Things have changed for the better. After back-to-back frustrating weeks at Detroit and Texas, my driver picks for the Firestone Fantasy Challenge delivered at Road America two weeks ago.
Thanks to a one-two finish from Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden, yours truly was head of the class at the Kohler Grand Prix. The win rebuilds the safety net that I had lost in the previous two rounds. So with ninth-place on the points table much more secure, the focus shifts to moving forward in rankings on Sunday afternoon.
The Iowa Corn 300 roster remains unaltered on top but does change in the bottom half, where 12th and 13th-place finishes were the end game. Enough to take P1 in Wisconsin, but may be as fortunate at the high banked bowl of Iowa Speedway.
As mentioned, my dynamic duo of Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon remain intact this weekend. The selection of Newgarden has two facts in his corner. Earlier this season at Phoenix International Raceway, Team Penske ruled the action in qualifying and then posted a top-two punch with Simon Pagenaud and Will Power at the forefront. So why the Tennessee-native then over the Arizona rabbits? Last year’s domination at Iowa by the first-year Penske pilot is hard to ignore. If one can control a race with a lesser team on paper, just imagine what could happen when the squad’s potential is further enhanced.
Regarding Dixon, not only is he leading the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, he can turn potentially bad results into good ones. The Iceman has overcome qualifying days where Penske’s men outpaced him, and if it should occur yet again on Saturday, the New Zealander has a history of overcoming it. That’s why despite the muscle displayed at Phoenix by Power and Pagenaud, I still went with the Ganassi Racing veteran.
Seats three and four were trickier to setup. Gone are Alexander Rossi and Spencer Pigot, as the former Indy 500 champion has yet to prove himself on a short oval, while Pigot gives way to team boss Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet. In their place, however, are two solid alternatives. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay would seem like an odd choice considering he’s failed to finish all three oval
events to date in 2017. Of course, those events were not at Iowa Speedway, where the Californian has scored three triumphs since 2012. That reminder is enough reason to dismiss the DNFs suffered recently.
As for the final seat, I have stayed with Ed Carpenter Racing tapping their oval track specialist J.R. Hildebrand. 2017 has been a trial by fire return to full-time service for the former Indy 500 runner-up, but he did place a strong third at Phoenix, raising his value against other options, including the ever-improving Chip Ganassi Racing chauffeur Max Chilton and Dale Coyne Racing rookie Ed Jones.
With the Hawkeye State’s roster now set, let’s see if I am on the right track again in selecting gangbuster foursomes.
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