Championship contenders and big-name stars were dropping left and right and on a wacky Saturday night at Iowa Speedway.
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Ryan Hunter-Reay kept his car clean, made a late move and not so quietly forced himself into the championship discussion.
Hunter-Reay passed Scott Dixon with 12 laps to go and held on to win for the second straight week in a race that ended under caution.
The winner last week at another short oval, the Milwaukee Mile, Hunter-Reay moved to second in the season standings with his seventh career IndyCar victory – the most among active U.S. drivers.
The victory was Andrettti Autosport’s fourth in six races in Iowa.
”I wish we had some more 1-mile ovals coming up. Those are fun. The racing that we’ve had on them, it seemed like it was pretty exciting. This is so cool. This is a difference maker for sure,” Hunter-Reay said.
Teammate Marco Andretti was second, followed by Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon. Andretti won last year on the 0.875-mile oval.
It was only fitting Hunter-Reay would win under caution because there were six of them – and 11 of the 25 cars either crashed or had mechanical issues.
What was also notable was that Hunter-Reay essentially used the same setup Andretti tested with at Iowa last week to beat his teammate.
Hunter-Reay crossed under yellow as Katherine Legge spun out with two laps left.
”We basically raced the way he tested it. Marco and I raced really hard out there. It’s great to have a teammate like that. So happy to be in victory lane twice in a row,” Hunter-Reay said.
It seemed as if Hunter-Reay was about the only driver to leave Iowa with a smile on his face.
Pole sitter Dario Franchitti was knocked out after his engine blew before the green flag dropped – a blow that could cripple his shot at a fourth straight series title.
Points leader Will Power was bounced just 68 laps in after E.J. Viso hit him from behind. Power’s lead dwindled to three points ahead of Hunter-Reay.
James Hinchcliffe, who entered the race second in the points chase, caught the wall and didn’t finish either.
A race delayed for 45 minutes by storms and marked by a series of early incidents seemed to finally become clear about two-thirds of the way in.
Predictably, it didn’t last long.
Leader Ryan Briscoe drifted down to the apron in the last corner because he was going in for tires. But in nearly the same spot where Power and Viso got collected, Briscoe was drilled by rookie Josef Newgarden.
”He’s come from way too far back there. It’s too late in the corner to make a pass like that,” Briscoe said. ”He’s a rookie and he’ll learn from it. It’s a shame because I think on fuel we were in position to win the thing.”
Franchitti had possibly run better than anyone in his first four starts at Iowa.
On Saturday night, he could barely get started.
Franchitti won here in 2007 and 2009 and took the pole Friday after winning the last of three qualifying heats. But Franchitti said the same engine that he used to win the Indianapolis 500 with in May was off from the beginning.
Franchitti’s car started smoking on the backstretch and was quickly towed off the track.
”It was making a very strange noise,” Franchitti said. ”Real disappointing.”
It’s the first time Franchitti has failed to finish back-to-back races since the last event of 2004 and the first one of 2005. It wouldn’t be long before Power would join Franchitti in the paddock.
Power was just above Viso on the bottom of the track when Viso caught the back of Power’s No. 12 car. Viso quickly accused Power of blocking him, just two weeks after Power was penalized for blocking Tony Kanaan, Viso’s KV Racing teammate, in Texas.
”He just blocked me, blocked me and you know I couldn’t go any lower,” Viso said. ”He just kept going and I had nowhere to go. This is not an issue of Will that we used to know, by being clean. This is the second race in a row that he affected somebody on my team. It’s very disappointing.”
To his credit, Power acknowledged his mistake upon seeing the replay for the first time.
”I did not even get the call that he was underneath me. So I feel, man, I didn’t even know he was there. I feel bad for him,” Power said. ”I can’t believe (it.) So that’s what happened, like he hit me.”
Viso also displayed his displeasure with Power by hopping out of the cockpit and gesturing the Australian’s way. By then Franchitti had made his way to the NBC Sports broadcast booth, where he took a shot at Viso.
”It’s a little rich coming from E.J. He’s hit everything but the pace car,” Franchitti said.