James Hinchcliffe had the right set-up at the right time Sunday in Iowa and passed Josef Newgarden (who dominated the first 240 laps) on lap 255 of 300 to give Honda its sixth victory of the season. Spencer Pigot finished second and Takuma Sato finished third.
The take-away from this race is that on ovals, race set-up is everything. Especially when it’s sunny and hot. Sunday, five cars got it right: Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda), Spencer Pigot (Ed Carpenter-Chevy), Takuma Sato (RLLR-Honda), Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy) and Robert Wickens (SPM-Honda. They were the only cars on the lead lap at the end.
The issue was that Newgarden’s car was not as well set-up for traffic. As the 80-lap tire-stints went on, Newgarden’s car became loose, meaning the car’s rear-end wanted to come around. Hinchcliffe passed Newgarden about 30 laps into the final stint, and then pulled out an eight-second lead (about half a lap) before a caution on lap 294 ended the race. The victory was a relief for Hinchcliffe, who famously did not qualify for the Indy 500.
In the driver’s championship, Newgarden leapt over Ryan Hunter-Reay (who finished 19th with a suspension issue) and Alexander Rossi (9th) to take up second in the standings 33 points behind Scott Dixon (12th). Rossi is third, 7 points behind Newgarden. Hunter-Reay is fourth, 11 points behind Rossi.
In the manufacturer’s championship, things got tougher for Chevy. By my calculations, Chevy has to finish 1-2-3 in every remaining race to take the title away from Honda. Chevy has won every Manufacturer’s title since the return of competition in 2012.
The Iowa victory by the popular Canadian Hinchcliffe, as well as the top-five finish of his teammate Wickens, should be a great set-up for the next race at Toronto on Sunday. This is the first Toronto race with three Canadians (Zachary Claman De Melo is the third) in several years.