NEWTON, Iowa — Team Penske’s inability to win an IndyCar race at the Iowa Speedway has always felt more like an anomaly than a trend.
This might be the year that one of open wheel’s biggest programs finally snaps an eight-year skid in Iowa: Penske enters Saturday’s race with three of the top five drivers in IndyCar, including series leader Juan Pablo Montoya.
All of those drivers will also be powered by Chevrolet engines and aero kits, which have proven to have quite the advantage over their Honda counterparts this season.
“We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing. What we’re doing has been working,” said Montoya, who entered the weekend with a 54-point lead in the standings over Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing.
It stands to reasons that Penske — winners of at least four IndyCar races in each of the last seven seasons — would eventually find a way to win on Iowa’s tricky 0.875-mile oval.
But for eight years running, Penske has fallen short.
Helio Castroneves started on the front row in 2007 and 2008 but failed to come anywhere close to victory. Ryan Briscoe led a race-high 85 laps for Penske in 2009 but finished second to Dario Franchitti. Castroneves lost the lead to Tony Kanaan with 10 laps left in 2010 and finished second.
Penske failed to make much noise in the next three races, and last year Ryan Hunter-Reay blew past half the field in just 10 laps to give Andretti Autosport six wins out of eight tries in Iowa.
“We’ve just got to be there in the end. It’s one of those places where you have everything going your way, and then all of a sudden something happens and takes that away,” said Castroneves, who has seven top-10s at Iowa without a win.
Andretti would appear to have the edge based on its overwhelming success in Iowa.
But the new Honda setups have left its drivers wondering how well their cars will perform during the race.
The drivers had a pair of Friday practices to get acclimated to the track. The qualifying session will be just a few hours before Saturday’s race, and the physical toll of running on such a high-banked oval should make for one of the season’s most challenging weekends.
“These cars behave totally different, especially with the track (temperatures) up,” Marco Andretti said. “I don’t really know how the racing is going to play out ... it’s still a big unknown right now.”
Though Penske has been the dominant team and Chevrolet the dominant manufacturer with nine wins out of 12 in 2015, there’s reason to believe that Saturday night’s race will be as wide open as ever.
Last season produced a record 11 different race winners. This season there have been eight racers with victories, including two each for Josef Newgarden of CHF Racing and Sebastian Bourdais, last week’s winner in Milwaukee, from KVSH Racing.