...and here are a few things we have learned.
*Josef Newgarden is fast. I know, I know, he's had some towing help while posting the fastest time on two of the three days, but the fact is he is still running solid times when he is out there by himself. A 10-mile run (or several) against the clock and the pressure of race day are different animals than running laps on a Monday afternoon, but it's obvious Josef knows what he is doing and if he continues to keep his nose clean he is setting himself up for a great month. If anything, let's hope that a solid performance gets the Dollar General folks on board for a while longer. Their livery on a Sarah Fisher car just looks so sharp, doesn't it?
*The tow is pretty strong. Newgarden's 222.486 was with a bit of help, because the top times without a tow are in the 219 range. Jake Query reported that Tony Kanaan had the fast non-tow lap of the day at 219.703, followed by Scott Dixon (219.214), James Hinchcliffe (218.780), Newgarden (218.679) and Takuma Sato (218.630). Newgarden and Marco Andretti (third quick today with a help-from-a-friend 221.519) both commented that there was a nice draft out there and that should lead to a lot of passing on race day.
*Youth reigned the first two days. Newgarden, Sebastian Saavedra and Bryan Clauson all have done very well in their first trip to the Speedway in the new DW12. Newgarden and Saavedra are perfect examples of the success of IndyCar's developmental programs, while Clauson is doing all he can to prove that guys can still get to the high levels of open wheel racing from the USAC ranks.
*Still, Newgarden said it best. Right now it's all "smoke and mirrors". Taking away nothing from anybody, pretty much every team in the garage area is working on a different strategy since barring any last minute changes everyone is making the field. Justin Wilson, who turned close to 75 laps Monday, commented they did a few full tank runs, while I believe I saw Hinchcliffe do a qualifying simulation (six laps, four at speed) right out of the box at noon. It will be later in the week before people start showing their cards for Pole Day, and I expect a lot of action on Fast Friday, especially the last hour of practice.
*Honda? Chevy? Honda? Chevy? Right now it looks like a near dead heat between the two manufacturers, and while I didn't like the bitching that led us to this point, I do like the result. I'm sure the Chevy folks are still a bit sore about losing two rounds of their protest of Honda's larger turbocharger, but at least it gives us a lot to talk about and should make for a good show the rest of the month.
*Looking ahead, Saturday might be 2010 all over again. It is supposed to be hot (high of 86) and sunny on Saturday, which makes you think back two years ago where everyone had a heckuva time on Pole Day. Helio Castroneves pulled off two of the most epic runs I've ever seen in the heat of the day to get the pole, but everyone top to bottom had to do some real work. It will be interesting to see what effect the extra boost will have on the cars in the hot weather. But at least there isn't any rain in the forecast this week so everyone will get the maximum practice time.
*My respect for Jean Alesi is growing by the day. In the end, he may get the green and black flags at the same time to start the race as the (s)Lotus is showing us nothing except that the program may be pushing up daisies after the month is over, but I will give Alesi and his team credit for giving it an incredible effort. He finally cracked the 210 mph barrier Monday and they were consistently running in the 210-211 range as the track cooled down at the end of the day. They still have a lot of time left to salvage something out of the month. If you want some good reading, check out Lotus Fan Force United's blog that is chronicling their efforts. I've also read many accounts that Alesi is enjoying his Indy experience despite the pressure of his team's search for speed, as he has been very fan friendly and engaging.
*Meanwhile, there is still engine drama. Simona De Silvestro is dragging a piano behind her car, stuck in the 202-203 mph range as her HVM team just cannot find anything. Meanwhile, there has been some rustling around the Dragon Racing garages Monday night as a car (sans engine) was rolled into their stall. Is their deal with Chevy set?
*Finally, one interesting stat. If you remember back to the season opener at St. Petersburg, Simon Pagenaud was the first driver to suffer a 10-grid penalty when they had to swap out his Honda prior to the race. Since then, Pagenaud used the same engine for that race and the next three race weekends, putting a total of 2,032 miles on that powerplant to become the first Honda to accomplish that feat. Thanks to Marshall Pruett at SpeedTV.com for that little tidbit.
Wow, all of this (and much more) going on, and it's only Monday? Really can't wait to see what the rest of the week brings!