As for Andretti, his drive at Barber aside (so many passes before his tires fell off on the final stint, and dropped to 11th), it's been a diabolically frustrating season. In eight races without a top-10 finish, he also has yet to outqualify James Hinchcliffe, and has only outqualified Ryan Hunter-Reay once.
Granted, there's still been five top-10 starts from eight races, but in all but one of those, it's been behind both his teammates. It seems the “H” pair are able to extract just that little bit more out of their cars in qualifying crunch time, and in this field, that can make all the difference to ultimate starting positions.
Come the races, Andretti has been left scrambling or needing to go off strategy to make the necessary position gains. Outside of Indianapolis, there hasn't been one race where Andretti has figured into the lead equation – and even then, he was vocal on the radio about his car's handling. Consecutive struggles at Texas and Milwaukee have seen him mired back in 17th and 15th by the flag, respectively. The latter had to hurt given in his father and team owner's promoted race, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe were first and third.
Sato and Andretti enter Iowa 17th and 18th in the standings, and need a run similar to Hunter-Reay's ridiculous summer stretch last year. The American stood just 20th in points after Milwaukee, with only one top-10 result, but then ripped off a string of seven straight top-10 finishes including a win at Loudon and two other podiums to climb to seventh in points. There is hope for these two, if they can capture that level of performance and sustain it through an entire race.
Marco, too, has opted to shave his facial hair before this race. After three straight difficult events, Hunter-Reay shaved his in advance of Milwaukee…
CAR SWITCH FOR CARPENTER – Outside the spotlight, Ed Carpenter's year, his first with his own, new team, has quietly overachieved the last several races in making the best of circumstances. Carpenter wrote off his oval chassis in his Indianapolis qualifying crash, which made it where he then had to utilize his road course chassis the next four races – three of which were on ovals.
This weekend at Iowa, the ECR Indy squad has re-assembled the oval chassis, which should be thrust into race action for the first time this year. Running with a road course chassis at both Texas and Milwaukee, where Carpenter has recorded 12th- and eighth-place finishes, respectively, are solid results. Carpenter could have finished even better at Texas, where he rose to second at one stage, as well as Indianapolis and Brazil this year. He's been running at the finish in every race this season.
“We'll bring out our oval chassis for Iowa, as the team has worked overtime to get the crashed car ready to go,” Carpenter said. “It has been a non-stop project to get the oval car ready despite racing each week with the road course car. That poor car has to be pretty tired. So we are excited to bring a new car to Iowa and see how it does.”
OTHER TIDBITS – Both Scott Dixon and JR Hildebrand had particularly strong drives at Iowa a year ago. Dixon drove from 23rd to third, while Hildebrand started and finished fourth. If Indianapolis represented Hildebrand's most meteoric moment of 2011, Iowa was all-around his strongest weekend of his rookie campaign.
Freed from the shackles of their Lotus engines, Oriol Servia (17th to 10th) and Alex Tagliani (26th to 19th) each have three top-10 finishes in their four starts with new powerplants, and have made sizable gains in the standings. Servia has passed 89 cars this season from his starting positions to his finishing one.
To be fair, Simona de Silvestro is at least closer to the pace in the sole remaining Lotus, and if she can survive Iowa unscathed (she failed to start a year ago with lingering effects from a Milwaukee qualifying crash), she could surprise in the following road and street course races. Driver and team have the ability to do so.
The Iowa Corn Indy 250 race coverage begins at 9 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, preceded by "IndyCar 36" at 7:30 p.m. ET and delayed coverage of the heat races at 8 p.m. ET.