NEWTON, Iowa — Simon Pagenaud’s worst-to-first run capped a wild opening night to IndyCar’s doubleheader at Iowa Speedway.
The former series champion, who was unable to qualify because of a fuel pressure issue, managed to stretch his tires and take advantage of a unique pit strategy — and a little bit of luck — to get to the lead. Pagenaud then held off series leader Scott Dixon through the final laps Friday night to end Chip Ganassi Racing’s four-race winning streak.
“I can’t believe it. I have to rewatch the race. How did I get there?” asked Pagenaud, who also gave team owner Roger Penske his first IndyCar victory since purchasing the series late last year. “I don’t know. The last 50 laps, a lot of tension. When Dixon is chasing you, you’d better hit your marks.”
Pagenaud went from 23rd to first, but Dixon was just as impressive. He started 17th before finishing second.
“That was an awesome race,” he said. “I’m sure Simon is happy after the mess-up they had in qualifying.”
Pagenaud won for the 15th time in the series, and first since Toronto last season. The 36-year-old Frenchman gave Team Penske its third Iowa win in four races.
Two mid-race wrecks set the stage for the conclusion — and drove home the value of IndyCar’s new aeroscreen.
The first occurred when Will Power’s left front wheel came off his car, sending him into the wall and the tire bounding within feet of his head. The second occurred on the aborted restart, when Colton Herta’s car catapulted over Rinus VeeKay, missing the rookie’s head by inches but destroying the new safety device added by IndyCar this season.
“I can’t thank IndyCar enough for that aeroscreen,” Power said.
Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward were third and fourth for Arrow McLaren SP, with Josef Newgarden rounding out the top five.
Newgarden spent much of the night racing for the lead before the back-to-back cautions shuffled up the field.
“The caution was certainly the nail in the coffin. Without sounding too overconfident, we had the car to beat tonight, hands down,” he said. “To be honest, I’m angry about how this all transpired. Some of it’s just bad luck. The yellow coming out when it came out, I can’t fault my guys. They did a great job. I had a rocket ship.”
So did Power, who was jockeying for the lead with Newgarden when another head-shaking incident on pit road ruined his night. It appeared his left-front tire changer failed to secure his wheel during a stop, and when it came loose Power went careening into the outside wall. His tire flew over him and bounced through the first and second turns.
“The front took off straight into the wall,” Power said. “Unbelievable. I don’t know what I need to do. So, so frustrating.”
Power’s wreck wound up benefiting Pagenaud, who had somehow worked his way to the front. He was again pushing his tires as far as they would go when Power brought out the caution just before he was going to pit.
The race had been caution-free until Power’s wreck.
It took until only the restart for the second yellow to fly.
Drivers began checking up when the restart was called off, but Herta missed the message and his car catapulted at full speed over VeeKay and nearly into the front-stretch fence. Herta somehow landed on all four tires, and both young drivers let loose a deep exhale when their cars finally slid to a stop.
“It happened so fast. I wasn’t really sure what was going on,” said Herta, the only driver to finish in the top 10 each of the first four races. “I wasn’t told the restart was called off. I was told green, and I wasn’t going to go by the light when I was told green. So there you go. I guess everyone else got the message.”
After welcoming back fans last week at Road America, about 5,000 were on hand for the opener at Iowa amid the coronavirus pandemic. There were hundreds of campers in the grounds hours before the cars hit the track for practice early in the afternoon, even though the heat index soared into triple digits. It was still steamy when the checkered flag flew under the lights.
“That was probably one of the hottest races I’ve done in my life,” Askew said.
Conor Daly sat on the pole for an IndyCar race for the first time Friday, and his second qualifying lap was good enough to start third Saturday night. Daly is back with Carlin this weekend after driving for Ed Carpenter Racing last weekend.
“Just so thankful,” he said. “I hated this place the last two years and now we’re on the pole. This is hilarious.”
Newgarden will start on the pole Saturday night. Herta qualified second before wrecking his car Friday night.
“If you ask me where I prefer to start it’s always going to be the front,” Newgarden said. “We would have liked a little more in Race 1 to start on the pole but we were happy to be starting on the front row.”
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