IOWA 300: Day turns into night, P.M. turns into A.M., and Newgarden gets his redemption

Photo: Josef Newgarden’s Team Penske crew gets his car ready in the paddock before Saturday’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway in Newton.

By John Bohnenkamp

NEWTON — The drivers insisted during qualifying the day before that, no, Saturday’s Iowa 300 wasn’t going to be a night race.

No, at the race’s scheduled 6:30 p.m. start time, it was expected to be sunny and hot and the track was going to be slick and it just wasn’t going to be like those other times when the IndyCar Series raced under Iowa Speedway’s lights.

They didn’t know how the following day was going to be a wait-and-see-and-then-let’s-race marathon.

Josef Newgarden took his second checkered flag at the Speedway at 1:13 a.m. Sunday, a time when most drivers would have been well on their way home had the day not gone from blast-furnace hot to a storm-soaked cool, comfortable conditions for those who had no choice but to wait.

The nights are fine in races at Iowa Speedway. The IndyCars on the .875-mile oval provide a color-cloaked vertigo no matter the time of day here, yet there’s something different about them when the lights are on.

“I’m dizzy,” Newgarden said as he exited his Team Penske car in Victory Lane.

Everyone was, whether it was because of the race or the lengthy wait.

It was a fun show. But nobody expected the show they got, the one that started on a Saturday and ended on a Sunday.

The lament on Friday was that, even though the start time had a P.M. behind it, this wasn’t going to be a true night race. Three hundred laps take a little less than two hours to complete, and the sun was expected to be heading toward the setting in the west by the time this race was scheduled to be over.

Storm clouds gather over Iowa Speedway. The start of the race was delayed almost four hours.

An hour before what was supposed to be the start of the race, it was as dark as night, a line of thunderstorms encroaching on the speedway grounds to bring what the nearby Newton Municipal Airport recorded as a little more than a half-inch of rain but what seemed like an ocean of precipitation.

Well, everyone was going to get their night race.

“I’m sorry it took so long, but glad we got it in tonight,” Newgarden said. “We can’t help the weather.”

“Yeah, I’m getting old, I was getting ready to go to bed at 10:30,” said James Hinchcliffe, last year’s winner who finished third on this night. “It was tough. For all the fans that stayed out, weathered the storm literally, huge, huge thanks. I think it was well worth the wait. Hopefully everybody that did come and stayed for the race enjoyed the show. Felt pretty exciting from where we were sitting. Imagine from the outside, too.”

The decision to stick around as long as possible, even though the forecast was OK for Sunday, felt like it was pulled by TV strings. Sunday was a crowded day of live sports, so maybe there was someone somewhere who thought it was best to keep everyone in one place, to get this one done at least before sunrise.

Hinchcliffe played host to a cookout in the driver’s motorcoach lot that was attended by drivers Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi.

“It was a bit of a weird time,” Hinchcliffe said. “Watching Lion King, the original. I forgot how awesome that movie was. Stoked to see the new one.

“You’re kind of burning time. Then all of a sudden you have a 20-minute warning to get dressed and get in an Indy car. Can be tough. We’ve done it before. It’s what we do in this series sometimes. Glad we got it in tonight, though.”

Drivers were called to their cars at 9:55 p.m., but then there was more waiting as track crews cut into the surface to drain the weepers that had popped up during the drying process. The command to start engines came at 10:46 p.m.

Then came a 25-minute red flag on Lap 55 caused by a shower that popped up just outside the track.

Simon Pagenaud’s crew prepares for Saturday’s race.

The rain didn’t fall on what turned into a Penske parade. The team’s three drivers — Newgarden, Will Power and pole-sitter Simon Pagenaud — led all but a four-lap segment during the last series of pit stops.

All three were fastest during Friday’s heat in the two practice sessions and qualifying, but Newgarden was snippy with frustration during his post-qualifying media session.

“I mean, look, it’s all right,” Newgarden said. “I don’t normally like to be short and externally frustrated. But I was just frustrated. Sometimes when you’re feeling competitive, you’re always feeling competitive, but a lot of times you can hold it back if you’re pissed off about something. Sometimes you just want to go back out and redo it. That’s kind of where I was yesterday.

“But after an hour of being pissed about it, we just went to practice and we move on. That’s all there is to it. Yeah, I mean, you’re going to get that. Look, we all want to kick each other’s butts. That’s what it’s all about. Like I was saying, it’s a competitive sport. We all want to be the best. That’s what makes it fun.”

Newgarden found himself in full butt-kicking mode. He led 245 laps, extending his series points lead to 29 over Alexander Rossi.

The Penske parade didn’t turn into a Penske podium. Pagenaud faded in the night, finishing fourth. Power, who always finds trouble here after looking so good in qualifying and practice, came into the pits too hot on the final round of stops, and ended up having to take a stop-and-go penalty. He finished 15th.

It’s the second consecutive year that Newgarden had the fastest car here. He led 229 laps last season, but finished fourth behind Hinchcliffe.

I feel much better tonight,” Newgarden said. “ I really wanted us to win the race. I thought we had a good car to do that, a car capable, a team capable. I’m really pleased we were able to execute as well as we did tonight.

“Kind of redeemed ourselves from last year, too. Last year I felt we had the car. It honestly fell apart with the 100 laps to go. Why did it fall apart last year and how do we make it right again? I think we achieved that tonight.”

His redemption came after a long wait, after a year that felt longer, after a day that crept into night.

“I felt ready to rock,” Newgarden said.

And so he did.

P.M. had turned into A.M., and it was time to go home. Finally.

“Thanks to the fans who stuck around,” Newgarden said. “We understand the ones that had to go home.

“The ones that were here, we hope they enjoyed the show.”

BEES 7, LOONS 3: Six-run 7th breaks it open

MIDLAND, Mich. — A six-run seventh inning propelled the Burlington Bees to a 7-3 win over the Great Lakes Loons in Saturday’s Class A Midwest League game.

Kevin Maitan had a two-run single in the inning as the Bees sent 11 hitters to the plate.

Jordyn Adams had three hits for the Bees, extending his hitting streak to six games. Adrian Rondon, in his first game with the Bees, had two hits.

Parker Joe Robinson (2-0) was the winning pitcher in relief. Greg Veliz picked up his first save.

Stephen Kolek (6-6) took the loss.

The Bees are 3-1 on the road trip against teams from the Eastern Division.

BEES 7, LUGNUTS 2: Yan, Adams have big nights

LANSING, Mich. — Hector Yan allowed two hits over seven innings, and Jordyn Adams had three hits and drove in two runs in the Burlington Bees’ 7-2 win over the Lansing Lugnuts on Friday night.

The Bees (51-46 overall, 12-15 second half) won two out of three from the Lugnuts to start a six-game road trip against the Midwest League’s Eastern Division.

Yan (4-3) struck out seven and walked one. He allowed one unearned run.

Adams, hitting at the top of the order, doubled to drive in one run and hit a solo home run in the fifth inning. Adams has a five-game hitting streak, hitting .417 in the current stretch.

The Bees scored four runs in the third inning, then added single runs in the fifth, sixth and ninth innings.

Kevin Maitan, Spencer Griffin and Nonie Williams each had two hits for the Bees. Griffin drove in two runs.

Fitz Stadler (2-6) was the losing pitcher.

The Bees begin a three-game series with the Great Lakes Loons on Saturday.

IOWA 300 PREVIEW: Penskes are 1-2-3, but only one is smiling

Photo: Will Power speaks during the media session after Friday’s qualifying.

By John Bohnenkamp

NEWTON — The Team Penske drivers qualified 1-2-3 for Saturday’s Iowa 300 IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway.

The pole winner, Simon Pagenaud, was happy.

Will Power, on the outside of the front row, was not.

“Is it any surprise?” Power said with a bemused look. “It’s just this season.”

Neither was Josef Newgarden, starting third.

“We’re third,” Newgarden said. “It wasn’t good enough.”

The Penske cars have always been fast on this .875-mile oval, but actually winning a race here has been difficult. Helio Castroneves won in 2017, and that’s it for the team. Newgarden won in 2016, but that was with Ed Carpenter Racing.

This was the eighth pole for a Penske driver in the 13-year history of this event, but it guarantees nothing. Power has five of those poles, and his average finish in those races is 8.4. The average finish of a Penske pole winner here is 7.6.

“I’m not big into stats, so…,” Newgarden said.

So there’s that.

Pagenaud’s smile was uneasy. His average speed was 180.073 miles per hour, almost a half-mile an hour ahead of Power, but this track that gets bumpier by the year nearly nipped him.

“This joint is intense,” he said. “Still shaking.”

The Penske cars were 1-2-3 in the morning practice — that order went Newgarden-Pagenaud-Power — so what happened later in the afternoon during Friday’s qualifying wasn’t a surprise.

Power even admitted through not the best of moods that it wasn’t a bad day.

“It actually was pretty good,” he said. “The car was pretty good. Actually, all three cars were pretty good. Just a very little amount I missed out by.”

The Penskes all need something good this weekend.

Newgarden leads the series with 434 points, four points ahead of second-place driver Alexander Rossi and third-place driver Pagenaud.

Pagenaud has surged into contention since May, when he swept at Indianapolis, winning the Grand Prix and then the 500. He’s coming off a win last week at Toronto, and a good Saturday night here makes this an even more interesting championship race.

“I won Indy,” Pagenaud said. “So you can’t be disappointed with anything. You can’t complain about anything. Just keep going. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re refreshed, ready to go.”

Power has just three podium finishes this season — a third-place finish in the series opener at St. Petersburg, a third-place finish in the second race at Detroit, and a second-place run at Road America. But he hasn’t won in the last 13 races.

Someone asked him what it’s like to be on a run like Pagenaud is doing right now.

“I haven’t been on a roll like that in a long time,” Power said. “It’s felt amazing when things go your way. I don’t know how you get it.”

He looked toward the ceiling in some search for spiritual intervention.

“If you’re listening, please, just give me a chance,” Power said, raising his hand above.

Then he smiled, his best mood on the dais.

This track seems to be good to Power on qualifying day before stinging him after the green flag falls on race day. He has just one top-three finish, three top-fives, and six top-10s in 10 races.

“I enjoy this place,” Power insisted. “I do. I’ve been trying to win here for a long time. I would love to win a race here.”

He will be on the front row, although it doesn’t take long to catch the back of the field.

“You’re in lapped traffic all of the time,” Power said. “You have to be good at getting through traffic.”

And that’s how you win here. Saturday will be hot, the track will be slippery. Tire degradation was a popular topic all throughout Friday, and it will make a difference in the 300 laps of the race.

“Good cars go forward, bad cars go back,” Power said.

Pagenaud has never won here. He has led all of the 13 laps in seven starts, and he’s finished in the top five only twice.

“It’s a tough track,” he said. “Tough track.

“I love Iowa. It’s a bullring.”

Newgarden and Power came to the media center first. Power was quickly moving toward the door as the question-and-answer session concluded.

“I rest my case,” he said to Newgarden, who was right behind him.

The two drivers, and their teammate, were fastest on Friday.

Being fast on Saturday will be about who makes their case the best.

LUGNUTS 5, BEES 4: Late rally isn’t good enough

LANSING, Mich. — The Lansing Lugnuts got to Burlington Bees starter Dylan King early, then had to hold on late for a 5-4 win in Thursday’s Class A Midwest League game at Cooley Law School Stadium.

The Lugnuts scored all of their runs in the first three innings off King (0-1).

Kyle Tyler held Lansing scoreless over the next six innings as the Bees tried to rally.

Burlington got three runs in the fourth. Spencer Griffin scored on a wild pitch. Francisco Del Valle scored on Justin Jones’ triple, then Jones scored on Connor Fitzsimons’ single.

Kevin Maitan’s solo home run got the Bees to within 5-4, but that would be the end of the scoring.

Will McAffer (3-3) was the winning pitcher. Cre Finfrock got the save.

The two teams conclude their three-game series on Friday night.

BEES 3, LUGNUTS 2: Fifth inning is all that’s needed

LANSING, Mich. — The Burlington Bees got all of their runs in the fifth inning for a 3-2 win over the Lansing Lugnuts in Wednesday’s Class A Midwest League game.

Spencer Griffin’s single drove in Tim Millard with the first run. Kevin Maitan scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 2. Francisco Del Valle’s ground out scored Griffin with the go-ahead run.

Ed Del Rosario (2-1) was the winning pitcher in relief of Luis Alvarado. Del Rosario struck out three and allowed one hit in two innings. Parker Joe Robinson threw two shutout innings, then Luke Lind pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save of the season.

Sean Wymer (5-8) was the losing pitcher.

Griffin went 3-for-4. Maitan was 2-for-5.

ROAD TRIP PREVIEW: Bees at Lansing Lugnuts and Great Lakes Loons

Photo: Bees outfielder Francisco Del Valle is batting .318 in July. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees

A look at the Burlington Bees’ six-game road trip to play the Lansing Lugnuts and Great Lakes Loons.

SERIES FACTS

Game times: Bees vs. Lugnuts, 6:05 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. Bees vs. Loons, 6:05 p.m. Saturday, 1:05 p.m. Sunday, 11:05 a.m. Monday.

Where: At Cooley Law School Stadium, Lansing, Mich. At Dow Diamond, Midland, Mich.

Second-half records: Bees 10-14, Lugnuts 13-11, Great Lakes 13-11

Overall records: Bees 49-45, Lugnuts 45-48, Loons 56-35

Season series: First meeting

TEAM COMPARISONS

Last 10: Bees 6-4, Lugnuts 7-3, Loons 6-4

Home vs. road: Bees 18-23 on the road. Lugnuts 20-24 at home. Loons 26-18 home.

Run differential: Bees +1, Lugnuts —27, Loons +97

Extra innings: Bees 7-4, Lugnuts 2-2, Loons 4-3

One-run games: Bees 21-15, Lugnuts 13-9, Loons 15-11

WHAT TO WATCH

Great Lakes already has a playoff spot wrapped up — the Loons won the first-half title in the Eastern Division. Lansing is currently in the second playoff spot for the second half.

The Bees, who stumbled at the start of the second half are coming off a 6-3 homestand, winning two of the three three-game series in the set.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Three Bees are having their best months of the season. Infielder Justin Jones is batting .333 for the month. Infielder Alvaro Rubalcaba is batting .325 in July with a .963 OPS. Outfielder Francisco Del Valle is batting .318.

Starting pitcher Kyle Tyler is 2-0 with a 1.34 ERA on the road this season. Cole Duensing is 3-1 with a 3.73 ERA on the road.

Lansing outfielder Griffin Conine has a .319 batting average and a 1.035 OPS in July. Conine has four home runs. Catcher Gabriel Moreno is batting .300 for the month, while starting pitcher Sean Wymer is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA.

Great Lakes infielder Jacob Amaya is batting .347 with a 1.132 OPS for the month. Infielder Luke Heyer is batting .306 with a .912 OPS in July. Starting pitcher Jose Martinez is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA for the month.

— By John Bohnenkamp