FORT WORTH, TX — The story of the NTT INDYCAR Series weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway is the future of the two sides. This will mark the 35th time the series has raced on the 1.5-mile track but will there be a 36th?
That’s all dependent on how Sunday’s XPEL 375 (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) looks. We truly don’t know what the second lane will look or even race like until we get to race day. In turn, that makes Saturday’s qualifying session all that more important.
With the PJ1 stain in the corners, the race winners have come from second, third and fourth respectively. In saying that, Texas has been won by drivers in the top 10 in general with 9 of the last 10 coming from the top 5 Rows.
What about the other superspeedway’s?
Indy has seen 5 straight from the top 10 including 3 of the last 4 from the front row. When we went to Pocono, we saw six straight from the top 10.
The top 10 qualifiers on Saturday has the best shot of a victory 24 hours later. That’s not shocking in the sense that each of the winners in the last six Texas races all will come from here.
That’s also great news for Arrow McLaren SP. The last time they were here, they were celebrating a win in Race 2 last May with Pato O’Ward. The Mexican driver starts 10th this time around for just his second top 10 starting spot in four Texas tries. This time though, his teammate is on the pole. Felix Rosenqvist had a two-lap average of 221.110 mph in his No. 7 Chevrolet which was good enough to score his second career Indy Car pole and AMSP’s 9th ever.
That’s a vast improvement in comparison to the season opener. Both AMSP cars failed to make it out of the first round on the St. Pete street course. O’Ward qualified 16th with Rosenqvist 21st.
Now, both are in the top 10.
“I know, it was a bit of a torture to watch that thing unfold, and, yeah, it was two really good laps,” Rosenqvist said. “I kind of felt already this morning, to be honest, you felt that the car was in the window. There wasn’t much balance changes needed, and it was the same thing during the qualifying laps. It was just kind of like in the zone where you wanted it.
“The first lap was a bit loose, and the second lap was a bit under-steered, but you’re never going to get it right. Yeah, it was good. It feels really good. I think for the whole Arrow McLaren SP Team and the 7 Car in general, it couldn’t have been better timing to get this pole. It’s a good boost mentally for all the guys and girls working on the car, and I think everyone just showed today that we refocused and came back. A little bit of a disappointment in St. Pete and, obviously, last year, but coming back here just fully focused and doing our own thing and putting the car on pole is really amazing.”
Rosenqvist’s opening lap was the different maker. He went 221.316 mph. The last qualifier of the 27 car session in Scott McLaughlin went 221.166 mph in his No. 3 Chevrolet on Lap 1 but was 221.027 mph on Lap 2. That was quicker than Rosenqvist’s lap of 220.905 mph. But, that difference on Lap 1 was what kept McLaughlin from adding a second straight pole award trophy to his case.
“I certainly felt I had a little bit of scrub off turn one and two on that last lap, and that potentially — it may have cost me a little bit, scrubbed a little bit of speed there,” McLaughlin said on the difference in margin and what he could have done differently. “I knew it, so on three and four I was like, oh, I’m making a little bit of a weight jack adjustment and bars, but then I looked at the score and I was, like, 209.9 at the end. That might not be enough, and then sure enough they said P2. Like I said, great job for Team Chevy to have a front row. I think it’s three in the top four, so it’s leaps and bounds, and we’re getting ready for Indy now.
McLaughlin started on the pole and won the opener in St. Pete and was also runner-up in his Texas debut last year. Now, he’ll start second in hoping to give Team Penske their third win in the last seven races at Texas.
“Certainly feel pretty feel strong in race trim and qual trim, and our test day last week really helped us hone in on some of the balance that we wanted, but Felix’s lap was really strong,” McLaughlin said. “From the outside I knew that was going to be pretty tough, but to be close to him and not far off it was a testament to us and how we were able to react to the temperatures and a few other things. Pretty happy just to put a time on the board.”
Takuma Sato (221.094 mph) will roll off third in his No. 51 Honda for his first top 10 starting spot here since his pole in 2019. Will Power (221.016 mph) starts fourth in his No. 12 Chevrolet for his fourth straight top six start at Texas. This is also his ninth top four starting spot at Texas as well.
Scott Dixon (221.011 mph) rounded out the top five in his No. 9 Honda. It was Dixon’s 10th straight top seven starting spot here but just the third time in the last seven that he didn’t start in the top three though.
Veterans Up Front
The career starts for the front row combined is 64. Felix Rosenqvist has made 46 career Indy Car starts while Scott McLaughlin has made 18 himself. However, the five cars behind them? All over 160.
Third place starter Takuma Sato will be making his 200th career start on Sunday. Fourth place starter Will Power has made 252 career starts before. Row 2 is Scott Dixon (352) and Helio Castroneves (358). Starting seventh is Josef Newgarden who’s made 165 starts.
That’s a lot of veteran presence up front including 5 of the last 6 wins at Texas as well as 12 combined Texas victories in general.
Behind this grouping though is third year driver Rinus VeeKay, fourth year drivers Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward as well as third year driver Alex Palou.
Parity Up Front, But Penske The Favorites?
Out of the top six qualifiers, we have five different teams represented (AMSP, Penske, Coyne/Ware, Ganassi and MSR). However, if you go back to seventh, all three Penske cars are represented. They’ll start 2nd (Scott McLaughlin), fourth (Will Power) and seventh (Josef Newgarden). I’d say as of now, they’re the favorites.
Penske is coming off of a front row lockout in St. Pete as well as putting 2 cars on the podium in the season opener. Last year, they put a driver in runner-up for both races. In fact, if you go back to 2017, they’d have either won at Texas (2017, 2019) or had the second place finisher (2018, 2020, 2021, 2021) in all six tries.
With each of the last three Texas winners starting in the top four and 9 of the last 10 from the top 10, Penske has the best odds with three cars up there.
Pagenaud Quickest This Morning, Outside The Top 10 In Qualifying
Simon Pagenaud entered qualifying with a lot of momentum. He was fastest in practice this morning and coming to a race that he had three podiums in his last six Texas starts including seven straight top 10’s. Plus, this car started in the top six both races last season as well as Pagenaud having eight top eight starting spots in his last nine tries here.
However, he was only 15th in his No. 60 Honda in qualifying.
RLL Struggles Again
This has been the topic of concern for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing over the last few years. If they could qualify better, then watch out. It seems like they’re always coming from outside the top 10 on race day but by time the checkered flag falls, they’re well within it. Imagine if they could actually start closer to the front.
Well, they still don’t have it fixed yet.
In St. Pete, they qualified 11-15-23. Here in Texas, it was 24-25-27. They took three of the last four starting spots.
Last year, Takuma Sato qualified better than 15th just twice all season. He was 0-for-16 for top 10 starts. In just his second race with Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing, he’s already in the top five as he’ll roll off third on Sunday.
Rahal started outside the top 10 in 10 of the 16 races himself.
What can they do to close this gap?
Rookies Make Up Back 1/2 Of The Field Too
Joining the RLL threesome in the back are the seven rookies. That’s not too shocking in the sense Texas is very difficult on first year drivers. All seven of the drivers making their debuts will start 13th or worse with combine them and the three with RLL and that’s 10 of the bottom 15 qualifiers.
Romain Grosjean (13th), Devlin DeFrancesco (17th), Jimmie Johnson (18th), David Malukas (19th), Callum Ilott (20th), Kyle Kirkwood (23rd) and Christian Lundgaard (25th) all will come from Row 7 on back.
The thing is, if they’re patient, the finishes will come as the main goal for these seven is to just get to Lap 248 on Sunday.
“Oh, man, should have gone for a leak. (Laughing). You never know,” McLaughlin said on what he could have done differently to close the gap. “No, sorry. I shouldn’t say that. That’s not very Penske.”