Can Anyone Sweep The Weekend?
The doubleheader format started in the series in 2013 and only two times has someone swept both races in the same weekend. Scott Dixon did it in Toronto in 2013 and Graham Rahal here in 2017. Can anyone accomplish this feat this weekend?
The series has held 15 doubleheader weekends and to have only two the 15 being swept is telling. In fact, this format started with three races (Belle Isle, Toronto, Houston) in 2013, fell to Belle Isle and Houston in 2014 and just Belle Isle as the standalone from 2015 through 2019. Last year due to COVID, we had it in Road America, Iowa, World Wide Technology Raceway, Mid-Ohio and on the IMS road course. This year we’re back to Belle Isle again.
The odds are low though of a sweep. So, what makes sweeping the race weekend so difficult?
“Yeah, I mean, I think it’s probably less likely,” Rahal said of a sweep this weekend. “The depth of the field is incredible right now. It’s very hard for somebody to get an advantage. That weekend, we were first or second in every single practice, every single qualifying, then obviously swept the race. To do that again, I think it’s a big challenge.
“It was a big challenge then, but I think you look top to bottom at the quality of the field now, there’s not really many guys that are going to go miss, you know what I mean? There’s going to be different opportunities.
“Plus, Detroit, what I got very fortunate with there was we started up front with both those races. There was nothing abnormal. There was the red flag with two to go in the one race. The races were pretty green. I think in one we were able to get to a 30-second lead or something. There was nothing that really strategy-wise could have hurt me, no closed pits under yellow, none of that sort of stuff. It kind of stayed.
“That’s traditionally not Detroit. There’s a lot of alternate strategies that play a role. All it takes is you get one slow guy in the midfield that backs everybody up so much that all of a sudden an alternate strategy, a two stop or something like that, or a three stop I should say, can suddenly work.
“I think it’s harder to do today. I feel like it would be harder to see somebody sweep now.”
Will The 2 Races Look Similar?
With having just one time in seven years of this race being a doubleheader format seeing someone sweep both races in the same weekend, you have to wonder if both races will look similar then. I mean, two races with the same distances separated by 22 hours without any practice in between should make them similar right?
Well, they’ve not looked the same either time. Usually, due to the teams and drivers not wanting to create too much of a rebuild of the car overnight, they’re typically more conservative in the first race than in the second. It’s the second race to where the aggression typically picks up a little more which in turn creates more mayhem.
Just look at the seven years we’ve been doing this at Belle Isle. Four of the seven we’ve had just one driver in those years finish on the podium both days. The three years it didn’t happen was 2015, 2016 and 2019. That’s three in the last five tries we had a different podium each day.
Then, if you go a little further back to the top five, we’ve had at least eight different drivers score a top five over the course of the doubleheader weekend in all seven years. In fact, twice we’ve had just one driver score a top five in both races and once (2016) had a different top five for both races.
Odds and trends are showing that we may have different podium finishers each day and just 1-2 drivers that finished in the top five on Saturday will do so on Sunday.
Can Penske Get A Win?
Parity is at a big high in the NTT IndyCar Series right now. We’ve had six races, six different winners from five different teams. The wild thing is, none of those six are from Team Penske. They’re 0-for-6. If you go back to the end of 2020, we’ve had eight races with eight different winners. Penske did win the final three races last year with Josef Newgarden (twice) and Will Power.
Can they find victory lane this weekend in Penske’s home race?
Newgarden, won Race 1 of the last doubleheader weekend there in 2019. But, if you go back to the 2015 season, only him and Will Power (Race 2 of 2016) are the only two victors for Penske in the last 10 races.
Can you imagine getting halfway through the season at the checkered flag on Sunday and Penske being winless?
The talk after Indy is always back to the championship. See, Indy being so early in the season, it’s hard to think championship right off the bat. You just want to get the start of your campaign going, then you turn your focus on the Indy 500. But, with how the series is hosting only 17 races now, by time you leave Indy and head to Belle Isle, you can’t help but to panic about points.
See, with two races now this weekend, we’re officially halfway. These will mark the seventh and eighth events run of 2021. There’s only nine races left leaving here.
Plus, with having a big points month in May with a doubleheader at Texas, the Indy GP, qualifying points for the ‘500 and double points for the Indy 500 itself and now you get two more races this weekend, this stretch can really make or break your championship run.
Is This The Spot Rahal/Rossi/Hunter-Reay Can End Winless Droughts?
Graham Rahal is riding a 63 race winless streak coming into this weekend. He’s not won since sweeping both races here in 2017. Ryan Hunter-Reay is riding a 37 race winless streak that spans to the start of the 2019 season. He’s won just once since his win here in 2018. Alexander Rossi is riding a 27 race winless drought. He’s never won at Belle Isle, but he’s most certainly been close.
Is this the weekend that any of these three can end their streaks?
Rahal has five top seven finishes in his last six Belle Isle tries. He’s had a top seven in three of six races run in 2021 too.
Hunter-Reay was second and first respectively in 2018 and fifth and fourth in 2019. He could use some momentum and this track could be it.
Rossi, could too. He ended 2020 with four podiums in the final five races but has opened 2021 without any in six tries. He does have three top fives in his last four starts in Belle Isle too.