Who wins Sunday’s XPEL 375 (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network), my take with everything you need to know

TRACK: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5 mile, oval with a dogleg), DISTANCE: 248 Laps (372 Miles)

Race Schedule

Coverage: 12:30 p.m. ET

Green Flag: 12:45 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Radio: INDYCAR Radio Network (Sirius 160, local affiliates here)

Computer: racecontrol.indycar.com

Phone: INDYCAR App

Track: Texas Motor Speedway

Distance: 248 Laps/372 Miles

Weather: upper 70’s, sunny

Spotter Guide

Who Wins?

27 drivers enter Sunday’s XPEL 375 (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) with eyes on a victory. In saying that, 7 of the drivers are rookies in the NTT INDYCAR Series at the Texas Motor Speedway. Their odds are greatly lengthened because of that.

However, despite the fact that rookies usually struggle in Texas, 1 of which normally finds his way to the front though too. Scott McLaughlin was runner-up in his oval debut here last May. A year prior, Oliver Askew was 9th in his series debut. Santino Ferrucci was fourth in 2019.

See, Texas is a daunting oval and as of late, you don’t get a lot of practice time on it. This year, we have 2 hours total (1 hour in each session). That’s not ideal for drivers like 7 first time Texas starters this weekend (Jimmie Johnson, Romain Grosjean, Devlin DeFrancesco, Callum Ilott, Kyle Kirkwood, Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas).

7 of the bottom 15 qualifiers are rookies at Texas.

On the flip side, you also have 20 drivers entered here that have competed in past Texas races with 7 of which having won here before. 5 of the last 6 Texas wins as well as 12 combined Texas victories hail from the top 7 starters for Sunday.

There’s a balance.

Scott Dixon has led 1,043 laps in his career at Texas including 526 of the last 660 laps (80%). This will mark his 23rd Texas start for which he’s won four times, three of which coming since 2015 including 3 of the last 5 overall. He starts fifth.

Will Power has led 433 laps with Josef Newgarden pacing the field for 187 laps himself. They roll off fourth and seventh respectively. Ed Carpenter (93), Simon Pageanud (85), Takuma Sato (72), Graham Rahal (49), Pato O’Ward (25), Alexander Rossi (10), Alex Palou (9), Rinus VeeKay (5) and Marcus Ericsson (2) have also led laps meaning 12 of the 20 who’s had experience here have been out front at one time or another.

On the flipside, McLaughlin was runner-up in Race 1 but Pietro Fittipaldi as the other rookie in the field last year was 15th in their debuts. In 2020, Askew was 9th but Pato O’Ward was 12th. Rinus VeeKay crashed twice that day (22nd) and in the second incident he took out fellow rookie Alex Palou (23rd). In 2019, Ferrucci was fourth and Marcus Ericsson in 7th but Felix Rosenqvist (12th) and Colton Herta (18th) were outside the top 10. Same for 2018. Zachary Claman De Melo was 17th, Robert Wickens 19th and Matheus Leist in 22nd.

I’d side with a veteran instead.

Dixon has won 3 of the last 5 Texas races. Can he win his 4th in 6 tries on Sunday? Photo Credit INDYCAR Media Site

Penske and Ganassi have also combined to have won 5 of the last 6 races here and should be a factor again. They’ve in fact have won 6 of the last 8 overall at Texas. RLL and AMSP are the only exceptions with Graham Rahal’s win in 2016 and Pato O’Ward’s in Race 2 last year. RLL also won the 2020 Indy 500 too.

RLL took 3 of the bottom 4 starting spots but AMSP has 2 of the top 10. Penske has 3 of the top 7. Furthermore, Penske has either won or finished second in each of the last six Texas races.

McLaughlin won in St. Pete and has that runner-up here a year ago. Newgarden has 3 top 3’s in his last 4 while Power is a two-time Texas winner. Dixon has won 2 of the last 3 and 3 of the last 5 while Palou was runner-up in Indy to go along with being 4th and 7th respectively last year.

The outliers may be Rahal (6 top 6’s last 7) and O’Ward (3rd, 1st last year).

So, let’s break it down even further. Due to the second lane likely not being a factor and being able to make passes on it, starting position is as crucial as it’s ever been here.

There’s no reason to believe that the race winner won’t come from a top five starting spot in fact. 11 of the last 12 winners have come from a starting spot off the front row. Scott Dixon’s win in 2020 was the only exception since 2011 that someone won from the first or second starting spot.

From 2003 though Race 1 of 2011, there were 11 straight races to where the race winner came from the top five of the starting lineup. It’s only happened five times in the last 12.

But, with this traction compound stain, the race winners have been 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively. 9 of the last 10 have come from the top 5 Rows, so I’d stick to a top 10 starter on Sunday as your race winner.

With track position being key, that puts an emphasis on pit road. Strategy and nailing your pit stops are the next big thing. This is by all accounts going to be a 3 stop strategy race. So, it’s all about timing the stints right.

If you count backwards, the final pit window would take place from Lap 183 on. If that final stint stays green, the guys that pit early will have a quicker burst of speed, but fall off as the run goes on. The guys that pit later will lose time to the guys with newer tires, but gain time when it counts in the end. Pit too soon, you’re a sitting duck. Pit too late, you don’t have enough time to catch up. There’s a happy medium. But, you have to manage your tires too. You have to lay a set at the end in case for a late race caution which changes everything. Then, the second to last stint would be Lap 118. That doesn’t count any other yellow flags though, where it would be wise to pit under caution then having to come down on green flag sequences. You can’t afford to not pit under caution because not doing so and having to pit under green while most others don’t, well you’ll surely lose at least a lap in the process.

In this day and age of motorsports, simulations will handle this for you, so as long as cautions stay out of the way (we’ve had 4 of fewer in 13 of the last 15 Texas races run) then I go back to this being a track position race.

So, let’s break it down further among the top 10 starters.

Honda has taken 4 of the last 7 overall at Texas. But, those are also their only wins at Texas since 2013 too. Despite that, they’ve been the tops on the superspeedway package in general too lately which is why they have to be the favorites this Sunday.

Last year, Scott Dixon led 206 of the 212 laps in Race No. 1 en route to a dominating win. Graham Rahal, another Honda driver, led the other six laps. Honda put three cars in the top five that night and six in the top nine overall.

A day later, a Chevy (Pato O’Ward) won but Honda’s combined to lead 191 of the 248 laps.

At Indy, Honda went 1-2 and led 92 of 200 laps that day.

A year prior, they put 8 cars in the Fast 9 at Indy, swept the top 4 finishing spots and led 180 of 200 laps. At Texas that year, they had two cars in the top four and combined to lead 159 of 200 laps that night too.

In 2019, Josef Newgarden won at Texas in a Chevrolet powered car, but Honda drivers accounted for leading 194 of the 248 completed laps though and took four of the top five finishing positions including six of the top eight even. Newgarden, was the only Chevy driver to lead and he did so all at the end. He was also the only Chevy driver to lead in 2020 too as no other Chevy driver has led a lap at Texas since 2018. In 2018 in fact, Honda led 66-percent of the laps (162 of 248) too and took eight of the top nine finishing positions then as well.

That’s Honda leading 80-percent (918 out of 1,156) of the Texas laps over the last three years.

That’s why Honda teams are the favorites but can they hold off the Penske’s? Chevy has 4 of the top 7 starters including 3 of the top 4 at that. Has the momentum shifted?

So, who wins?

  1. 3 McLaughlin
  2. 9 Dixon
  3. 2 Newgarden
  4. 06 Castoneves
  5. 5 O’Ward

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