First of all, a huge thank you to George Phillips over at Oil Pressure for the shout-out in his preview of this weekend's race. George's blog is one of the best and most insightful IndyCar blogs out there, and one of my personal favorites. Check out "Are Engine Failures Always a Bad Thing?" for an example of the high quality posts on the site.
Getting to the event at hand this weekend, the Iowa Corn Indy 250 will mark the fourth IZOD IndyCar Series event at the 7/8 mile Iowa Speedway. Chip Ganassi Racing's No. 10 Dallara-Honda has won the past two events, with Dan Wheldon taking the checkers in 2008 and Dario Franchitti last year. Points leader Franchitti, who also won the event in 2007, can use the weekend to open up a gap in points over second-place Will Power, whose only Iowa experience yielded a ninth-place finish. Meanwhile, teammate Scott Dixon has a solid average finish of 6.3 at the track with two top five finishes.
But Iowa has the potential to produce a surprise winner, even if it hasn't happened yet in the race's three-year history. In two races at the track, Hideki Mutoh has finishes of second and third place, respectively. His prowess at the track could lead to a bump for his Newman/Haas Racing team, as they are mired at 18th in points. But a strong finish for Mutoh, combined with some bad luck for his immediate leaders in points, could mathematically elevate him to as high as 12th.
While Ganassi usually takes the checkers, Andretti Autosport also knows its way around Iowa. Andretti cars finished 1-2 in 2007, had three drivers in the top six in 2008, and a best finish of third last year with Mutoh. Tony Kanaan led 48 laps last year before a crash took him out of the event, and Marco Andretti has challenged for the win at Iowa multiple times in the past. An Andretti car could feasibly end Ganassi's streak of wins at the track come Sunday.
It will also be interesting to see how a handful of drivers will approach the Iowa event this weekend. What will Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal do with their one-week reprieves to get back in the series? Hunter-Reay has sponsorship from the American ethanol industry once again, a partnership that paid dividends in the past, and Rahal will replace the injured Mike Conway at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Both drivers will want solid finishes to secure rides as early as possible for Watkins Glen.
How will Simona de Silvestro handle her first race after the Texas wreck? This has nothing to do with the fact that de Silvestro was cleared to drive just a couple of days after the incident. A bad crash like that can alter a driver's psyche, and make them less willing to engage in daring maneuvers on the track. If de Silvestro begins to fear another fiery wreck - as most of us would - she might be slow on this, one of the trickier tracks in the IZOD IndyCar Series. It will be interesting to see how she runs this weekend.
Finally, will there be a breakout rookie at Iowa? Mutoh sure was in 2008, finishing second, but more often than not, rookies populate the bottom of the results. Iowa's unconventional length and layout prove tricky for the series' less experienced drivers and veterans alike, but the added caveat of Iowa being the only short track on the schedule could cause plenty of headaches for inexperienced drivers who haven't handled the Dallaras on smaller tracks. Expect about half of this year's rookie class to tear up some equipment.