Sunday, May 2, 2021

Winners and Losers: Texas


It was certainly a weekend of ups and downs at Texas Motor Speedway. Between the weather, lack of qualifying and the PJ1 compound, among other things, drivers' fortunes, just like in Texas Hold Em', changed by the hand.

Who were the winners and losers at Texas? Read on to find out.


Scott Dixon. Dixon entered the weekend with four wins at TMS, and in dominating fashion he picked up his fifth (and the 51st of his career) on Saturday night. He dominated the first 2/3 on Saturday, leading 163 laps, but eventually settled in the P4 position at the finish. The season has quickly reached the quarter-pole, and he is again at the top of the championship standings. 

Pato O'Ward. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the 22-year-old Mexican would pick up his first win, and it came this afternoon in his 27th career race. O'Ward ran a brilliant race, being aggressive when he needed to be, and patient when he was told to be. This looks to be the first of a long line of success for O'Ward. It's been 69 years since Troy Ruttman became the youngest winner in Indy 500 history at 22 years, 80 days, and O'Ward, as well as Colton Herta, have a chance to eclipse that record four weeks from now.

Josef Newgarden. Newgarden didn't even make it to Turn 5 at Barber in the season opener, but has rebounded with two P2 finishes and a P6 on Saturday night. He's now fourth in points and back in the title hunt.

Scott McLaughlin. The second-fastest Kiwi on the planet had an impressive weekend in his first two oval races. While getting through the weekend with everything on his car intact would've been a great result, he went a step further, finishing just behind his idol on Saturday to pick up his first IndyCar podium, then finished P8 in Race 2. A tall task still awaits on May 30, but he's got to be heading to IMS with a ton of confidence.


Alexander Rossi. Rossi ran a solid race on Saturday night, moving up from his P16 starting spot to finish P8, but disaster struck quickly as he was taken out in the multi-car wreck at the start on Sunday. Rossi said afterwards while it seems like a repeat of last year, it's not because last year he didn't feel like he had a fast car last year but does this year. That may be the case and all, but as the great Rasheed Wallace used to say: "Ball don't lie!" Your results are your results, and Rossi is now 88 points down in the championship. Lots of points are out there this month, he has to go out and get as many as he can.

Sebastien Bourdais. Seb falls into the "Loser" category, although none of what happened to him was any of his doing. In Saturday's race he was punted into the fence by Newgarden, and Sunday he was hit from behind by Pietro Fittipaldi, which set off the huge wreck at the start of the race. He entered the weekend P7 in points while leading a huge AJ Foyt Racing resurgence, but headed home P14.

The Field. After the wreck at the drop of the green flag knocked out several cars, Rossi was confused as to why they didn't have qualifying Sunday when the track was dry and ready to go four hours before the race started. I was just as confused, and while the rule book spells out how qualifying on doubleheader weekends is supposed to go, as Indy Star writer Nathan Brown explains here, meaning if there is no qualifying it's set on entrant points, the fact is that there should be wiggle room, because if the opportunity (and time) are available to actually qualify the field, that should be what's done. Call it for the "integrity of the field" or whatever you want to call it, but every race should have a field that qualifies on speed whenever possible. I mean, if the two days of qualifying for the Indy 500 are rained out, do you really think they are going to start the race by owner points? No, they will use the available time to set the field on speed. Same case here.

Texas Motor Speedway. I'm still on my soapbox as I move to a new topic, because for the second year in a row, the PJ1 compound put into the corners to make the show better for NASCAR again affected the IndyCar race. I've heard lots of different takes on this, such as we should not go back to TMS or even that we should force a repave, but here's the deal: IndyCar is a guest there. NASCAR pays the bills and so the track will always be set up to their specifications. I think Eddie Gossage has been a partner with IndyCar, but what leverage does IndyCar have if they threaten to leave? I doubt IndyCar makes TMS a lot of money, so there is none. And as far as a repave (or change to the racing surface) goes, think of how grippy the cars would be, which means for the first couple of years there wouldn't be any passing anyway. One thing's for sure, if you want Texas to go back to being the way it was back in the day, you're living in the past. Those days are not coming back. But we also can't afford to keep racing like this at TMS, so someone has got to come up with a solution.

So here we go, kids, it's May! Four weeks from right now someone's life will have changed forever. Who's it going to be? It's going to be fun finding out.

Photo credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Three Things: Saturday at Texas

Just under three hours to go until the NTT IndyCar Series gets it on under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway. Here are three things I'm thinking about between now and then.

The Weather. It looks to be a pretty dreary day in the Metroplex, and rain has already affected the day's activities as qualifying was cancelled and the field set by owner points. That will lead to an interesting field heading to the green flag (more on that in a sec), and people who know what they are talking about when it comes to the weather are taking a cautious approach to whether or not we can get a full race in tonight. Will that change some strategies? Whatever happens, I think they are going to try and get the race in tonight because with the Month of May on the horizon, teams will want to be on their way home tomorrow night rather than stick around until Monday. And, those of us who remember the Iowa race in 2019 (and those like me who were there), the precedent has been set to run the race as late as possible.

Setting the Field. Thanks to Nathan Brown from the Indy Star for this list, but here's how they will be lining up tonight, and I think tomorrow as well.

1. Palou 2. Power 3. Dixon 4. Herta 5. Simon 6. Harvey 7. Bourdais 8. Veekay 9. Marcus 10. Josef 11. O'Ward 12. Sato 13. Rahal 14. Fittipaldi 15. McLaughlin 16. Rossi 17. Carpenter 18. Rosenqvist 19. Jones 20. Hinchcliffe 21. Hunter-Reay 22. Kellett 23. Kanaan 24. Daly

There is a lot of aggressive drivers in the middle to the back of the field, so that's where a lot of the action will be early. Kanaan led the way in practice, with Sato and O'Ward second and third, so keep an eye out for them. Daly always runs well at Texas, and Carlin has been giving him fast cars the last two years, so I expect a Top 10 from him tonight.

(Edit: Another wrinkle is that tomorrow's race will be set by entrant points after tonight's race. So a good finish tonight leads to a better start Sunday.)

Predictions. Between the weather and the starting field, tonight's race could be a crapshoot. But I'm going to pick Simon Pagenaud for the win. He has five Top 5 finishes at TMS and finished second here a year ago. I'm going with Dixon as the runner-up, because that's pretty much all he does, with O'Ward battling his way to the last step on the podium.

Have a great race!

Photo credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media