Yes, it’s good to have the IZOD IndyCar Series back on track this weekend, as Saturday we’ll have the Firestone 550 on NBC Sports at 8pm ET (up against big NBA and NHL programming, yipes!). Texas is the first part of our oval triumvirate this month, and it’ll be really interesting to see how the new cars perform there after a rip-roaring Indy 500. With any luck, we can just focus on the racing stuff this weekend, which is, you know, fairly integral to the sport.
In any case, here are several story lines you’ll want to pay attention to for this weekend’s race:
Driver Dislike?: Dario Franchitti readily admits he isn’t a fan of this track. Oriol Servia had a special expletive for the track (or more likely, its president) on Twitter (but has since apologized). With the first return to a 1.5 mile oval since last year’s fateful Las Vegas event, there are some nervous folks out there, waiting to see how this race goes. The good news is, with the new car, the racing shouldn’t be as compact as in years past. With any luck, it will be a great Texas event in front of another good crowd.
Dario’s Comeback Continues?: Franchitti has really returned to form after a slow start to the season, and he’s won at Texas before. Since Penske and Ganassi have dominated victory lane at this track, he’ll have a very good shot to jump up even more in the standings. Will Power should also have a very strong car, and will look to silence some of the criticisms of his overall performance on ovals.
BHA Renaissance: Bryan Herta Autosport’s crew must feel like they’ve woken up from a bad dream. Since trading in their Lotus engine for one with a Honda badge, they’ve looked confident and extremely sharp out on course. Driver Alex Tagliani won the Texas pole last year, and the Honda engine should feel right at home on this track. If you’re looking for a small-team spoiler this week, don’t sleep on BHA.
|Can Tag make it two Texas poles in a row?|
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Changes: Tony Kanaan will be back in his green n’ yellow #11 GEICO/Mouser machine this week, while Katherine Legge will be running the #6 Dragon Racing car this week in lieu of Sebastien Bourdais (Seb will be back for Toronto). Helio Castroneves will be back with his AAA sponsorship in the #3 car, while Dario will be sporting Energizer on the sidepods. Josef Newgarden will be back in the dark blue and black scheme we saw Bryan Clauson run for the first half of May at Indy.
Contenders Or Also-Rans?: While there’s little doubt guys like Power, Dario, and Scott Dixon will be around at the end for the Championship battle, we’re still waiting to see if drivers such as James Hinchcliffe, Simon Pagenaud, and Ryan Hunter-Reay can manage the sort of consistently good finishes to hang around in the overall points battle. It doesn’t take many poor races to ruin a championship hunt, and any week can knock someone right out of contention. Starting the season hot is great; sustained, consistent performance is what wins championships.
(As a side note: how about Oriol Seriva in P10 in the standings, despite having a Lotus engine up until Indy? Just how high in the standings can he climb before the season’s over?)
Rookie Battle: Yep, it's time to starting looking at where our Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates are in the standings. Katherine Legge, by merit of now splitting her ride with Bourdais, is realistically out of the ROY battle, but Josef Newgarden, Rubens Barrichello, and Simon Pagenaud are all still in the hunt. As of now, Pags is having his way, leading Rubens by 59 points, and Josef by a whopping 84. The question is, can he sustain that lead through the ovals, or can one of the other two cut deeply into it by the time we reach Toronto?
Winner: Dario. The man is on a roll, and history shows this track is kind to his team.
Dark Horse: As much as I feel like picking Sato until he wins, let’s go with Tag and Co. getting the Barracuda car some glory this weekend. I also dig TK’s record at this track.
Have a great weekend, enjoy the race, and we’ll chat more on Monday.