ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — The top four of the final 2021 NTT INDYCAR Series standings read – Alex Palou, Josef Newgarden, Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon. Well, after the opening race of the 2022 season on the streets of St. Pete, only one of them landed a top five in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete.
That’s all due to strategy and qualifying on Saturday.
The 2021 race was a two-stop strategy event. This year’s winning strategy was another two stopper as the top seven cars went with that strategy on Sunday afternoon. In fact, the 10 drivers who elected to go with a two stopper all finished in the top 11. The lone exception?
See, with this being a 100 lap race, as long as cautions stay out of the way, this is pretty much a straight forward two stopper. The last two years, yellows were a non factor. We had 1 for 8 laps on Sunday and it came after the commitments were already made for a 2 vs. 3 stopper. No one had to adjust their strategy due to David Malukas’ crash coming on Lap 24.
The winning move in 2021 was Colton Herta doing Firestone reds at the start, scuffed blacks and then fresh blacks for his two stops.
So, the ones in the top couple of rows could go with the winning strategy and everyone else behind having to try something different to leap frog them.
Pole sitter Scott McLaughlin went similar as Herta with reds, then stopping under caution for blacks on Lap 27 and doing the same under green flag conditions on Lap 64. Second place finisher Palou, started 10th but went reds until Lap 27, blacks until Lap 65 and blacks gain to the checkered.
Second place starter and third place finisher, Will Power, did the opposite at the beginning with the blacks until Lap 27, the reds until Lap 66 and blacks again until the end.
Dixon’s three stop strategy saw him pit on Lap 11 from his seventh place starting spot. He went from reds to blacks. He’d pit again on Lap 48 for blacks. But, he had to stop one more time on Lap 79 for blacks to the finish and would come home seventh after leading 26 times.
He’s still 0-for-18 at St. Pete.
Newgarden, started ninth, pit on Lap 9, Lap 31 and Lap 68. He’d finish 16th.
O’Ward started 16th on reds and charged up to eighth before pitting on Lap 12. He’d pit again on Lap 47 then Lap 73 but could only mange being 12th as a result of strategy.
“We had a great start, going from 16th to ninth on the first lap,” he said. “From there, I was like ‘Oh yes, let’s get a great race in,’ but we didn’t really nail the strategy. We weren’t on the right strategy with the three-stop and got stuck back in 12th. We will give it hell in Texas.”
His AMSP teammate of Felix Rosenqvist was in the same boat. He started 21st and came home 17th.
“We ended 17th and really couldn’t move up in the field,” said the Swedish driver. “The way our strategy turned out is pretty much where we started the race. That’s what happens when you start in the back, you don’t really go anywhere unless you luck out with the strategy; which we didn’t have today. I thought the pace was pretty good, the best it was all weekend; but we couldn’t take advantage of it. Now, we will reload for Texas.”
Meyer Shank Racing once again had the wrong strategy too. Simon Pagenaud started sixth and had the same pattern as Dixon. He pit on Lap 11, Lap 42 and Lap 68. Unfortunately, by pitting early with Dixon and doing so six laps sooner than Dixon on the second stint cost him a top 10. He’d fall to 15th, or fifth on the three stop strategy.
Helio Castroneves stopped three times too but did so differently. He started 17th and pit on Lap 8, Lap 27 and Lap 66. He came home 14th.
It’s clear, the reds at the start and going two stops is the winning move. It cost the heavyweights in the championship points.