Andretti Autosport faces unusual uphill battle at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa -- Andretti Autosport has returned to its home away from home for the 10th annual Verizon IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway. But that home hasn’t been very welcoming this weekend.

In nine previous trips to the 0.894-mile oval, the Andretti team has reigned supreme, scoring seven victories, including the last six in a row. Following a qualifying session for today’s Iowa Corn 300 that saw none of its four drivers fare better than 15th fastest, however, owner Michael Andretti’s team has its work cut out.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has led the charge for Andretti in recent years, winning three of the last four Iowa races and finishing second in 2013. However, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion isn’t taking anything for granted following a rough start to the weekend.

Hunter-Reay spun off Turn 4 and backed his No. 28 DHL Honda into the SAFER Barrier during opening practice Saturday, then struggled to qualify 20th. The 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion acknowledged the difficulties ahead to bring Andretti Autosport a seventh consecutive win.

 “It's going to be incredibly tough,” Hunter-Reay said. “It's tough every year we come back.

“We were hoping for more in qualifying. The car just got loose on me out there, a big push, everything. I was doing everything I could to keep off the wall. It's something we just have to keep working hard at."

Marco AndrettiThings haven’t gone any better for teammate Marco Andretti, whose last series win came at Iowa in 2011. Andretti has four podium finishes in nine starts at the short oval but, like Hunter-Reay, spun off Turn 4 in morning practice (photo at right) and qualified 19th.

The 29-year-old touched on “adaptability” being the key for today's 300-lap race (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).

“I think just adapting,” Marco said. “As Ryan said, it's been a moving target and this year there are definitely some changes (to the track). Turn 1 is smoother and now, (Turns) 3 and 4, they have added some bumps there.”

Even though he won at Iowa from the 17th starting position five years ago, Andretti wasn’t optimistic about his chances this year in the No. 27 Snapple Honda.

“There are not many positives going for us right now,” Andretti said. “Obviously that’s going to be the goal, but we need a better car than what we have right now. We’re really struggling.”

Carlos Munoz, who finished fifth last year at Iowa, bested his teammates in qualifying by putting his No. 26 Honda 15th on the grid. Rookie Alexander Rossi had the 11th-fastest time in the morning practice, turning 125 laps to mileage out the engine he used to win the Indianapolis 500 in May, but will start the race 17th in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda.

Hunter-Reay has been no stranger at coming up through the field – he won from the 13th starting spot in 2014 – but his biggest test for three straight wins lies ahead going off from the next-to-last row today.

“It depends,” Hunter-Reay said when talking about the racing being similar to last year. “It’s going to be a different type of race.” 

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