Place strategy

Marcus Ericsson retains IndyCar points lead with 6th place finish at Iowa Speedway

Marcus Ericsson left Iowa Speedway still atop the championship standings. Photo courtesy of Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment.

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NEWTON, Iowa — Marcus Ericsson’s saving grace for his IndyCar Series championship lead was when Josef Newgarden crashed during Sunday’s Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 at Iowa Speedway.

The Tennessee native was on his way to an eventual victory to sweep the weekend double over the 0.894 mile oval before a suspected rear suspension failure sent the four-time Iowa Speedway winner into the wall of the turn 4.

Newgarden led in points at the time of the accident but is now third in points, 34 behind Ericsson.

“I mean, we can only focus on ourselves,” Ericsson said at the post-race press conference. “Of course you don’t want someone to have a mechanical failure that puts you out of the race, but that’s part of the race, right? You must finish to get the points. [Newgarden] was very strong this weekend. I’m sure they’ll be very disappointed. But we’re not going to apologize. We will take the points offered.

Ericsson was racing in sixth place when Newgarden spun and finished there after Jimmie Johnson passed the 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner for fifth place on lap 292. Pato O’Ward led the final 66 laps of 300 on Sunday for win his second IndyCar race of the 2022 season.

Battling for position with a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was a refreshing change of pace for the Swede, who knew Johnson wouldn’t be a problem racing with his oval experience.

“It was really fun, you know I could tell [Johnson]is very experienced on these things because he always drove where I didn’t drive and he kind of had air on his wings,” Ericsson told TobyChristie.com. “It’s what he’s done his whole life driving ovals, so you can definitely tell when you’re driving him. I’m still learning on ovals, still trying, especially on short ovals. I think on the superspeedways, obviously, I’m doing pretty well this year.

“I think you know I wanted that top five and I was trying everything to get that top five. At the same time, I knew Jimmie wasn’t going to race me. I knew he was going to be fair. He is fair, especially being teammates and me leading the championship. I was trying everything to keep him behind, but in the end he was a bit faster than me there at the end.

Consistency has been Ericsson’s strength in the 2022 IndyCar Series season. Other than a mistake at Long Beach that robbed Ericsson of an almost certain podium finish and finished 12th at Barber Motorsports Park on an alternate strategy, Ericsson has finished in the top 10 in every race so far this season. Since Barber, Ericsson’s worst finish was eighth in Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway.

In 2021, Ericsson finished sixth in IndyCar points. At Saint Petersburg, Ericsson admitted ovals would be his main target for improvement, dropping many points there last season. That refocusing worked with a third-place finish at Texas in March, a two-point Indianapolis 500 points win and a double top 10 finish at Iowa Speedway. Ericsson believes the ability to race on short ovals is his main weakness.

“I think there’s still room for improvement,” Ericsson said. “I still feel like yesterday and today I started the race so strong and I’m waiting (and) working my way through the peloton, to the front. And then I struggled a bit both days keeping up the speed throughout the race. The balance is getting a bit off me. So maybe I need to be a bit more proactive with my feedback or the way I ‘m using my tools in the car and stuff like that. Still things you learn, you still learn in this sport. I’m really proud and happy with the progress I’ve made this year and that’s why we’re a competitor everywhere we go now.

The next race in the IndyCar series is the Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will air live on NBC on Saturday, July 30 at noon ET. Ericsson finished fourth in the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course in May.

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