title sponsor will stretch to 12 years in total with the extension, making it the second-longest such deal in IndyCar’s history.

Frye reiterated IndyCar’s eagerness to be in Iowa given its uniqueness to the schedule and the series.

“This place, this is grass roots racing I think. This area, there’s all kind of race fans that enjoy all different forms of racing. We are very proud to be a part of that here,” Frye said. “(In) my first IndyCar here event here like three years ago and I was overwhelmed, blown away, by how these cars perform in the stretch. We put on a really good show and we are really proud to be here and we are looking forward to coming back.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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