There was ecstasy and agony at Iowa Speedway after Josef Newgarden crashed out of the lead, handing Pato O’Ward his second IndyCar Series win of the year.
It was a strong race for antipodeans Will Power, Scott McLaughlin and Scott Dixon who occupied second, third and fourth respectively.
It marked back-to-back second place finishes for Power while it was a bounceback from McLaughlin after a bizarre wheel nut issue a day earlier.
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After dominating the first leg of the Iowa double-header, Newgarden continued that form into the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300.
The Team Penske driver looked likely to do the double, only for a mechanical failure to send the No. 2 spinning and hard into the outside wall.
It was a cruel end for the two-time series winner, who was on course to usurp Chip Ganassi Racing’s points leader Marcus Ericsson.
“Yeah, definitely was a bit of a shock,” said Newgarden, who led 148 of the 300-lap distance.
“Man, I want to cry. I’m so sad for my team. I don’t know what happened. It was a good run. I mean, it’s just one race, but I feel terrible for us.
“Team Chevy and Hitachi, the guys did a great job. Just… I don’t know. Something went wrong there.
“Everything felt fine to me up to that point. I did have a vibration at the start of the stint, which is not abnormal. Tire balances are always shifting, so it’s very possible that we just had a mismatched set or something.
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“It wasn’t diabolical, everything actually felt just fine. Totally unexpected when it happened and it caught me by surprise.
“This is racing. Team Penske’s the best. I never have this stuff. Maybe we were due. We can’t afford it for this year. We’ll fight back. We’ve got a great team here.”
While Newgarden was left to fight back tears, O’Ward was elated to put himself into title contention.
The effervescent Mexican hailed his pit crew, who executed a decisive pit stop that would see them leapfrog Team Penske’s Will Power to second before Newgarden’s untimely demise.
“The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP guys in the pits were awesome,” said O’Ward, who has climbed to fifth in the standings.
“I think that’s what gave us the win. Obviously, I did the job in the car to keep her safe and just maintain there.
“I knew we had the pace. It’s just tough when you’re going through the traffic. It’s different every lap.
“Super stoked, super happy. We knew we had a great car, it was just about capitalizing and being there when it counted. The guys did a great job calling when we had to pit. It was very, very enjoyable.”
From the outset, pole position winner Power led Newgarden and Takuma Sato. O’Ward was the early charger, rising from seventh to third in the opening few lapses.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Connor Daly and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Jack Harvey were the biggest losers in the first stanza, both drivers dropping down the order from third and sixth respectively as they struggled with tire wear.
A decisive move came on lap 83 after the first round of green flag pit stops when Power got up high into turn two as he sought to get by the lapped car of Romain Grosjean. That allowed Newgarden to poke his nose down the inside into turn three. In dirty air, Power washed up and Newgarden duly stole the lead.
Such was the pace of the leaders that by lap 100, everyone up to seventh had been put down a lap.
After a 120-lap green flag run, the yellow flag was finally drawn when AJ Foyt Racing driver Kyle Kirkwood got high into turn one and understeered straight into the outside wall.
With the field recycled, it was Newgarden who led Power, O’Ward, and Ericsson. Those who were a lap down got the free pass. Fifth was Scott McLaughlin. Jimmie Johnson sixth, Scott Dixon seventh, Felix Rosenqvist eighth, Colton Herta ninth, and Grosjean the last of the top 10 runners.
The second round of green flag pit stops got underway as lap 200 approached. Through the pit stop sequence, O’Ward crucially usurped Power to steal second.
The race took a dramatic twist on lap 236 when Newgarden all of a sudden spun on his own, slamming hard into the outside wall. Replays showed what appeared to be a right rear suspension failure.
That gave O’Ward the lead and Power second. In the pit stop sequence, Dixon rose to third while McLaughlin stayed fourth.
Racing resumed with 50 laps to go. McLaughlin was quick to usurp countryman Dixon, but got no further than him.
The final stanza of the race was a relatively quiet affair. O’Ward streaked away from Power to a four-second lead and cement his second win of the season.
McLaughlin completed the podium for Team Penske while Dixon continued his charge in the title race with fourth.
Johnson secured his best IndyCar finish on an oval with fifth just ahead of series leader Ericsson. Rosenqvist, Malukas, Grosjean, and Sato completed the top 10.
The IndyCar Series continues at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Gallagher Grand Prix on July 31 (AEST).
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