FORT WORTH, TX – All the preliminary action is now through. We’ve had two NTT IndyCar Series practices followed by qualifying to set the 22 car field for Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 (8 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network) at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Here’s everything you need to know for the ninth race of the 2019 season.
TV – NBCSN
Radio – INDYCAR Radio Network (List of Stations Here)
Green Flag – 8:40 p.m. ET
Race – 9 of 17
Storylines To Watch
The annual NTT IndyCar Series stop to the Texas Motor Speedway is one that normally keeps Firestone on their toes. See, it’s a tough track for the tire manufacturer to figure out. The drivers and teams want some sort of tire deg in order to create separation around the 1.5-mile oval.
They don’t want a pack race anymore. So, in order to get cars spread out, you can’t allow the drivers to hold the throttle wide open. With a newly paved race track in recent years, in order to make drivers lift off the gas, is to take away downforce and make sure that the grip levels of the tires fall off as a run goes on as well.
Seems simple right?
Well, it’s not. You have to get it right as there’s not much margin for error in either direction. Not enough deg and you’re heading towards a pack race. Too much deg and you get a snoozefest the other way.
Plus, with Texas’ extreme temperatures in June, you get blistering on these tires. Think about it. High temperatures make the fresh asphalt grippy yet slippery too. With the Indy Car’s producing enough downforce to grip the track more than a lot of other series’ still, the tires get a lot of friction which causes….blistering.
So, Firestone came prepared this weekend. Last year, we saw blistering and they don’t want that to happen again. So, an updated tire was rolled out for Thursday night’s practice. Each team gets 14 sets of these tires. But, if they noticed blistering on the tires again, Firestone brought enough for teams to have 11 sets each of an “alternate tire” that could alleviate those problems.
The big problem though was that they never got enough data on Thursday to decide if they need to make a tire change. Rain interrupted the session twice, with the latter ending the practice 40 minutes early.
With Friday’s schedule not allowing for a night practice due to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, practicing the initial tire during the heat of the day will give false data in terms of tire wear because they will obviously wear much faster during the heat of the day than at night.
James Hinchcliffe practicing under the lights on Thursday night in Texas – INDYCAR Media Site
We already know about the potential for tire problems and a big reason for them was the heat. It’s hot in the south in June, especially Texas. This weekend is supposed to be a lot like last year where we saw temperatures exceeding the 90 degree mark even at the time of the green flag being displayed. Firestone hopes to have fixed their problems, but this is a tough track to land setups as a result for how much downforce to put into your car.
Setups For Downforce
Lets Segway into this. Team Penske has struggled in the past with finding the right amount of balance to race at Texas with. They typically qualify well here but they haven’t figured out how much or how little downforce to start with. See, with clean air up front, you want to go lighter on the downforce. By doing so, you have quicker lap times which makes you hard to catch and pass. The problem is, what happens if you have a mishap on pit road or even on track and fall outside of the top five?
Light downforce means a bad handling car in traffic. That’s why for seven straight years that the winner of this race has come from a starting spot outside of the top five including the last three being 13th, 9th and 7th respectively.
They go heavier on the downforce and can adjust as the race goes on.
Simon Pagenaud in his No. 22 Chevrolet leads Alexander Rossi in his No. 27 Honda in the 2018 Texas race – INDYCAR Media Site
Honda vs. Chevy
Chevrolet had the preferred package for last year’s race at Texas. Or so we thought. In the first superspeedway race of the new unified race car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Chevy drivers combined to lead nearly the entire race and take the top two finishing positions. But, the next race at Texas, Honda led 66-percent of the laps (162 of 248) and took eight of the top nine finishing positions.
Now, heading into this weekend, Chevy has just dominated at Indy for a second straight year. But, can they sustain that this weekend in Texas or will it be Honda dominating once again?
So far, it appears to be Honda led. They had the top three speeds in both practices run this weekend with taking seven of the top nine spots on the speed chart in the first practice and nine of the top 11 overall on Thursday night. On Friday, they had seven of the eight in final practice and 10 of the top 12 overall.
Then, in qualifying, Honda locked out the front 2 Rows and took nine of the top 12 starting spots.
Right now, Honda looks to have the advantage.
New Pit Road Speeds
The series is allowing for two different pit road speeds this weekend. When you hit pit road, it’s 60 mph. But, at pit exit, it’s 90 mph. That means you get to hit the pit road button on the steering wheel three times. The first time gets you to 60 mph. When you exit your stall and get past the first pit stall that is being used, you hit the pit limiter again and get to 90 mph. Then, at pit exit, you hit it a third time to deactivate it.
This could play a big factor in someone may forget to hit the button a second time when getting down pit road and exit 30 mph slower than others. Then, they’d have to hit it twice when heading back onto the track which could cost them precious time.
Takuma Sato leads Matheus Leist during practice on Thursday night – INDYCAR Media Site
Don’t Expect Many Cautions
Texas luckily hasn’t produced many crashes lately. In fact, we’ve seen five or fewer cautions in 10 of the last 11 years. With so few cautions this season, I don’t expect this trend to change on Saturday night either.
Passing For the Lead Will Be Difficult
We only saw nine lead changes in last year’s race at Texas. That was the worst since 2013 when we saw four. Unfortunately, last year’s racing package was a lot like the ones we saw in 2012 and 2013 to where it was such a spread out race. Prior to 2012, Texas was always that edge of your seat thrilling race. Then, Indy Car wanted to spread them out more which has successfully worked with the exception of a few years.
In 2017, we saw 23 lead changes. In 2018, it dipped by 14.
If you go back to Indy a couple of weeks ago, we only saw 29 lead changes, the worst since the DW12 came around in 2012. A majority of those 29 came via pit sequences.
Will we see anything different on Saturday?
Josef Newgarden practicing at the Texas Motor Speedway on Thursday night – INDYCAR Media Site
Texas Could Play A Big Factor In Points Standings
The top three in the NTT IndyCar Series points standings screwed up and let Scott Dixon back into the mix last Sunday afternoon in Belle Isle. See, the Team Penske duo of Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud to go along with Andretti Autosports’ Alexander Rossi had Dixon and everyone else pinned pretty far back.
Heading into that race, Newgarden had four top two finishes this season to go along with a top four in literally all but one race run in 2019. Pagenaud, had just swept the Month of May at Indy and six top 10 finishes in seven tries this season. Rossi, had three top two finishes, five top fives and six top 10’s himself this year.
On Sunday though – Pagenaud was involved in a first lap dust up and finished 17th. Newgarden and Rossi were a part of a three car crash that also collected James Hinchcliffe on Lap 32 leaving Newgarden with a 19th place result. Rossi, went from an almost certain podium to fifth.
Dixon meanwhile, won the race and made up 40 points on the lead. He went from 92 points down to 52 down. Yes, after the first Dual, Dixon was 92 points behind Newgarden.
That’s because he had a rough Month of May on the oval where he only finished 17th. That was a double points paying race. Pagenaud, Rossi and Newgarden finished 1-2-4 respectively in that race. Then, in the first race on Belle Isle, Dixon made a rare mistake and crashed while running third. He’d finish last in 22nd.
Newgarden, Rossi and Pagenaud finished 1-2-6 in that race.
The door was quickly closing on Dixon winning a second straight Indy Car title, something that he’s never done before. Now, it’s wide open. With that being said, will Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 (8 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network) shake up the standings even more?
I think this race will be tightly contested between the main contenders.
Dixon, is the defending race winner at Texas and has three wins (2008, 2015, 2018) and four runner-ups (2003, 2006, 2011, 2011 -duels) in his career on the 1.5-mile track. He also has 12 top six finishes in his last 19 starts.
Pagenaud, won the last superspeedway race obviously at Indy and is trending towards winning under the lights this weekend. The Frenchman finished fourth in this race in 2016, third in 2017 and second in 2018. A win now in 2019?
Rossi, is one of the most exhilarating drivers to watch on superspeedways as he is coming off of a runner-up finish to Pagenaud in Indy and was third at Texas last year.
Plus, Newgarden hasn’t fared real well at Texas in the past. He’s never finished in the top five before in seven career Texas starts. He’s also finished in the top 10 just once – an eight place run in 2013. He’s had a DNF in three of his last four starts at Texas.
See where the door is open?
But, can the others capitalize?
While Dixon has fared well in the past at Texas, he did struggle on a superspeedway in Indy too and has a DNF in four of his last seven Texas starts as well. Rossi’s third place run last year was his only top 10 in three Texas starts too.
So, will we see another crazy night to shake up the standings?
27 Rossi – It feels like this is his time to win. Rossi, finished runner-up in the Indy 500 and was third in this race last year. In practice this weekend, he was sixth and third respectively. Yes, he starts 11th, but remember that trend above?
9 Dixon – He was first and sixth respectively in practice. Dixon, also has three wins (2008, 2015, 2018) to go along with four runner-up finishes (2003, 2006, 2011, 2011). Furthermore, he has 12 top six finishes in his last 19 Texas tries. Need I say more?
30 Sato – This was the spot Sato finished at in Indy. He was second quickest in both practice sessions this weekend in his No. 30 Honda and has two straight top 10 finishes at Texas too. He starts from the pole.
15 Rahal – A dual top five for RLL? Yes! Rahal was third and seventh respectively in practice this weekend to go along with three straight top six finishes on the 1.5-mile track including a win in 2016.
5 Hinchcliffe – He has a good car and starts eighth on Saturday night. Hinchcliffe, also has two top four finishes in his last three Texas starts.