Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete race preview

Who’s Going To Win Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete

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Josef Newgarden

He didn’t used to be good at this race but his victory last year changed the course. In his first seven St. Pete starts, Newgarden had just three top 10 finishes but none of which inside of the top five. Last year, he goes out and leads 60 laps en route to a victory.

Will Power

He’s always starting up front which is good since nine of the last 11 winners of this race have come from a top five starting position. Power, has started no worse than fourth since 2010. But, in that time frame, he has just one victory though. Power, did finish third last year, so you can’t count him out.

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud is a great fantasy play for this weekend. He’s had six top 10 finishes in eight St. Pete tries to go along with 15 top 10 finishes in 17 tries last year. But, Pagenaud has never won this race before. He does have four top five finishes, two of which being runner-ups (2016, 2017) in his last six starts. He was 13th in 2018 and seventh last year. If that trend continues, he will win on Sunday.

Alexander Rossi

While he started off slow in St. Pete, he’s been quick the last two years. Rossi, finished third in 2018 and fifth last year. Also, he’s been great on another street course in Long Beach in each of the last two years as well.

JB1_4551Josef Newgarden leads Scott Dixon during last year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete – INDYCAR Media Site

Sleepers

Felix Rosenqvist

The second year driver qualified third, led 31 laps and finished fourth in last year’s race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

He has three top five finishes in his last four St. Pete tries and five top seven’s in his No. 28 Honda in his last six tries.

Colton Herta

The young phenom finished eighth in this race last year.

Santino Ferrucci

He finished ninth last year but driving a car that’s won twice on this street circuit too with Sebsatien Bourdais.

Marco Andretti

He may have finished 13th last year, but Marco has two top 10 finishes in his last three St. Pete starts to go along with four top 10’s over the last five starts on the Florida road course.

Jack Harvey

He started seventh and finished 10th last year. I expect even bigger things out of them now that he has Andretti power.

Be Wary

Scott Dixon

Dixon, does have two podiums in his last three tries including a third place run in 2017 and runner-up last year. That was his fourth runner-up (2006, 2007, 2012, 2019) but that and a third place finish in 2017 are his only podiums. Also, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has failed to lead a lap in 12 of those 15 starts and hasn’t led a lap since 2013. CGR hasn’t had much success in St. Pete anyways with just one victory in the history of this race (2011).

Race Preview

13 races down, 1 left to go. The original spot for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season opener is now serving as the season finale for Sunday’s rescheduled Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). We’re returning to the exact same spot that put the entire landscape of the 2020 season in shambles.

Back in March, the INDYCAR traveling circus traveled south to the Sunshine State with eager anticipation of another season ahead of them. Unfortunately, they were met with one of the biggest life altering moments of everyone’s entire lives – a pandemic.

A day before we were supposed to light the wick on this candle and start practice for the first time of the year, the world came to a screeching halt. Instead of practicing on Friday, a teleconfernce ensued that the 2020 season would be put on hold. The world was being tasked with so much uncertainty.

Just over seven months later, we return – this time to wrap up what will certainly go down as one of the weirdest seasons to date. But, with a huge credit to Roger Penske, Mark Miles, Jay Frye and the entire team at INDYCAR, we’ve made it. The end of the season is here and we will crown a champion on Sunday afternoon on the west coast, just not of the United States in California like initially scheduled, but the west coast of Florida instead.

St. Pete stayed after it. They never gave up. When literally every other street course race fell off the schedule in 2020 due to the uncertain nature, St. Pete stayed. So, for the first time all season, we will run on a street circuit.

This year though, no double points are on the line, so the championship is down to two driver – Scott Dixon vs. Josef Newgarden. 32 points separate the duo. That’s the exact amount of points Newgarden made up on Dixon in the first race of the last race weekend earlier this month on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Newgarden, scored max points by a front row starting spot, leading the most laps and winning the race. Dixon, finished ninth that day.

Now, if that exact same situation played out on Sunday, and it can, a tie would ensue. But, the tiebreaker goes to Dixon with a 2-1 advantage in second place finishes. They’d both would have tied with four wins apiece, meaning we’d go to the second tiebreaker which is runner-up finishes. All Dixon has to do this weekend is to finish ninth or better and a sixth series title is his.

The thing is though, Dixon has finished eighth or worse in each of his last four starts. He’s 0-for-15 at St. Pete.

Meanwhile, Newgarden won this race last year and has made up 85 points on Dixon over the last five races run. All the momentum is on Newgarden’s side. All the pressure is on Dixon.

Still, they don’t call him the Ice Man for nothing.

The stats below favor Newgarden, but Dixon can just maintain and have an uneventful day and just back his way into another Astor Cup.

Top Stats

Want to win on Sunday, you better be on top of your game on Saturday. Nine of the past 11 Grand Prix of St. Pete winners have been won from the Firestone Fast Six. 11 of the last 14 have been won from a top 10 starting spot.

The weird stat about this though, just once has this race been won from the pole (2007).

34 of the last 36 Indy Car races have been won from a driver starting in the top 4 Rows. Furthermore, 30 of the last 32 have been won from a top eight starting spot. 11 of the last 15 have been won from a top three starting spot including the last six.

Power The Pole King

Will Power has now won eight poles in St. Pete since 2010. Furthermore, Power has qualified on the front row in five straight years and nine of the last 10. His worst qualifying effort since then was a fourth in 2014, a race he coincidentally won.

In terms of a race win, the last five winners in the series have come from the front row including seven of the last eight from a top three starting spot.

Few Cautions

Don’t expect more than a couple of cautions on Sunday. We saw only two of them a year ago and in three of the last four. The only exception was eight yellows in 2018. Three of the last four races on the season have went start to finish without a yellow.

Penske Power

Heading into last year’s season opener in St. Pete, Penske was searching to regain their street course magic. It was their lone spot that they’ve had a weakness. Going into 2019, Penske had just one victory in their last 10 street course tries. Last year, they won three of the five races on street courses including this very race last March.

Now, we head to the season finale which also is the first and only street race of the 2020 season too.

Prior to 2016, Team Penske was the most dominant organization at St. Pete though. From 2006 through 2015, Penske had won eight races in an 11 year span. They’ve won four of the last six overall with a race record nine trips to victory lane.

Big Names Without St. Pete Wins

It’s hard to believe that Scott Dixon hasn’t won at St. Pete before. He’s made 15 starts now on the street circuit but has never celebrated in victory lane.

Dixon, does have two podiums in his last three tries including a third place run in 2017 and runner-up last year. That was his fourth runner-up (2006, 2007, 2012, 2019) but that and a third place finish in 2017 are his only podiums. Also, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has failed to lead a lap in 12 of those 15 starts and hasn’t led a lap since 2013. CGR hasn’t had much success in St. Pete anyways with just one victory in the history of this race (2011).

He doesn’t need to win on Sunday but a solid outing would make give him a championship.

Ryan Hunter-Reay also hasn’t won either. He does have three top five finishes in his last four St. Pete tries and five top seven’s in his No. 28 Honda in his last six tries.

His teammate Alexander Rossi has only made four starts and even finished third in 2018 and fifth last year, but was 12th and 11th the two seasons before. Andretti as a whole has just two trips to victory lane (2005, 2013).

Simon Pagenaud has eight starts and two runner-ups (2016, 2017) and two fifth place finishes (2014, 2015) but no wins including a 13th place finish and seventh place run in each of the last two years.

Would you take a repeat winner or these four to win on Sunday?

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