ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — The time is here. A pair of practices and now qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). The question is, who wins?
TRACK: Streets of St. Pete (1.8-mile, 14-turn street course), DISTANCE: 100 Laps (181 Miles)
Push-to-pass parameters (NTT INDYCAR SERIES): 150 seconds of total time with a maximum single duration of 15 seconds. The push-to-pass is not available on the initial start or any restart unless it occurs in the final two laps or three minutes of a timed race.
This will mark the 18th straight year the series has been coming to St. Pete, but the first time since 2019 that this race will serve as the season opener and first time since 2003 that we’re racing here in February. In 2020, the race was moved from March to the season finale in October due to COVID and last year it was moved again from the season opener to late April in hopes of being able to host more fans by doing so.
- Penske has won 5 of the last 8 years here including 2 of the last 3 at that from Josef Newgarden. He was runner-up a year ago.
- 15 of the 17 years has the winner came from a top 10 starting position.
- 12 of the last 16 race winners at St. Pete started in the top five.
- Just three times has the pole winner won at St. Pete, including last year. The last one before? 2010.
- 3 of the last 6 years this race has seen just 2 total cautions. We had 6 in 2020 and 3 last April.
- Each winner since 2015 repeated the next year
- Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2015 and again in 2016
- Sebastien Bourdais won in 2017 and again in 2018
- Josef Newgarden won in 2019 and again in 2020
- Colton Herta won in 2021…2022?
- Normally, with a street race, grip levels are few and far between. That makes the Firestone primary tire the best option. Last year, the reds actually were the best as the always faster tire, didn’t have the drop off like it typically does making the faster tire the preferred one.
- With the race being shortened to 100 laps a few years ago, this race has been a 2 stopper.
The pole winner has won 3 of the last 16 races here but one of which was last year. The last time prior? 2010.
Does that bode well for Scott McLaughlin? Team Penske has won 2 of the last 3 on the St. Pete streets including 5 of the last 8 overall.
Still, 15 of the 17 races here have been won by a top 10 starter so we can put him, Will Power, Colton Herta, Rinus VeeKay, Romain Grosjean, Simon Pageanud, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Josef Newgarden and Alex Palou on.
Among them, only Power, Herta and Newgarden have won here. Dixon is 0-for-17. Pagenaud is 0-for-10. Palou has no top 10’s in two tries.
On top of that, 12 of the last 16 races have seen the winner come from a top 5 starting spot. That really puts this down to McLaughlin, Power, Herta, VeeKay and Grosjean.
- 26 Herta (+300) – Each winner since 2015 has repeated. Herta, won in 2021. He was second in both practice sessions and starts third.
- 12 Power (+700) – He was third and fifth in the two practices and starts second. Power, was also runner-up to start 2021 too.
- 60 Pagenaud (+3000) – A podium last year and 7 top 7’s in his last 8 St. Pete starts tell me he’s due for another good run. Plus, this car was fourth a year ago too.
- 3 McLaughlin (+6000) – 1st in practice on Saturday morning, 1st in qualifying after. The pole winner’s bad luck in winning the race has me questioning him earning his 1st career series victory though.
- 9 Dixon – 6 straight top 7’s but 5 of which, all consecutively have seen him finish in the top 6.
Sleeper: Rinus VeeKay (he was 9th last year and starts 4th this time around)