NEWTON, Iowa (AP) Team Penske has been so strong in the IndyCar series this season that any one of its drivers could win on Saturday night.
Penske’s history at Iowa Speedway suggests that none of them will.
Penske entered the weekend at Iowa’s .875-mile short track with the series co-leaders, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, and perhaps the hottest driver in the circuit in Juan Pablo Montoya.
But Penske always comes to Newton with high expectations – and it always leaves without the trophy.
Penske is 0 for 7 in Iowa despite three poles, while rival Andretti Autosport has claimed the last four races.
”We’ve led a lot of laps before in the past. But we want to lead the last lap,” Castroneves said Saturday.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing trumped both powerhouse teams during Friday’s qualifying, with pole winner Scott Dixon and teammate Tony Kanaan earning spots on the front row.
But with three of the top four cars in the series, this could be the weekend when Penske finally breaks through on Iowa’s bull ring.
Castroneves earned a podium spot for the fifth time in 11 races when he finished second last week at Pocono. He’s also run relatively well at Iowa, with six top-10s in seven events, and last year he set a qualifying lap record at just 17.3 seconds before an engine change pushed him 10 spots down the starting grid.
Power has been known more for his road/street course prowess than his results on ovals. But he’s led the most laps of anyone this season, including 69 at Pocono.
Power missed a media session on Friday afternoon due to a bout with bronchitis. But Penske spokesman David Hovis said Power, who will start ninth, will be fine for Saturday.
Montoya, whose only start at Iowa was in an ARCA race as a stock car newcomer in 2006, has put aside a so-so start with a blistering stretch.
He’s finished third or better three times in his last four races to pull within 55 points of Castroneves and Power.
”We’ve done a good job. We’ve been smart about how we run races,” Montoya said. ”What I told the guys this week is that it’s great that we won. But it’s one thing getting there. The other thing is staying there – and to stay there we’re really going to have to step it up.”
A fifth straight win by an Andretti Autosport driver – any one of them – would give the team a much-needed boost.
Each of their guys is looking up at a Penske driver in the points chase.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti occupy the fifth through seventh spots. Last year’s Iowa winner, James Hinchcliffe, is 12th in what’s been an erratic season for the Canadian.
Kanaan is one of just four drivers (Castroneves, Andretti and Dixon) to start every race at Iowa. He’s finished on the podium four years running, including a victory in 2010 for Andretti Autosport.
”Here, there is no place to hide, and I think your driver skills in handy,” Kanaan said. ”I’ve been fortunate to always do well on mile ovals. It probably just suits my style.”
But the team to watch will be Penske, which has come to dominate the series again in 2014.
Earning that elusive win at Iowa might be further proof that this could be Penske’s year.
”We have been in this position before. The last few years they haven’t won so we just have to make sure and we talked about it as a team,” Montoya said. ”We’ve got to be smart about how we race against each other and then we can seal the deal.”