NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — Defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden's up-and-down season is back on an upswing after a dominant win at Road America two weeks ago.
Newgarden is back at Iowa Speedway — the scene of perhaps his most impressive performance back in 2016 — in hopes of closing the gap further on series leader Scott Dixon.
Newgarden is fourth, 50 points behind Dixon, despite a series-high three wins in 10 starts. That's because the Tennessee-born Newgarden finished eighth or worse in a five-race stretch that began in Indianapolis and ended in Texas.
Newgarden got things going in the right direction in Wisconsin two weeks ago, leading all but two of 55 laps, and he feels as though his No. 1 Chevy will have an advantage after testing the newly designed aero package at Iowa on June 27.
Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power won his 52nd career pole on Saturday, with Newgarden set to start second. Ryan Hunter-Reay was third, followed by Simon Pagenaud.
"Us testing here is a benefit...(and) I think it's more important this year just because it's a new car — and Iowa is its own animal," said Newgarden, who led a record 282 of 300 laps to win at Iowa two years ago. "Even having been to Phoenix, another short oval, I don't think a lot of that really applies here because Iowa is just crazy unique. It's a lot bumpier."
Despite being one of the few drivers to run in each of Iowa's previous 11 races, Dixon has never won here. His best finish was third in 2016 — even though he has claimed the pole three times.
Dixon didn't test here either, but he's been dominant of late for Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon has two wins (Belle Isle and Texas) during a stretch of six consecutive top-four finishes. He qualified sixth on Saturday.
"It's a track that you can pass well," Dixon said. "Hopefully, the pit stops and strategies for us, they've been pretty good, pretty strong of recent and we can use that to our advantage."
Winning at Iowa typically isn't a problem for the resurgent Hunter-Reay, who entered the weekend tied for second with Alexander Rossi, 45 points back of Dixon.
Hunter-Reay took first for Andretti Autosport at Iowa in 2012 — the year he won the championship — and in 2014 and 2015. He was second in 2013 and tied a season high with a third-place finish a year ago.
Hunter-Reay's No. 28 Honda also topped last month's test in Newton as well, and he and his team have clearly found the speed that eluded Hunter-Reay during back-to-back disappointing seasons.
But Hunter-Reay acknowledged that, between the new setups and what could be much warmer conditions on Sunday, it should be an interesting race to say the least.
The qualifying results haven't seemed to matter much at Iowa either, since no pole-sitter has gone on to win the race.
"We have some good momentum going here at Iowa," Hunter-Reay said. "It's just that nobody really knows how the race will play out. Once we get into 50 laps on tires, we still have to go another 20, 30 more. It's going to be really light, very busy behind the wheel. Just a lot less downforce to deal with this year."
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