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Paddock Buzz: Steady Ericsson Keeps Piling Up Points

The hottest driver in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES over the past year and a half happens to be the driver atop this year’s standings.

Clearly, Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) has done more over the past 20 races than win the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in May. He leads the series with an average finish of 7.45. Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) has an average of 7.95.

In those 20 races, he has eight top-five finishes and 17 top-10 finishes, and he has finished in the top seven in the past six races.

Ericsson has a 35-point lead over Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) in the standings with seven races left, beginning with Saturday’s Hy-VeeDeals.com 250 presented by DoorDash (4 p.m. ET, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network). Ericsson has held the series lead following the past three races and four of the past five races dating back to Indy.

Ericsson has finished 11th, ninth and ninth in his three Iowa Speedway races.

“We have a lot of confidence and momentum going,” he said. “For us in the 8 car, we are still in the lead of the championship, extended it the last time out (by finishing fifth last weekend in the Honda Indy Toronto). It can be important this weekend – double races, double points.”

Ericsson had the sixth-fastest lap in Friday’s 90-minute practice at 171.819 mph, but don’t read too much into a single lap or how drivers qualify in Saturday’s qualifying session (10:30 a.m., Peacock Premium). This track creates some of the highest tire degradation, which in turns creates big speed discrepancies later in green-flag runs. In Race 1 of 2020, Simon Pagenaud (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) started last – 23rd – and won the race.

Heat The Big Story

Friday was a hot day in Newton, Iowa, and Saturday figures to be hotter, with a high approaching 100 degrees. In response, drivers delivered some hot descriptions.

“It’s hotter than the devil’s underbritches, that’s for sure,” said Conor Daly, who had Friday’s second-fastest lap (173.239 mph) in the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing.

“Bloody, man, it’s going to be long, hard weekend,” said Scott McLaughlin, who posted the third-fastest lap (173.083 mph) in the No. 3 Freightliner Team Penske Chevrolet. “It’s (going to be) a test of the fittest, and I’m looking forward to it.”

The good news, Sunday’s forecast is for cooler temperatures for Sunday’s Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google (3 p.m. ET, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

Odds and Ends

  • Power not only had the day’s fastest lap (173.285 mph), he had one of the most succinct quotes. “It’s a difficult track to win (on) when Josef Newgarden is in the game,” he said. Power also said Iowa Speedway is his “favorite oval” because it offers a variety of driving lanes.
  • Team Penske will be the group to watch in qualifying. It has had one of its drivers start No. 1 on a series-leading nine occasions in the 15 races at Iowa, including three of the past four, with Power winning three poles overall. Newgarden won from the pole in the most recent NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, Race 2 of 2020.
  • The participation list for this weekend’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader is significantly higher than it was for the two races at Iowa Speedway in 2020. There were 23 car-and-driver combinations that year; there are 26 this weekend.
  • In part because Iowa Speedway didn’t stage an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race last year, there are more drivers than normal who don’t have series experience at this track. Nine drivers (34.6 percent) made their series debuts at the short oval on Friday, led by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda). Johnson was ninth on the speed chart at 170.795 mph.
  • Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-LINE/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) has never started an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at Iowa Speedway, but he has made four starts in lower divisions.
  • Not included among the nine newbies to Iowa Speedway is a driver who hasn’t raced at the track since 2017. Of course, that driver knows his way around the track: Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) won the 2017 race. Castroneves won poles here in 2009 and 2015.
  • NTT INDYCAR SERIES action resumes Saturday with qualifying. The drivers will make two timed laps, with the first lap setting the order for Saturday’s first race (4 p.m.) and the second lap doing the same for Sunday’s second race (3 p.m.). Both races will air live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
  • Linus Lundqvist (No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing) posted the fastest lap of Friday’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at 158.229 mph. Andretti Autosport drivers Matthew Brabham (157.978 mph), Hunter McElrea (157.762 mph) and Christian Rasmussen (157.661 mph) rounded out the top four. Jacob Abel of Abel Motorsports was fifth at 157.619 mph.
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