Saturday, March 24, 2012

St. Pete -- And They're On It

You didn't think I would sit out the first race weekend of the year, did you? Yeah, I know, I'm a little behind, but with all of my fellow bloggers covering season previews and power rankings like a blanket, and me doing work stuff I figured I'd let them handle all of that and jump in when I could.

Which is now, just minutes after qualifying for St. Pete has concluded. Despite what the end result looks like -- Penske dominating with Will Power on pole and Ryan Briscoe in P2 -- it was a very interesting session. Here are a few thoughts on the Fast Six and beyond.

Will Power is the Roadmaster: Really, did we expect anything different? Power started on pole the first four races last year and got off to that same start in 2012. He's just better than anyone else on the twisties, 'nuff said.

Ryan Briscoe: Briscoe got behind the 8-ball last year by finishing 18th at St. Pete and 21st at Barber. This was exactly what he was looking for.

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Always fast, always underrated. See above, RHR didn't finish better than 14th in his first six races last year, then whipped off a win at New Hampshire, two other podiums and eight top-10s to close out the year. No doubt carrying that finish into 2012.

James Hinchcliffe: Was near the top of the speed chart in every session today and has quickly proven he was the right man for the job at Andretti Autosport. He will be a force very quickly in the series.

Helio Castroneves: Helio looked racy enough for a run at the pole before scraping the left side of the wall and damaging some suspension. Another guy that needed this badly, and he looks as revived as advertised so far.

Simon Pagenaud: The party crasher! Fast all day long and slugged it out with the big boys as the only Honda in the Fast Six. Despite knowing he was going to drop 10 spots due to an engine change, still drove hard in the final session. Respect.

Where were the red cars?: Target Chip Ganassi is doing some head scratching right now after failing to advance either car to the Fast Six. Scott Dixon, who missed the session by .0022 seconds, will start sixth after moving up one spot because of Pagenaud, while Dario Franchitti will start 10th.

Rubens watch: Rubens Barrichello just missed moving into the round of 12 by .03 seconds, so he will start 14th. Being realistic, a Top 10 tomorrow is a pretty solid goal.

Men in the middle: Marco Andretti starts eighth and Tony Kanaan ninth, while Franchitti (10th), Graham Rahal (11th), Mike Conway (12th), Barrichello and Justin Wilson (16th). That's some road-racing star power in the middle of the field, look for some hard driving and strategy as this crew tries to go to the front.

So tomorrow we go -- in the words of the great Dan Wheldon -- "GREEN!". Here's hoping for a
fast, clean, safe race. And hey, ladies and gentlemen, can we get through the first lap without hitting each other? Please?

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