IndyCar in Iowa: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Practice Practice Again

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There was hesitation in the air today. Heck, there was hesitation in the air the past few days. That’s a personal note though – I was debating whether to come to the Verizon IndyCar Series race here in Iowa because of multiple unknowns – weather, finances, accommodations, travel time, etc. But in the end, I looked at the biggest picture. I want this. I want to be a part of this racing world, Verizon IndyCar in particular. So I called up some family that live nearby, packed up my SUV, went to work 11 hours at the paycheck job and then hit the road around dinner time Thursday night. There were so many obstacles that could have easily kept me from being here, sitting in this media center and writing my little heart out, but I didn’t let them. I formulated my plan of attack and I made the best of all the resources I had to make it happen.

That is what you do when you have passion. You push, you sacrifice, and you strive for your dream – and the times when things don’t come together, well they don’t hurt as much because you know deep down, that you tried your hardest and exhausted all options (that might be what I experience for a handful of the last 5 race weekends of the season) Wait, did I just say 5 race weekends left in this season?? Let’s move on, because that fact is staggeringly accurate, shocking, and honestly, kind of depressing.

This whole reflection on the idea of hesitation started with the atmosphere at the track today. It wasn’t a conscious hesitation… it was a logical one. We started the day having 2 practice session scheduled with Qualifying in the afternoon. Mother Nature had other ideas though and after only completing 15 minutes of the 75 minute practice this AM, qualifying was moved to this evening at 6pm CST and a combined practice session of 90 minutes was re-scheduled for 1:45pm CST. You with me so far?

The cars started to push out, the drivers had helmets on, ready to rock the short track of Newton, Iowa. Cue the sky opening up… again. We were in a holding pattern for about 1 hour before the field finally took the green for practice. For those of you completely lost at this point, this was what I call, “Take 3”.  The session was great to watch – the guys were so ready to get out there that they all peeled out of their pits simultaneously, flying around the track in groups. Watching them made me really happy that I decided to come this weekend. Another new track for me and another amazing one – the banking at Iowa Speedway is one of my favorite things about it. I stood near pit out taking it all in for the 8 minutes they got up to speed before those pesky raindrops forced another yellow. I loved how I could basically turn on my heels to watch a battle for position and watch them for nearly 180 degrees. The banking gives great views and the size of the track makes you feel like even when you’re stationary… you’re not missing anything. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, Graham Rahal said it best:

“It takes your eyes a minute to adjust to how fast everything happens here. It makes for an exciting race…”

The track is just shy of being a mile long but not shy at all on entertainment value. If you haven’t been here… make sure you add it to your list of races for 2015.

The field went back to green less than 15 minutes later and only stopped once more for a brief inspection. Up until that point, Target Chip Ganassi driver Tony Kanaan (who is looking for a strong finish and has finished on the podium for the past four years here at Iowa), had dominated the session with Mikhail Aleshin of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Andretti Autosport driver, James Hinchcliffe in tow. The last active portion of practice however turned the tables and when the checkered flag waved, we had Pocono IndyCar 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya  in P1 with his Team Penske teammate, Will Power coming in P2. Last year’s Iowa Corn 250 winner, James Hinchcliffe held onto his position of third and finished the broken-up/combined session strong.

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Montoya, coming off his achievement of leading the fastest 500-mile race in IndyCar history to the finish line last weekend in Pennsylvania, is looking to continue that fast streak and looks to be right on track to doing so. He will undoubtedly be a contender for the front row this evening during qualifying and for the race podium tomorrow.

Power seems to be followed by controversy this season… or is it the other way around? He comes into the Iowa race weekend with 5 penalties under his belt, the most recent being a blocking incident with his own Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, at Pocono this past Sunday. Power was not shy about his dissatisfaction with the call – quick to (in my opinion) play the victim card. In all honesty, I can’t recall him taking responsibility for any of the penalties, incidents, or controversies that have surrounded him this year. Correct me if I’m wrong, of course, but I feel like I would remember that if I’d witnessed it. Now, granted, some drivers just have bad luck or find themselves in the wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time… repeatedly even. But these situations seem to mostly be caused in whole or in generous part by Power, and I for one think he would be a less likely “IndyCar Villian” if he simply owned up to making mistakes. We are all human, we all make them, and many times we make them because our focus puts blinders on us – this could very well be the situation with Power – I would just like to hear him admit the plausibility of it. Regardless of the controversy and the issues that surround him in 2014, the man can drive, whether you like it or not. I think Cindric put it best over the radio last weekend when he said, “Get your head on straight and GO.” If Power can do that in tomorrow’s race, then he has a solid chance at clinching the win and regaining his lead in the Championship fight.

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Hinchcliffe has had a less than stellar year. While his qualifying runs have been relatively solid, he has yet to attain a Verizon P1 Award. I’m curious if today might be the day for that. He won here in Iowa last year – that was the third win for Hinch in 2013 as well as in his IndyCar Series career. It is also the last race he won in this series. Can he pick up where he left off and be the second Andretti Autosport driver to land on top of the podium this season? Only one way to find out…

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Tune in to NBC Sports at 6pm CST/7pm EST for live coverage of qualifying tonight, then tomorrow at 7pm CST/8pm EST for the Verizon IndyCar Series Iowa Corn 300 from Iowa Speedway. Make sure you are also logged in and ready to take part in the conversation on Twitter & Facebook. You can follow my feed here and my timeline here. I will be bringing you live coverage, photos, updates and stats live from Iowa Speedway this whole weekend! Which, if Mother Nature continues to make her presence known, could extend from a 2-day to a 3-day race weekend! Regardless, I won’t be leaving until those checkered flags wave and the champagne flows in Victory Circle!