A New Challenge Awaits In Iowa

While he is no longer a full-time commentator on IndyCar Series telecasts, Rusty Wallace will be a key figure during this weekend’s Iowa Corn Indy 250. He may even have a major impact on who will be crowned Indycar champion at season’s end.

In a year which has already seen several twists and turns, the IndyCar Series is preparing for a whole new experience this weekend as it heads to Iowa Speedway, the first driver-designed racing facility in history.

"I've been waiting for this event for a long time to happen," said Wallace, who helped co-design the .875-mile oval. "I watched the testing. I watched Scott Dixon do the (feasibility) test last year and saw his smile. He was just beaming when he jumped out of the car.

"I'll have my racetrack owner hat on. It's like a child to me, it really is. I watched it be built since birth, you know, and it was just an amazing track."

Even though the track was not complete when he took part in the compatibility test, Dixon is convinced it will be an amazing show this Sunday.

"The track is unique. I think it's not like any other that we run on. I think more racetracks that we get to go to with different character, different kind of size, configuration for us is very good," said the driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Dallara-Honda. "We have a lot of mile and a half tracks and even sister tracks that we race on, which the racing is great. But having a track I think under a mile length while still providing the banking and the progressive corners, will enable us to race side by side, and I think that will make it a huge race and extremely close with a lot of passing for the fans to watch."

More important that the action though, may be the impact the Iowa event has on the season-to-date picture. This weekend’s race, the eighth of 17 this season, marks the beginning of a five-week, five-race stretch that may dictate who is crowned champion. In the next five weeks, teams will compete on the 7/8th-mile variably banked oval at Iowa Speedway, the physically demanding 3/4th-mile oval at Richmond International Raceway, the 1.33-mile concrete oval at Nashville Superspeedway and the road courses at Watkins Glen International and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Entering the stretch, Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti leads the championship by 12 points over Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan, who comes into the weekend with momentum as he won this year’s only other short-track event (tracks 1-mile in distance or shorter).

Target Chip Ganassi’s Dixon and Dan Wheldon sit third and fourth, with defending champion Sam Hornish Jr. rounding out the top five. Like Kanaan, Hornish comes in on a bit of a hot streak, having won the last event on the calendar, the Bombardier Learjet 550k at Texas Motor Speedway.

Not to be forgotten is Penske Racing’s Helio Castroneves, who sits sixth in the standings, 51 points adrift. Although he has fallen behind in recent weeks due to consecutive 16th-place finishes at The Milwaukee Mile and Texas Motor Speedway, the Brazilian driver can rebound in the championship as he is amongst the best drivers on short tracks, claiming four poles and one victory in the last seven IndyCar Series events at Richmond International Raceway and The Milwaukee Mile – the only other tracks measuring 1-mile or less.

"I had a chance to test at Iowa in May, and I was very impressed with the track," said Castroneves. "My first impression was that it's a mix of Richmond and Texas. It's small like Richmond, but you can go full throttle all the way around the track like you can at Texas. These two characteristics should create some intense, side-by side racing action. I also think the race will be very physically challenging."

Who will win this weekend’s race at Iowa Speedway? The answer may help solve the 2007 championship riddle as well.

The inaugural Iowa Corn Indy 250 is slated to take the green flag Sunday shortly after 1 p.m. (ET). Live television coverage will be available on ABC.

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Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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