NEWTON, Iowa – Behind the dominating performance of Josef Newgarden in the Iowa Corn 300 came another quietly strong showing, as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports managed to get both of its cars to finish in the top 10.
Mikhail Aleshin started ninth and finished fifth in Sunday’s 300-lap race – both the top weekend efforts by a Honda-powered driver. James Hinchcliffe struggled in Saturday qualifying, starting last in the 22-car field Sunday, but advanced more positions through the race than anyone to finish ninth.
Aleshin, in the No. 7 SMP Racing Honda, ran consistently inside the top 10 virtually the entire day. The key for the 29-year-old Russian was staying on the lead lap heading into the final two pit stop sequences on the 0.894-mile oval, as Newgarden at one point early had lapped every car but second place.
Well-timed yellow flags later in the race kept Aleshin from going back down a lap and he managed to score his first top-five finish since the season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“I think today was a pretty decent race,” said Aleshin. “We were able to overtake people and the car was pretty good the whole race. The team did a really good job to bring me a great race.
“We’ve had a good car on the ovals the whole season, we just need to keep in good contention.”
Aleshin was also pleased to have a good result at a track where crashed out in 21st place in his only previous appearance.
“I feel good to finish the race,” he said. “I didn’t finish in 2014 due to my mistake, but this time it was good and this time we were in it and we ran pretty good.”
Hinchcliffe, meanwhile, started last when the team missed the setup in qualifying. He picked up three positions on the first lap but was unable to pass any other cars over the course of the first stint and fell a lap down to Newgarden.
After his first pit stop on Lap 59, the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda came to life. Following the second round of stops under yellow, Hinch’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew helped move him up to 14th, though still a lap down.
He worked his way into the top 10 by the time the yellow waved again on Lap 179 for Juan Pablo Montoya’s engine problem, and unlapped himself during the caution period. While he would eventually be lapped again by Newgarden, the 29-year-old Canadian held steady to bring home his fifth top-10 finish of the season and first since placing seventh at the Indianapolis 500.
“After qualifying, we put our heads down and knew we had a pretty quick car,” Hinchcliffe said. “For us to come from 22nd up to a top 10 without a yellow or any lucky breaks, just by staying out of trouble and having a good fast race car, good pit stops and just working our way up, … it was just on pace.
“There weren't a lot of cautions or a lot of guys going out today, so we kind of just had to race our way up there. Big credit to the No. 5 crew and everybody on the Arrow Electronics team. The car was good all weekend, other than that issue with qualifying obviously, so it sucked to start back there, but to be able to work our way back up showed the strength that we have. Obviously congrats to Mikhail with his top five, it was a great day for the SPM team."
The Verizon IndyCar Series heads this weekend to the Honda Indy Toronto, the home race for the popular Hinchcliffe. Practice begins Friday, with qualifying airing live at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the race live at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on CNBC.