Race Weekend Central

Alex Palou’s Points Lead Shrinks, But He’s Happy with His Results at Iowa

NEWTON, Iowa – Midway through the NTT IndyCar Series HyVee One Step 250 Sunday at Iowa Speedway, Alex Palou was in serious trouble.

After seeing Josef Newgarden dominate the first race of the doubleheader weekend on Saturday and chop 26 points off of Palou’s championship lead, Palou was just logging laps Sunday afternoon, mired a lap down in 13th place. If the race had ended that way, Palou’s 117-point lead heading into the weekend would have almost been cut to 67.

Newgarden did what he does at Iowa, as he once again owned the field on the way to his sixth win at Iowa, leading 341 of the 500 laps this weekend while joining A.J. Foyt (1964) and Al Unser (1968, 1970) to win five straight oval races.

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Newgarden Earns IndyCar Iowa Weekend Sweep

Palou, meanwhile, had his car come to life late and worked his way back up through the field to finish third, which means he takes an 80-point lead to Nashville in two weeks.

“We knew it was going to be a tough weekend,” Palou said. “(Saturday) we had a lot of pace … not quite Penske pace, but like second series pace, and that was great. [Sunday] was the opposite. We had no pace, I was struggling to overtake, I was struggling to keep the tires under the deck, and the team put me in the position we are in now. It was all up to the team today.”

As the summer of Palou’s dominance has rolled on, many were left scratching their heads as to how they could cut into that lead. But for Newgarden, all roads pointed to the 7/8-mile bullring in the middle of the Iowa cornfields.

Since 2019, he has won five of the seven races at Iowa. He was well on his way to sweeping at Iowa last season until a mechanical issue put him into the turn 4 wall with just 65 laps to go.

Along with his six wins, he also has two runner-up finishes (2014-15). He has also led 1,850 laps at the track, more than the rest of the field combined.

Palou, meanwhile, is on the other end of the spectrum. Prior to Sunday, he had never finished better than sixth at Iowa and had led just one lap.

While Newgarden had this weekend circled on the calendar, Palou felt the opposite.

“It was a weekend I wasn’t looking forward to, even before starting the season,” Palou said. “It’s a place where I’ve struggled personally and as a team we need to find a little bit more, which we did. I’m super happy with a podium today and a P8 yesterday.”

Palou was also aided by two of the three yellow flags that flew Sunday. The first came on lap 163, where his team made a couple of adjustments to the car that brought it more to life. He was standing in fifth when the final yellow fell with 10 laps to go, which put him right behind the four cars in front of him.

When the race went back to green with four laps left, he was able to get past Scott McLaughlin and Felix Rosenqvist to earn his first oval podium since the race at Texas Motor Speedway in April.

“That was cool,” Palou said. “I knew that we were the last car on the lead lap, and I knew I could risk it a little bit more, if I had an issue or something I was not going to lose a position. It was a great restart.”

Newgarden would’ve loved to have gained some more points on Palou, but he’s happy to head back to his hometown of Nashville in the spot he’s in.

“That was a positive result, leaving the weekend,” Newgarden said. “I would’ve liked it to have reached 50 or 60, that sounds better, but that’s not where we’re at. I think we did a pretty good job given what was in our control.”

Palou expects Newgarden to win on the short oval at Gateway next month, but the next two races at Nashville and on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – where he won back in May – give him the confidence that he can hold onto this lead, if not extend it again.

“I’m looking forward to the next couple of races,” Palou said. “We know that we have a good car, and I can extract 100 percent of what we have.”

After a week off, the series will reconvene the first weekend in August for 80 laps around the streets of Nashville. The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix will go green at Noon EDT on August 6. NBC will provide TV coverage.

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Jeremy

When your “bad” races are P8 and P3, that’s a good place to be! Newgarden has his work cut out for him. I think everyone else is pretty much realistically eliminated at this point.

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