Look out, Texas Motor Speedway. There's a track 30 miles east of Des Moines, Iowa that is stealing all of your buzz.
All that the 7/8ths-mile oval in Newton, Iowa that is Iowa Speedway has done since it hit the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule is sell out its grandstands for some of the best open-wheel oval racing you'll see during the season.
The battle between Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan to win the Iowa Corn Indy 250 on Saturday night produced the kind of side-by-side competition that most IndyCar fans only equate with races on 1.5-mile speedways. Though some of the old guard in the sport have a hard time adjusting to the concept of progressive banking, there is no question that the Rusty-Wallace-designed layout is a formula for success for the nimble IndyCars.
The track's 25,000 permanent seats were choked with fans as well, showing what can happen when promoters offer entertainment to racing-hungry fans without the distractions of price-gouging or competing events nearby (I'm looking at you, Milwaukee).
Even the on-track incidents were a testament to the track's foresight. If you didn't already know, Iowa Speedway is the first (and, to date, only) major racetrack to have implemented the SAFER barrier around the entire perimeter of the racing surface. Thus, when drivers like Sebastian Saavedra and Will Power went careening into the backstretch wall, the injuries they suffered were significantly milder than they would have been at, say, the Milwaukee Mile.
In the wake of the race, more than a few people (full disclosure: including myself) thought that adding a second Iowa race during the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season would be a pretty swell notion. That may be unrealistic for the moment, but Iowa's track and fans certainly have come through on their end. It is one of IndyCar's best success stories.
- Iowa. There was a real Field of Dreams vibe to Newton when Rusty Wallace and his partners built this facility, but there's no question that their investment was a good one.
- Marco Andretti spent the four years between his teammate-assisted victory at Infineon and Saturday's win looking like the series' biggest blinged-out bust, but his performance was a taste of the old Andretti mix of aggression and daring and was nice to see.
- Tony Kanaan has helped turn KV Racing into a threat, when before it was a joke. Marco Andretti spent several column inches in RACER Magazine hinting that TK was overrated - I'm told that crow tastes like chicken.
- Good grief, Scott Dixon - if they paid for cars passed this season, you'd have quite the windfall. Dixon's quiet and determined march toward the front, first at Texas and then again at Iowa, has been a refreshing counterpoint to the snippiness and complaints from his teammate Dario Franchitti.
- JR Hildebrand had one of his best runs of the season, finishing a strong fourth for Panther Racing.
- Turn 2 at Iowa Speedway needs some attention pronto. That bump may not be much for stock cars but it turned that section of track into Calamity Corner for the IndyCars. Character is one thing, but that bump has got to go.
- Takuma Sato shows so, so much promise as a racer everywhere he goes. Someday he will capitalize on it. Saturday was not that day... again.
- I like Charlie Kimball a lot, but whether it's just bad luck or a lack of situational awareness, he's been in the way in several instances now when he really didn't need to be.
- Danica Patrick started on the front row and immediately went backwards from the drop of the green, finishing 10th and never contending for the victory.
- Fans giggled when Will Power let out an s-bomb on VERSUS after his vicious Turn 2 wreck, but he was clearly out of it and, it turns out, was suffering from a concussion. Forget the Texas qualifying draw - this could end up affecting the championship far more potently. Extra raspberries to the Penske Racing crew for sending Power back out in a clearly damaged race car.