INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Chevy vs. Honda?

This is a legitimate battle this weekend. Honda drivers have led a ton of laps here but they’ve scored just one win since the series started coming back in 2017.

In 2018, Scott Dixon, a Honda driver, led 145 laps but finished third. In 2019, Santino Ferrucci, another Honda driver, led 97 laps but finished fourth. Last year, Pato O’Ward (94 laps in Race 1) and Takuma Sato (66 laps led in Race 2), a Honda driver finished third and ninth respectively.

Chevrolet has just won all but one of those races. Does Chevy have a leg up on Honda on short ovals? If so, why?

In terms of teams, Andretti Autosport, a Honda team, has struggled here. Last year, Colton Herta was their top dog, but the other four drivers in this stable were nonexistent. Zach Veach finished 21st and 22nd respectively. Marco Andretti was 23rd and 15th himself. His best finish is 10th in five Gateway tries. Alexander Rossi limped home 22nd and 14th as he’s had one top five and just two top 10 finishes in five Gateway starts. Ryan Hunter-Reay was seventh and 11th respectively and still has no top five finishes ever there. Three of his five finishes are 11th or worse.

Ganassi, another Honda team, has been feast or famine too. Scott Dixon won Race 1 last year and has four top fives in his last six starts including three podiums. Alex Palou was 15th and 12th a year ago in his only two starts on the track. Marcus Ericsson was 16th, fifth and 23rd in three tries. Tony Kanaan has two top fives in six starts but was third with AJ Foyt Racing in 2019.

The Chevrolet group may be the ones to watch.

Penske started off great in this event with going 4-for-4 until Takuma Sato’s win in 2019. Scott Dixon won Race 1 last year but Josef Newgarden won Race 2 to put Penske 5-for-7.

Newgarden, won this race in 2017 but was only seventh in each of the two years after. He did win Race 2 last year. Heading into last year, Pagenaud had a top five finish in his first three tries at Gateway but just one podium, a third in ’16. He was 19th and 16th last year.

Will Power won this race in 2017 but was only 20th, 22nd and 17th in his next three starts, two of which ending in crashes before a third place run in Race 2 last year.

Pato O’Ward from AMSP will be good this weekend with a third and second place result last year. So could Rinus VeeKay with ECR who was sixth and fourth. His teammate and owner Ed Carpenter was runner-up in 2019.



Can Penske Remain As The Top Team On Short Ovals?

Team Penske has been the top dog on short ovals in the series these days. Penske started off great in this event with going 4-for-4 until Takuma Sato’s win in 2019. Scott Dixon won Race 1 last year but Josef Newgarden won Race 2 to put Penske 5-for-7.

Newgarden, won this race in 2017 but was only seventh in each of the two years after. He did win Race 2 last year. Heading into last year, Pagenaud had a top five finish in his first three tries at Gateway but just one podium, a third in ’16. He was 19th and 16th last year.

Will Power won this race in 2017 but was only 20th, 22nd and 17th in his next three starts, two of which ending in crashes before a third place run in Race 2 last year.

“Winning is absolutely what makes me happy,” Power said. “I’m very moody when I haven’t won for a while. Just ask my wife.”

For Iowa, another short oval, they swept both races in 2020 and four of the last five times they’ve visited there. In saying all of this, is Penske the top team on short ovals in the series today?

They’ve also now won two of the last three races on the season as well.



Why Only The Best Win At Gateway?

For some reason, you don’t see many fluke names win at the World Wide Technology Raceway. Josef Newgarden, a two time series champion, is the only driver to ever win on the 1.25-mile track multiple times. I mean, just look at the other drivers to have won on this track.

Names like Paul Tracy (1997), Alex Zanardi (1998), Michael Andretti (1999), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Al Unser Jr. (2001), Gil de Ferran (2002), Helio Castroneves (2003), Josef Newgarden (2017,2020), Will Power (2018), Takuma Sato (2019) and Scott Dixon (2020) all won on the 1.25-mile oval heading into this weekend.

Why is that?

One of the reasons why is due to the nature of Gateway being towards the end of the season. Normally, the best drivers by time we get to World Wide Technology Raceway are the ones vying for wins on a regular basis.

“I think in my case, from what I’ve seen, couple lucky yellows can make anyone a winner really. So I don’t know,” Conor Daly told me.

“If you start up front there, I feel like, if you’re quick there, no matter what, I don’t know, it seems to be one of those places that if you’re pretty bomb proof up front, you got a quick car, it’s going to be really hard to make that pass.

“I remember watching Josef try to win, door slammed Pagenaud out of the way. Sometimes maybe that’s what is going to have to happen. Josef is a champion. That’s what it’s going to take.”

Alexander Rossi agreed. He went a bit further in saying that the way that they determine the starting lineup is always by qualifying but qualifying lineup is set by entrant points. The best of the standings go towards the end of qualifying while the worst go at the beginning.

“I mean, I think the guys that are winning champions late in the year are qualifying up front,” he said to me. “That’s pretty much everything these days. If you’re in championship contention, you have a draw that goes later, you’re starting in the top five, it’s pretty hard not to kind of stay there unless crazy situations obviously.

“It is a very difficult place to pass. If you have a good car, you can pretty much maintain what you’re doing.”

He’s not wrong in the sense that this is a tough race track to pass on and the faster cars on the season are towards the top of the points. In saying that, they have the best qualifying draw which means they’re starting closer to the front. With fast cars being in the front on a track that’s hard to pass on, the only way by is for them to make a mistake. But, there’s a reason they’re up in the top of the standings and that’s because they’re usually on top of their games and their mistakes are by the minimum.

Hence champions winning here.


Is Pit Strategy Key?

To pick up from the point above, pit stops were crucial last year on this track. They were big in years past too. With passing being difficult here, not impossible, but difficult, that left the name of the game being pit cycles and perfection on pit road.

Take 2020 as an example. Pato O’Ward leap frogged the Penske’s for the top spot on the Saturday race. Scott Dixon beat O’Ward narrowly on the final stop of the race to win. Same thing on Sunday. Josef Newgarden, barely got O’Ward on the final stop as they leapfrogged Will Power on the cycle. Finding the right length to go on a stint and finding clean in and out laps were the difference in gaining or losing spots on track this weekend.

Newgarden said on Sunday last year that his pit crew won him the race. “I didn’t win the race today,” he said after picking up his 16th career victory at the time. “My pit crew won it. I’m not shy to say that. I’ll take it however I can get it.”

You can certainly undercut here. You also can risk being caught out by a caution too which can prove costly. That’s why pit strategy, in and out laps and how quick your stops on pit road will set you up for a win or failure.



Who’s Better Between Dixon and Power?

With Will Power’s win last Saturday in Indianapolis, it got me thinking, is Power on Scott Dixon’s level? Yes, Dixon has won six championships in comparison to Power’s one. But, each also have just one Indy 500 victory too. The rest of their stats are closer than you may think.

Dixon, is second in almost every major statistical category. He has 51 wins, 49 runner-ups, 125 podiums and 181 top fives. Power meanwhile has 40 wins, 24 runner-ups, 84 podiums and 110 top fives. He leads Dixon 62-26 in poles.

While you may say that Dixon’s numbers jump out as higher, and you’re right, look deeper. Dixon has made 347 career starts compared to Power’s 237. The percentages in those categories are closer because of that.

Power wins a pole 26% of the time. Dixon is 7%. Power wins 17% of the time to Dixon’s 15%. Power finished second 10% to Dixon’s 14%. It’s 36%-35% advantage to Dixon in podiums and 52%-46% in top fives with Dixon leading.

As you can see, it’s closer than you think and one that could be debated for a while.

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