[Images: Chris Trotman/Getty Images, Conrad Schmidt/AP]
Power's four-lap average at this young short-track was 181.377 miles per hour, a seemingly quick time right off the bat, but it seemed even quicker as driver after driver failed to challenge him for pole, most clocking in well below 180 mph. Will himself said that he figured his toughest competition would come from his own Penske teammates, but it was actually Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon (No. 9) who came closest to unseating him. After four circuits of this 0.875-mile oval, Dixon was just .002 seconds slower than Power, and had to settle for second.
Just behind them on the starting grid were Marco Andretti (No. 26 Team Venom Energy Andretti Autosport), Helio Castroneves (No.3 Team Penske) and Dario Franchitti (No. 10 Energizer Target Chip Ganassi Racing), Franchitti having won in each of his previous two starts here in Iowa. Rounding out the top ten were Alex Tagliani (No.77 FAZZT Race Team), Takuma Sato (No. 5 Lotus-KV Racing Technology), Ryan Briscoe (No. 6 Team Penske), Danica Patrick (No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport) and Dan Wheldon (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing).
With Mike Conway still recovering from his terrible crash in the Indy 500, Graham Rahal was once again filling his seat in the No. 24 Dad's Root Beer/DRR Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara. The second-generation IndyCar driver struggled with the car's setup and only managed to qualify in 17th, while Simona de Silvestro (No. 78 Team Stargate Worlds/HVM Racing) seemed to be back to top form, posting a speed quick enough to qualify 20th. Fellow female driver Milka Duno wasn't so lucky. Duno slid up into the wall after bouncing over a series of bumps between 1 and 2 and failed to post a time. The team was hopeful they'd have a car for her on race day, though, and indeed made it to the grid on race day.
On the Sunday of the race, the track showed no ill effects from the area's severe weather the day before, but one car was missing from the grid. There was a gaping hole where the No. 9 Ganassi car was supposed to be and Scott Dixon's team was working feverishly to get his car out where it belonged on the front row. They made it out there with plenty of time to spare and from the drop of the green Dixon showed that the car didn't seem to have any lingering problems. Dixon diced with Power all the way around on the first lap until Justin Wilson's No. 22 Team Z-Line Designs/DRR Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car lost traction coming around Turn 3 and spun up into the wall, unfortunately collecting Mario Moraes (No. 32 KV Racing Technology) in the process and ending both of their days way too early.
When the field went back to green, Marco Andretti started a charge to the front, quickly picking off Scott Dixon and honing in on Power for the lead. Would this be the day Marco would get his first win? Only time would tell. A split second later we almost had our answer as the lead duo were about to lap the dangerously slow Duno. The two drivers split to either side of her but rather than maintain her line as they passed, Milka shifted up track, right in front of Marco. That caused the young driver to check up, almost allowing Dixon back past him into second.
Just nine laps later the leaders were again going past Duno, prompting just about everybody watching the race to scream in unison for the stewards to black flag her. Thankfully they heard our pleas and Duno's day was done. It's not that she's a bad driver – well, maybe a little – but her car was clearly underperforming and perhaps she was still a little gun-shy from her qualifying crash.
On Lap 40, Hideki Mutoh (No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic Newman/Haas Racing) was the latest rolling chicane for the front two, but this time Andretti got the best of the situation and claimed the race lead. He didn't hold it for long though. Dixon whipped back past a few corners later, but even he was under threat from a new challenger now. Within a handful of laps, Dario Franchitti was whizzing by both Andretti and Power.
Lapped traffic was quickly becoming a problem for just about everybody, and Will Power seemed to get the worst of it. He actually made contact with the back end of the loafing Bertrand Baguette's No. 36 Conquest Racing machine, but was able to back out enough that it didn't seem to cause a lot of damage. It did, however, drop Power back several spots in the running order and brought out the second yellow of the day. It was the perfect time for the first round of stops.
Almost everyone came in besides Graham Rahal, who inherited the lead. There was quite a bit of excitement coming out, as Tony Kanaan booted Helio Castroneves who then got clipped by Scott Dixon as they exited pit lane. It didn't look like there was any damage to any of their cars, thankfully.
As they went back to green flag racing, the front runners quickly gobbled up Rahal and soon the running order was Dixon, Franchitti, the hard-charging Kanaan (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Andretti Autosport), the newly re-sponsored Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 37 Ethanol USA - IZOD Andretti Autosport), Rahal, Takuma Sato, Castroneves, Andretti, E.J. Viso (No. 8 PDVSA-Jet Aviation-KVRT KV Racing Technology) and Power in the top ten slots.
Another yellow flew on Lap 96 when Sarah Fisher (No. 67 Dollar General/Sarah Fisher Racing) couldn't quite collect it after drifting up into the marbles. On Lap 98 the pits opened and just about everybody was back in for stop number two. No extracurricular activities this time as everybody came back out, although one of Simona de Silvestro's crew members ended up with an injured ankle and she ended up serving a penalty for it. Back to green on Lap 115 it was Dario and Dixon fighting for first, followed by Kanaan, Hunter-Reay and Castroneves in the top five, but T.K. was on a mission.
Kanaan was in the lead by the halfway point, the first time he found himself leading an IRL race since Chicago last year. He had moved up from 15th at the start and was now looking like the best chance for Team Andretti Autosport to claim victory. Dario was having none of it though and after a dozen laps running behind Tony, the points leader moved back to the head of the class. On Lap 147, Simona was parked, her first short track race ending early following a problem that grew out of her run-in with her right rear wheelman.
Out front, Kanaan wasn't letting Franchitti pull away, but the duo had distanced themselves from Dixon who had briefly moved up to join the battle, with Hunter-Reay and the surprising Takuma Sato right behind. It was Sato's first short-track race ever
coming just weeks after his very first career oval track race of any kind. Sadly, the former Formula 1 pilot lost it on Lap 178, the air being taken off the front of his Lotus-sponsored car by rookie Alex Lloyd (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing) forcing him high.
Another round of stops and Team Penske seemed to be clicking on all cylinders, managing to get Helio Castroneves out in second, right between Franchitti and Kanaan. That put the top three teams in the top three spots with 65 laps to go. As the field got back up to speed following the green, Helio moved past Dario for the lead, but Franchitti fought back, the duo just ahead of Kanaan. It looked to be an epic battle to the checkers, but suddenly Dario slowed, an apparent gearbox problem ending his hopes of going three-for-three in Iowa.
After serving a drive-through penalty for clipping a stacked tire in the pits, Ryan Hunter-Reay had dropped out of contention, but moving up was E.J. Viso, who had started way back in nineteenth. With 28 laps to go the leaders had to thread through some lapped traffic, which happened to include some former front-runners, making passing a bit more difficult due to the closely matched speeds. As they came through, Castroneves was well ahead of T.K. who was a bit further clear of third place Viso as well.
Kanaan still had a couple more push-to-pass actuations more than Helio and with 11 to go he timed one perfectly, flying past Helio and into the lead. He never looked back, claiming his first win in Iowa, a track he has struggled with in the past. Castroneves held on for second followed by Viso who scored his best finish ever, Briscoe, Power, Dixon, Vitor Meira (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing), Hunter-Reay, Rahal and Patrick in the top ten.
Will Power finds himself back atop the points lead following his best oval finish of the year, followed by Dixon, Franchitti, Castroneves, Briscoe, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Wilson, Andretti and Wheldon as the Izod IndyCar Series moves off of the ovals and onto a string of five road courses in a row beginning with Watkins Glen on Independence Day. See you then.