Incredible. Iowa. IndyCar.

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Wait… what?! HA! That was hands down the most fun race of the entire season. However, if we’re being totally honest – every weekend of 2014 has been amazing, with the Iowa Corn Indy 300 presented by DEKALB being the most recent. The Verizon IndyCar Series is the most consistently entertaining racing on the planet right now. The way these guys win every week is always different. The races they run are always strategized and executed in unique ways – even when comparing the races at the same track over the course of multiple seasons. The talent level is absolutely beyond anything a racing fan could expect or even desire. It always hits you upside the head, jarring you awake and suddenly forcing you to pay attention when you could have sworn you were already focused in.

Sudden and out-of-nowhere was definitely the theme running through Iowa Speedway this past Saturday evening. The race was disrupted only once by Mother Nature (as she cried tears of joy from the sky because she is most definitely an IndyCar fan) forcing a red flag, but there were 6 yellows all together, ranging from moisture on the track, contact with the wall, contact between cars, and debris on the track to a car on fire! We like to keep you guessing in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Despite those numerous obstacles, 15 of the 22 drivers were able to finish the race and the ones that ended up at the front of the field were not the expected victors!

The starting grid looked very good for the Ganassi Team, with all 4 of their cars in the Top 7. This trend seemed to continue with their drivers heading up a good portion of the race and specifically, Tony Kanaan leading 247 of the 300 laps! The rumblings around the pits were that tonight was looking like Tony’s night – finally a win for the fan favorite and 2013 Indy 500 Champion this season! Usually, as soon as you start commenting on how you assume the race will turn out, the racing gods ensure that your confidence is short-lived. In a seemingly crazy and “how-did-they-do-that?!” series of moments, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, entered the pits under yellow on Lap 284, took new tires under the direction of Michael Andretti and headed back on to the “Fastest Short Track in the World”. When he came across the line, he was running P10. He ran steady, climbing one spot to P9 through Lap 291. Here’s where things got interesting… He jumped to P6 on Lap 292, P4 on Lap 293 and had Tony Kanaan in his sights by Lap 296! Coming out of Turn 4 at the end of Lap 298, Hunter-Reay made his move (see my photo below), moving to the inside and then gaining on Kanaan down the frontstretch until he overtook him for P1 in Turn 1 of Lap 299.

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Hunter-Reay led the remaining two laps at the line, with the second of those being under the checkered flag!  Even Hunter-Reay recognized how crazy the end of the race was, mentioning that he felt like he was at “warp speed” on the new tires and saying:

“That was fun. It was like a video game at the end. We had a tough day, but you have to keep your head in it in the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

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Coming behind him in P2 was Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver, Josef Newgarden, tying his best career finish (P2 in Baltimore 2013). Newgarden passed Kanaan on Turn 3 of Lap 300 which still gave Kanaan a podium finish, but not on the block he preferred to be standing. Kanaan had started the Iowa Corn Indy 300 second from the front while Newgarden started the race second from the back. The Verizon IndyCar Series in 2014 is truly proving that it doesn’t matter where you start, only where you finish. Qualifying is important for points and the Verizon P1 Award, but the starting grid no longer provides you a leg-up on the competition the way it once did. Or even, the way it still does in other racing series. Verizon IndyCar drivers are all at such a high level of athleticism and so extremely talented in their craft, that starting position very rarely has an effect on winning anymore.

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That point is not only true for Newgarden, who came through the field and gained 19 positions to finish as the runner-up, but for Hunter-Reay as well, whose starting position was in the 7th of 11 rows from P13 in Iowa. While Hunter-Reay is no longer contending for the three wins of the Triple Crown in 2014, it’s fair to say that the three wins he HAS earned this season are a huge achievement, given the competition in this series and that they are also adding up at a key time. One of those keys is to the Series Championship – a solid battle between drivers with wins and drivers running consistently is bringing this year’s competition down to the wire yet again. Hunter-Reay’s win this weekend shot him into the Top 3 of the points race and this upcoming doubleheader/double points weekend in Toronto could help solidify a position in the fight for the points leaders or could rocket another driver straight to the top and into legitimate contention for the Astor Cup!

20140712_191124Last year, Dixon swept the weekend in Toronto and it proved to be the momentum that helped him rise to the top of the field and ultimately win the 2013 IndyCar Series Championship. Could this fifth to last weekend of the season define our next Champion? Make sure you are watching live or attending the event to find out. The Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader still has tickets available which you can purchase here, but if you’re like me and unable to make it up North this weekend – be sure you watch the live-streaming practice online, the delayed broadcast of Race 1 qualifying at 1:30 pm EST on Saturday afternoon, and both races which will air live at 3:00 pm EST on Saturday, July 19th (Race 1) and Sunday, July 20th (Race 2). All qualifying and race broadcasts will be on NBC Sports. You can get further access by downloading the NBC Sports Live Extra app for iOS and Android devices as well as the IndyCar 14 app, available exclusively for Verizon Wireless tablet & smartphone users.

Speaking of television broadcasts… don’t forget that tomorrow night, Hunter-Reay and his fellow IndyCar driver, Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing (who was also the polesitter for the Iowa Corn Indy 300) will be up for the Best Driver award at the ESPY’s! Make sure you get your votes in for your favorite Verizon IndyCar driver by going here! Voting ends on Wednesday, July 16th at 9pm. The voting deadline is also the time of the live broadcast from Los Angeles, so tune in to ESPN to see who takes home the honor!

Writing about these race weekends and the series is always a joy for me. Especially writing after I’ve had a moment to reflect on the weekend that was. It almost makes it more impressive when I have the time to look back and think to myself, “Wow… that really happened?” Being close to these cars and experiencing their power first hand is not only something I consider a privilege but also an extreme honor. The sound of the peel outs, the smell of the burning rubber, the taste of exhaust in the air… it makes my pulse quicken, my eyes water, and my lungs burn… and I don’t ever want it to stop. It’s the best feeling in the world and makes me realize that this is all I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to cover this sport, write about it, bring it to you – the fans who love it unconditionally and “get it”. I want to bring it to the yet-to-be-fans who might not understand why I am so enthralled by cars that go vroom. I was born into racing, I was raised around it – going to races and watching them on TV with my family on summer weekends… and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. Because of that, I feel like I grew up with it defining a part of me – but I didn’t fully realize that part of myself until the past few years. I think a part of that was maybe because I couldn’t have fully embraced this passion until recently – financially, emotionally and time wise.  I’m so very thankful that I have that capability and flexibility in my life now and you have my word that I will do everything in my power to continue pursuing the dream that I’m currently living.

As mentioned earlier, I won’t be in Toronto this coming weekend – but I will be covering the races as fully as possible from a distance. Make sure you are following on all our social media accounts so that you stay in the loop with all the latest from MTAF Wheels, the Verizon IndyCar Series, plus my personal insight and reaction to the weekend in Toronto! All the links you’ll need are listed below:

Shay Hazen: Wheels, Facebook, Twitter
More Than a Fan – Wheels: Homepage, Facebook, Twitter