IndyCar Iowa 300 preview: Nighttime is the right time

Will Power and Josef Newgarden lead the field to the green flag to start the 2018 Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway.

Nighttime is the right time.

At least, that’s what IndyCar and Iowa Speedway hope with the decision to move the Iowa Corn 300 back to prime time on a Saturday night for the first time since 2015. The timing couldn’t have been better too, with daytime highs exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the weekend.

So, while the heatwave will likely offset some of the elements of twilight competition, drivers still expect closer action on Saturday night alongside the visual appeal of racing under the lights at the .875-mile short oval.

That includes championship leader Josef Newgarden, who dominated this race to the tune of 282 laps led in his final season at Ed Carpenter Racing. He also finished second the two seasons prior with finishes of sixth and fourth since joining Team Penske.

He’s a master in the cornfields, something he will need to retain to hold off Alexander Rossi, just four points behind him in the championship.

“Iowa is a racer’s racetrack,” Newgarden said. “It’s bumpy, has a lot of character and demands a lot from us behind the wheel. We have a lot of racer’s racetracks, but Iowa really does stand out, especially where it’s located on the schedule between Toronto and Mid-Ohio.

“That kind of diversity is what sets our championship apart from any other.”

IndyCar has allowed for a little more downforce on its oval configuration this season, but drivers aren’t expecting anything like the nearly wide-open racing they experienced on the short track with the original DW12 aero kit.

Instead, drivers will be challenged to lift in the corners, in close proximity to each other, and quickly within lapped traffic. If NASCAR at Bristol Motor Speedway is like piloting a fighter jet in a gymnasium, IndyCar at Iowa is akin to doing the same thing with a space ship.

“It’s going to be a really tight race,” Takuma Sato said after the Toronto Grand Prix. “You know, I think Iowa is such a compact racetrack, and it’s a battlefield all the way through.”

It’s something James Hinchcliffe looks forward to every year as well, especially returning in these conditions, something the Canadian believes will make for better racing.

“The track is a little bit more forgiving in those conditions certainly,” Hinchcliffe said. “I think that helps open up both lanes, which is great. Good for racing. The tire deg will probably be a little less dramatic than last year. It’s a 6:35 (p.m.) start, so to call it a night race may be a little bit generous.

“I think it’s going to be a dusk race. I think there’s going to be a point in the race where the sun is in a very dangerous position based on what we’ve heard from people who tested there recently. I’m a little disappointed with the start time, to be honest.”

Marco Andretti won this race back in 2011, and he’s expecting one of the most chaotic races of the season.

“I think it’s going to be a lot like Texas in the sense that we race during the heat of the day and then we race at night when it’s cooler,” he said. “We’re going to be stacked right on top of each other and that’s always a good show.”

The Iowa Corn 300 is scheduled to begin at 7:30 ET Saturday night on NBCSN.

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