Halfway through Sunday’s race at Iowa, it appeared as though there would be a serious case of déjà vu as it was playing out the same way it did on Saturday.
Josef Newgarden was once again dominating the field after taking the lead from teammate Will Power, and Pato O’Ward was along for the fight. The podium was shaping up to be identical to the first race, when the unthinkable happened.
O’Ward won the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google on Sunday at Iowa Speedway after Newgarden crashed out of the race with 65 laps remaining.
O’Ward drove his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet to a 4.2476-second victory over Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Scott McLaughlin finished third in the No. 3 Freightliner Team Penske Chevrolet, giving the Penske team two of the top three finishers.
“The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP crew in the pits were awesome,” O’Ward said. “I think that’s what gave us our win. Obviously, I did the job in the car to keep the No. 5 safe and just to maintain our position. I knew we had the pace but it’s just tough whenever you’re going through the traffic and the guys in front of you have it a different way than you do, it’s just different every lap. We knew we had a good car, so it was just about capitalizing and being there when it counted.”
Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon finished fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, while his teammate and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson recorded the best finish of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career by placing fifth in the No. 48 American Legion Honda.
“I’m understanding how these cars reward aggression, the confidence it takes to having yourself and the car that’s going to stick,” Johnson said. “The faster you go, the more downforce these cars create. It takes a lot of energy to turn these tires on and make them perform like they need to. Just enjoying driving these rocketships around. It’s a lot of fun.”
“The ovals feel more natural to me and I’m able to find my confidence, push the car, have the downforce and the tire work for me. On an oval you have that repetition, you get into a cadence of watching the driver in front of you, understanding if they’re inconsistent or if their car is inconsistent, what circumstances that puts them in, how you might be able to take advantage of it. This is the closest experience that I would say crosses over to NASCAR that I’ve had.”
Series points leader Marcus Ericsson finished sixth in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He leads second-place Power in the standings by eight points with five races remaining this season.
O’Ward earned his second victory of the season – he also won May 1 on the road course at Barber Motorsports Park – and fourth win of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career. The victory, coupled with his second-place finish Saturday in the HyVeeDeals.com 250 presented by DoorDash, helped O’Ward climb from sixth to fifth in the series standings. He is 36 points behind leader Ericsson.
“Hopefully we can win a couple more,” O’Ward said. “That would be fantastic. We’ve had a good year, but we’ve dumped two wins in the past couple of months. So, it’s definitely been a frustrating but rewarding few weeks. This is the perfect momentum we need.”
It looked like Team Penske might sweep the top two spots until Newgarden spun into the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier while leading on Lap 235 of 300 in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden, who won Saturday on the .894-mile oval, had led 148 of the first 234 laps and was 2.8384 seconds ahead of O’Ward before the stunning incident.
Newgarden was in cruise control before the crash, maintaining a steady gap to O’Ward. As he entered Turn 4 on the “Fastest Short Track on the Planet,” the left front wheel of his car lifted off the ground after an apparent mechanical problem in the rear of the car, sending Newgarden spinning into the SAFER Barrier. His car suffered heavy rear-end damage, but Newgarden walked away from the incident.
“It was a bit of a shock,” Newgarden said. “Man, I want to cry. So sad for my team. I don’t know what happened. It was a good run. I feel terrible for us. I don’t know; something went wrong there.”
Two-time series champion Newgarden was on track to lead the championship by 10 points when he crashed. Instead, he was credited with 24th place and is third in the standings, 34 points behind Ericsson.
At some point after being released from the infield care center, Newgarden lost consciousness and fell, sustaining a cut on the back of his head. Because of traffic concerns, he was taken by helicopter to MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center for further evaluation. Fortunately, all scans came back negative but he is going to stay overnight for observation. He will be re-evaluated again by the IndyCar medical staff on Thursday.
After Newgarden’s unexpected exit from the race, O’Ward took the lead for good. The victory was secured when O’Ward, Power and the rest of the lead-lap drivers entered pit road for their final pit stops on Lap 239. O’Ward won the race off pit road and then deftly navigated lapped traffic over the closing 60 laps.
O’Ward put himself into position to grab the unlikely victory by passing NTT P1 Award winner Power as Power turned his out lap after his second-to-last pit stop on Lap 195. O’Ward gained 2.953 seconds on Power during his in lap, stop and out lap for his penultimate stop on Lap 194.
It was a brutal weekend for Alexander Rossi, and the entire Andretti Autosport team for that matter. He finished 13th on Saturday and 19th today. “This was maybe one of the worst weekends we’ve had in seven years,” Rossi said. “We just had no performance all weekend for a variety of different issues and today was no different. We were just circulating all day and weren’t able to do anything to gain much.”
The team used to dominate at this track, winning seven races in a nine-year stretch. In the last eight races at Iowa, they have only led a total of 11 laps among all of their drivers. Team Penske now has that distinction as they have led a total of 1,617 laps in the last seven races here. That is more than 1,500 more laps than any other team in that period.
Power led 80 laps, second only to teammate Newgarden’s 148 laps. O’Ward led 66 laps and averaged 140.681 mph in a race slowed by just two caution periods for 25 laps.
O’Ward will split $10,000 with his team and his charity of choice for the victory as part of the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge.
A busy July continues for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with the Gallagher Grand Prix on Saturday, July 30 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. It’s the fourth race in three weekends. Live coverage starts at noon ET on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.