Iowa Corn Indy 250

Iowa Speedway – Newton, Iowa – Tony Kanaan can smile at most lemons and turn them into lemonade. Losing a ride at Andretti Autosport over the winter tested his smiling skill to the limit, but getting beat by former teammate Marco Andretti in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 actually got the lemonade pitcher pouring again. A quick trip to Victory Lane to congratulate his third-generation rival whose only win came back in 2006 (79 races ago), brought smiles to both of their faces, even though Tony felt that he might have been wronged.

“It was pretty clean until he chopped me off. Congratulations to him. He did a great job. It was a great battle and a great race. We didn’t quite have the car. I told him (Marco) that I hope it doesn’t take him five years for the next one,” said the Brazilian who can get cut off and still not worry, but be happy.

Dario Franchitti led the most laps tonight, but problems on his last pit stop, combined with handling problems, opened the door for the Marco & Tony show.”I sat back and watched Dario, but when it was time to go I got behind Marco. The lower line was quickest and I was on the bottom and he was up high in turn four. When we got to turn one, if I hadn’t lifted, we would have both been in the wall. He did what he had to do; hold his line.”

And Kanaan did what he had does best: Smile, congratulate the victor, be happy for his new team (” If someone had told me this spring that we’d be fourth in points I would have said they were crazy.”) and admit that the change in teams he made this spring was good for both parties. It’s a rare person who can be sucking lemons and still smile.

• It was cool to hear them talk; especially when the subject was the legendary AJ Foyt. By winning the recent Milwaukee 225, Dario Franchitti tied Rick Mears for sixth-place on the all-time Indy car win list with 29 Victory Lanes visits each. After that race, Franchitti paid homage to Mears as someone he was in some awe of. The two got together here at the Iowa Speedway for a brief talk, and eventually the conversation got around to the name on top of that list; AJ and his 67 wins. When asked if Foyt’s total was an unbreakable number, the long-retired Mears joked that, “It is from my stand point.” He then admitted to a perceived run-in with Foyt early in Mears’ career when he was competing at Milwaukee( for Teddy Yip) during his pre-Penske days. “After the race my crew told me that AJ complained about me and said that if I ever did that again he’d put me into the wall and kill me. I wondered what I did to this guy because I finished fifth and that was my best finish. I didn’t think much about it, but after the race I walked past Foyt and he was signing autographs. I patted him on the side and kept walking when I heard a voice yell, ‘Hey, Mears’. I stopped and turned around and figured I’d better get this over with. When I got there he grabbed me and said, ‘God, we had a hell of a good race today.’ And I realized then that was just AJ being AJ. His bark is worse than his bite.” Franchitti marveled at a picture someone gave him of a race at Milwaukee from the sixties. “It was an Indy car race and they were all rear-engine cars except Foyt’s, and there he was in a sprint (dirt Champ) car sitting on the pole! That’s a testament to how good AJ was. It was a very special time.”

• One of the fan complaints at the recent Milwaukee 225 IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile centered on the late starting time for the event. Three-o’clock seemed late to start a race that hoped to draw fans from out of the Milwaukee area; especially when those visitors would have to perhaps drive hundreds of miles home and then get up for work the next morning. Unfortunately, a similar problem is faced by fans attending this weekend’s Iowa 250 here in Newton. Should a night race ever start at 8:00pm? If the answer is “yes”, then someone needs to explain why. It can’t be for fan convenience. Many say that TV dictates starting times. Perhaps that was true at Milwaukee where the race was on ABC. But Iowa was relegated to the less-watched Versus network whose miniscule ratings generate about the same numbers as Carlos Gomez’ on-base percentage for the Brewers. Should Versus have the same say-so about starting times as ABC? Races should begin at a time convenient for fans attending an event. Promoters and sanctioning groups need to become more sensitive to that.

• With a nearly sold-out crowd of 35,118 in attendance, many in the stands were green-shirted farmers who grow the Iowa Corn that sponsors the race. Home-grown sponsorship seems to work for this gem of a track that links its corn heritage to the ethanol that powers the Izod Indy cars. Built in the middle of farm country, the less-than-a-mile (0.875) oval brings the action close to the fans who sit in a modern grandstand with excellent sightlines. Grass is neatly clipped, walks and roads are paved, and courteous workers make the fans’ experience a positive one. Many spectators wear shirts and jackets supporting their short-track favorites who race weekly at one of the many dirt tracks in the state. The race is given extensive coverage in the region’s newspapers and on radio and TV. Fans tailgate in the ample parking areas that are within a short walk, or are given free shuttle rides to the track. There is a “Fan Walk” that is located behind the pit fence where spectators can get close to the cars and drivers. NASCAR Trucks and Nationwide events are a staple here too, and draw even larger crowds than the Indy cars by adding extra seating. And you know you’re in an agricultural region when you see a green t-shirt that says, “Pit Crew for a Successful Harvest.” Now if track designer Rusty Wallace had just made the track a bit longer.

• Iowa Speedway is in negotiations with IndyCar to extend the IZOD Series race
for three more years.

• After crashing hard on lap 89, Penske driver Will Power was diagnosed with a mild concussion. He will have to pass IndyCar’s IMPACT test and a medical evaluation before being cleared to race at Toronto in July.

• USAC open-wheel star Bryan Clauson had a career-best third place finish in Saturday’s Firestone Indy Lights race. Clauson also competed in USAC Silver Crown and midget series races here at Iowa over the weekend.

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