INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: Saturday’s Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, INDYCAR Radio Network) race preview/favorites

TRACK: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.439-mile, 14-turn road course), DISTANCE: 85 Laps (207.315 Miles)

Favorites – Can Anyone Beat Penske?

Alex Palou

No one has been close to Palou in natural road courses this year. He’s accumulated 175 points in four races including a podium in each. That’s 52 points clear of the next best. Also, trends say he will win anyways. He won in Barber and was third in the next natural road course race here back in May. The next one he was victorious in Road America. The next race at Mid-Ohio he was third.

Josef Newgarden

He never had much Indy road course success until last year. He was 0-for-6 in terms of top 10’s to start his career off with here then he went out and finished seventh in July, won in October and fourth in the second October race. He was also fourth in May too. On top of that, Newgarden dominated the race at Road America then led 73 of 80 in a win at Mid-Ohio, two similar natural road courses.

1st, 3rd, 1st, 3rd….1st?

Rinus VeeKay

He was fifth last July, won his first pole and scored his first podium last October and won his first race here in May. VeeKay has scored the 10th most points on natural road courses this season and that’s counting even missing a race too in Road America.

Will Power

This is his playground. Power, led all 75 laps in the second race of the doubleheader weekend last October. He had a race winning car before bad luck struck in July. He’s won four times on this course and has five poles as well. He was only 11th in May though but I expect a rebound this weekend.

Scott Dixon

Worth a look. Dixon was only ninth and eighth respectively in October but he was playing defense. When he’s on the offense in this race in general, he has four top two results in his last five tries.

Colton Herta

Have to go with him here. Andretti Autosport has generally struggled on this layout, but Herta had three top four finishes in as many tries a year ago.

Race Preview

Following a huge weekend last week in Nashville, the stars of the NTT IndyCar Series come back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a big weekend in a doubleheader with the NASCAR stars for two races on the same track in as many days. They did this last July but the weekend played behind closed doors. This time around, fans can flock to IMS to witness history in the making.

For the INDYCAR race specifically, they’re eyeing an Astor Cup. We have just five races remaining in the season as a second year driver in Alex Palou leads Scott Dixon (-42), Pato O’Ward (-48), Josef Newgarden (-75) and Marcus Ericsson (-79) in the standings. Three of the final five events are on natural road courses like this one, so there’s a lot at stake for learning purposes too.

O’Ward, has struggled on natural road courses this season with finishes of fourth, 15th, ninth and eight respectively on them. He ranks ninth in points accumulated on these tracks this year. He’s also been eighth or worse in each of his last three starts on the season too. Newgarden, has just two top fives in his last six starts on the year but also dominated the last two natural road course races on the season though too and won on the Indy road course last October.

The Ganassi threesome have been the best on the season overall with three of their four drivers in the top five of the standings including having five wins in 11 races this year. In fact, they’ve look really good on natural road courses in general with Palou having a podium in all four races. Furthermore, trends say that he will win on Saturday as he won in Barber, was third here in May, won again in Road America and followed that up with a third in Mid-Ohio. 1st, 3rd, 1st, 3rd….1st? The pattern says so.

Dixon, has three straight runner-ups prior to his win here last July and has been third, ninth, fourth and fourth respectively on natural road courses this season too.

Ericsson, has been eighth, 10th, sixth and second respectively in four natural road course starts himself. Combined, this trio have accumulated three of the top four points on natural road courses with Palou having 175, Dixon 123 and Ericsson 113.

But, Team Penske has been the best on this track in winning two of the three races last year and five of the previous six years prior. On the flipside, they didn’t score a podium in being 4-6-8-11 in May and have only visited victory lane just once this year.

This track though can also produce some wild moments. I mean just look at the Fast Six here in May. We had Romain Grosjean, Jack Harvey, Alex Palou, Scott McLaughlin and Conor Daly joining Josef Newgarden in the Fast Six. Rinus VeeKay won.

We’ve seen five straight different winners here with Simon Pagenaud (2019), Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Will Power (2020) and VeeKay (2021). Do we see a sixth on Saturday?

There’s also been eight different winners in 11 races run this season too.

Of Note

Last year, Penske and Ganassi each won three times on these types of circuits including all three at IMS and then swept the podium in the one race on them already this season at Barber. Andretti Autosport won the other last year. Scott Dixon won twice so did Will Power.

If you go back to 2019, we’ve had 19 different races on natural road courses with 10 different winners. Power, Dixon and Herta are all the best with three wins a piece. Josef Newgarden has two. No one else has more than one.

Penske and Ganassi each has won six times. Andretti has scored four trips to victory lane on them too. RLL and ECR are the only other teams to have won a natural road course event since 2019 as it came at Barber then and here in May.

Team Penske is the team to beat here though with 7 wins in 10 tries including both races in October.

Key Stat

All 10 winners have started in the top 4 Rows.

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