FIVE DRIVE FOR THIRD AND LOFTIER GOALS
NEWTON, Iowa -- Thirty-three points separate five drivers who could use the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by Pioneer and three subsequent street/road course races as a springboard to challenging for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
Of course, that’s easier said than driven, but all have added spice to the chase in the first half of the season. Will Power and Dario Franchitti are tied atop the standings with 271 points. Oriol Servia is third, 73 points arrears. Scott Dixon is three points behind Servia, followed by Graham Rahal (176), Tony Kanaan (171) and Ryan Briscoe (165).
The 250-lap race under the lights June 25 on the .875-mile Iowa Speedway is the last of four consecutive oval events, and there’s only three left on the schedule (New Hampshire on Aug. 14, Kentucky on Oct. 2 and the IZOD INDYCAR World Championship at Las Vegas on Oct. 16).
Servia, who didn’t compete in the series last year, recorded six consecutive top-10 finishes in the No. 2 Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing car to start the season. He swapped spots in the standings with Dixon with a third place in the Milwaukee 225 on June 19.
“I think it's just a lot of hard work,” Servia said. “We all know Newman/Haas has always been a great team with a lot of success, and last year when things didn't work out and then they decided to hire me that was the goal -- bring it back to the front. We didn't know how soon we were going to be able to do that, and to be honest, we've been a little surprised to be third in points at this point in the championship.
“There's still a big step to go to catch Ganassi and Penske and we know that, but we are very encouraged of the work done so far and ready to keep doing it. There's not one race more important than the others. I feel after Edmonton, if we are still in contention to be top 3, we definitely have enough showing to prove that we can defend it.
“But to defend our third position, we need to start winning races and we are not. For some reason, Iowa, I think is going to be more of a survival race for us. I don't expect us to be fighting for the win. Although it would be a nice surprise. But Toronto, we definitely have as good a chance as anybody else, and that would be an opportunity to shine and see if we can get that win. That would definitely get us in a much better position in the points.”
Rahal, driving the No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing car, has made the biggest gain on the ovals – and overall, some would contend -- from ninth place in the standings following his runner-up finish in Brazil to sixth after registering third place in the Indianapolis 500. Another runner-up finish, in the Milwaukee 225, boosted his points total.
“I think our team is really starting to gel,” said Rahal, who started 12th at Milwaukee. “What's going to put us over the top is qualifying better. We have to work on our qualifying and start races right up with the big guys.
“This will be my fourth start at Iowa Speedway and I had my best finish of ninth last year, my second top-10 at the track. I’m excited to see what we can do with the No. 38 Service Central car.
In the four previous races at Iowa Speedway, Franchitti has won in the odd-numbered years. Dixon is a two-time pole sitter. Power started from the pole last June and finished fifth. The championship protagonists feel the pressure to produce big points results as much as their pursuers. Seven different teams are represented in the top 10 of the standings.
“I think you're racing everybody out there,” said Franchitti, who won the Milwaukee 225 to tie Rick Mears for ninth on the all-time list with 29 victories. “Will is a terrific competitor, there's no doubt about it. He's ultimately been very consistent, as well, but on a performance basis, there are so many people now that can go out there and win any race. We have seen obviously the Target, the Penske guys, too.
"You've got the satellite team with Chip now. Certainly Newman/Haas have come on very strong this year and the KV guys, as well, and there are multiple other teams out there that week in and week out challenge for victory.
“The competition is not getting any easier and it's definitely making our job harder, which is what we like. I never take it for granted that we are going to do well. Each weekend, you've got a fight on your hands."