Friday, March 18, 2022

Three Things: Friday at Texas

After 985 miles and 13 1/2 hours on the road yesterday, I've made it to Texas!

It's great to be back at TMS. I was last here three years ago when I covered the race in 2019, and with the race running three months earlier than it did now, the weather is quite a bit different. It was pushing 100 degrees on race day then, but it will be about 20 degrees cooler when they take the green flag Sunday morning.

Yep, I said Sunday morning, as the flag will drop before noon local time. Like most of you, I wish it had stayed a night race, but after dealing with a long, cold Chicago winter, the opportunity to spend a day enjoying sunshine and 80 degrees is more than appealing.

Can you tell that I'm excited? I'm also pretty pumped that I will be meeting my friend, Scott, and introducing him to IndyCar. Scott and I went to high school together and played on the baseball team, and we reconnected on the socials about 10 years ago. But, I haven't seen him since our five-year class reunion, which was in...1992. Hopefully I bring a new recruit to IndyCar.

Anyway, what are a couple of storylines early into the weekend? Let's check out a couple (or three).

Jimmie Johnson -- After a year of driving just on road/street courses, JJ gets his oval baptism in an IndyCar on a track where he won seven times in Cup and has Victory Lane named after him. He's hoping for a career-best weekend in IndyCar, as he is eyeing a Top 10 finish. Whatever happens, this weekend gets him more oval experience as he builds up to his first Indianapolis 500.

PJ1 -- As a writer, I have a pretty decent vocabulary, which includes the ability to eloquently weave cuss words with the best of them. Still, PJ1 is a dirty word that I blush when I utter, as the "adhesive compound" has basically led to just one racing line in the corners. 

A 1 1/2-mile track at 210-215 mph means laps are being turned in the 23-24 second range, which really shortens up the straights. Meaning, there is little time to set up a pass. In order to make the racing better, there has to be at least one more lane for the drivers to navigate that doesn't turn into an ice rink when they get up there.

Marshall Pruett was on the track today and he posted a video where he said he TMS has recently dragged a metal grate over the compound, which has stripped off some of the compound and made the two lanes a little more equal.

IndyCar's next (and hopeful) solution is to send several drivers out prior to the post-qualifying practice session to try to rubber in some of those areas. Will it work? It remains to be seen, but if not, does it drive a wedge between the series and TMS?

If that happens, there will definitely be an impasse. IndyCar has been running at Texas since the facility opened in 1997, and they have long been a good partner, even in the dark days of the split. But if the racing -- and TV ratings -- are dull, where do we go from here? IndyCar's appeal comes in the excitement of its racing, and if that isn't there, maybe it's time to start conversations elsewhere. 

Who bounces back? -- While the Top 10 of the St. Pete race had a lot of familiar names, the second 10 had some surprising ones, including Pato O'Ward (12th), Helio Castroneves (14th), Simon Pagenaud (15th), Josef Newgarden (16th) and Alexander Rossi (20th). 

If you want to condend to win a championship, this series only allows a couple of mulligans, and these guys have all used one (or at least half of one). With the exception of Pagenaud and Rossi, the others have wins here, and Simon and Alex have run well here too, so everyone has some past success to draw on.

I think the person who needs to get it together this weekend is Rossi. In his last 17 races, he's finished 20th or worse six times and managed just one podium. In 2020 he had five podiums but finished ninth in points because he finished 20th or worse four times. 

What's going on? I'm sure Alex wants answers as well, and he has to find them soon. Not only to get his season back on track, but as a pending free agent he needs to start piling up some good results. Of course, everyone in the paddock knows he's one of the most talented drivers in the series, but ball don't lie, he's not getting it done. 

He needs to have a turnaround, and soon.

Did I miss anything? Do you have some thoughts? Follow me on Twitter at @15daysinmay and let's talk about it!

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