Saturday, April 1, 2023

PPG 375 Preview

 After a four-week break, we're back racing!

No April Fool's here, as IndyCar is back at Texas Motor Speedway today for Sunday's PPG 375. The first practice just finished, and I'll have some more content as the weekend goes on, both here and on Frontstretch, who I am working with this weekend.

Click here to read my Frontstretch article, where I talk about IndyCar's history at TMS.

Here are a few drivers and teams I am keeping my eye on this weekend:

Scott Dixon. The 42-year-old Kiwi is the winningest IndyCar driver at Texas with five victories, and has won three of the last six races there. While Dixon is a perennial contender for the IndyCar championship, a win at Texas has usually been a harbinger of things to come, as he has won at TMS and gone on to win the championship on four occasions.

Josef Newgarden. Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden had 10 oval wins, and since 2019 he has notched two wins and four total podiums at Texas. In 2022, Newgarden only led three laps, but led the one that counted as he squeaked by teammate Scott McLauglin at the stripe to pick up the first of his season-leading five victories. After finishing a disappointing 17th at St. Pete earlier this month, he needs a bounce-back performance to get back into the title fight.

Andretti Autosport. Between its four entries, Andretti destroyed a lot of equipment at St. Pete in what was a disappointing weekend. But sometimes the result and the execution are two different things, as the team was fast off of the truck and swept the front row with Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta. Herta, who turns 23 on Thursday, is seeking his first oval win, as so far his seven IndyCar wins have come on road and street courses.

Arrow McLaren. Pato O’Ward won here in 2021, Felix Rosenqvist nearly won the race in 2020 and sat on pole last year, and Alexander Rossi has two podiums to his credit at TMS. In other words, don’t be too surprised to see the papaya triumvirate at or near the front on race day. O’Ward, who finished second at St. Pete, is on a bit of an oval hot streak. After a mid-race penalty at Texas put him a lap down and led to a 15th-place finish at TMS a year ago, he finished second at Indianapolis, had a win and a runner-up finish at Iowa, then was fourth at Gateway.

The Rookies. Between simulator work and time given for testing last week, first-year drivers have a feel for TMS, but for all three rookies this year, next Sunday will mark the first large-oval race of their careers, if not their first oval ever. While Sting Ray Robb had a start at Iowa in IndyNXT last season, for Benjamin Pedersen and Agustin Canapino, this will be the first times in their lives that they have only turned left in a race. While getting an oval race in is a good thing with the Indianapolis 500 looming on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how they fare against such a talented and experienced feel.

IndyCar is on a condensed schedule next weekend, with practice, qualifying and final warmup all happening on Saturday, with the race scheduled to start just after 11 a.m. CDT Sunday.

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