FORT WORTH, TX – Lapped traffic played a role in how Sunday’s XPEL 375 ended at the Texas Motor Speedway. Scott McLaughlin had the most dominant car in an exhilarating NTT INDYCAR Series race on the 1.5-mile track. Unfortunately for him, not only was lapped traffic a key, his car wasn’t handling right in traffic either.
That allowed his teammate Josef Newgarden to close back in. McLaughlin led Newgarden by .3534-seconds with 10 to go. It remained there with five to go at .2593-seconds. In fact, at the white flag, it was .3149-second advantage.
However, with lap cars in front, Newgarden made his move. He was either going to wreck or go down trying. It paid off in an outside move in Turn 4. Newgarden went high, McLaughlin was low. They had a drag race to the stripe to which Newgarden held off McLaughlin by .0669-seconds.
“I’m telling you, I was yelling,” Newgarden said. “I was on the radio way before the line, which I don’t normally do that. You don’t do that. You stay in the race. I was just so pumped up that, one, the car was sticking, I wasn’t flying towards the fence. But I’ve never had a race end that way. I’ve never been in a position to capitalize on that type of victory.
“I was really excited. Still really am. That’s one of the coolest wins, probably the coolest win I’ve ever had in the 2 car. Hopefully we have more of those. Yeah, really, really neat to be a part of that.”
It was Newgarden’s 21st career Indy Car victory for which 18 of the 21 has come with Team Penske. That ranks fourth on the all-time Penske wins list in the series. Among oval wins for the organization, his 8 ranks fifth behind Rick Mears (22), Helio Castroneves (17), Will Power (9) and Bobby Unser (9).
We see last second shots in March Madness. Why not a last lap pass in INDYCAR?
The victory was also Penske’s 600th ever across all forms of motorsports too which is an astronomical feat.
It was a much needed victory for Newgarden at that. He entered the weekend 16th in points (-40) after a ho-hum St. Pete race weekend. Now though, he only gained eight points in going from 40 to 32 but is up to fourth.
“It would have been very unwise for him to take a flyer and go high side without knowing what’s going to happen,” Newgarden said. “He won the first race, leading the championship. That would have been silly for him to do that decision.
“For me it was a risk but I think it was somewhat calculated. I saw people going up there toward the beginning and middle of the race. I took a calculated risk and it worked out.”
He’s back in the hunt again for a title and is battling his three Team Penske teammates with them taking up three of the top four spots heading to Long Beach.
McLaughlin, led a race-high 186 of 248 laps but was 6-hundreths of a second of becoming just the eighth driver to ever win the first two races of an Indy Car season.
Six of those seven finished the year with the title. The other was second. After earning a season opening victory on the streets of St. Pete, he hopes that the trend of the last three winners of the season openers have won the title comes true. He nearly had another trend to fall back on.
Still, a runner-up in two of his three Texas starts is eye opening for a second year driver in the sport.
Marcus Ericsson finished third in his No. 8 Honda for his second top 10 in five Texas starts. Power was fourth in his No. 12 Chevrolet while Scott Dixon rounded out the top five.
Johnson A Huge Story With A Top 10 In Texas
Jimmie Johnson has no regrets with how his NTT INDYCAR Series career has started. See, he initially joined the series on a part-time basis in 2021 but only doing so on all road/street course events. However, among his 83 career NASCAR Cup Series victories, 82 of which were on ovals. His comfort was on ovals but his personal comfort in an open wheel car was on road/street courses.
Unfortunately, it led to some worse than normal results. For a driver that’s won seven championships, being outside the top 15 in all 13 races that he’s run in INDYCAR prior to this weekend isn’t what he envisioned when joining Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021.
“Certainly I’m a racer. I want to win,” Johnson said during a media call this past week. “That’s ultimately why I’m out there. I’m just trying to be realistic with this journey, how different it is, how tough the competition is, all those elements that play into it.
“Ultimately that’s why I want to do this, I want to win. I want to be on the podium at a minimum, if not win. Know that ovals are the best opportunity for myself.”
Ovals certainly were. He qualified 18th but finished sixth in what was an impressive oval debut. In fact, he was running fifth in the closing laps but due to him saving fuel, he couldn’t hold off teammate Scott Dixon for that fifth spot in the end.
“What a two-day adventure this has been,” a very happy Johnson said. “To be able to get enough laps in the race, to feel the tires from start to finish, green flag stops, being in dirty air, just how uncomfortable and treacherous that is. All of those little mistakes and little moments gave me a sense of the car and helped me feel really how to drive this car, how to create speed.
“Second half of the race I started working my way forward in that final stint, had a very competitive car. Wished that I had maybe started the race a little further forward. I think I could have finished a little further forward.
“It’s honestly the icing on top of the cake. The cake is I know what I did behind the wheel today, the growth I’ve had in the race car. That’s the part I’m savoring the most right now.
“I do enjoy the congratulations from others, but I’m almost speechless myself, just kind of savoring it and taking it in.”
Still, a sixth place run is his first top 10 in INDYCAR. He says that he has no qualms with choosing the path to what races to run here in the series as he now knows on where to improve.
“In some respects there’s validation, in other respects there’s relief, in another respect there’s just plain old I like to go racing,” he said. “It’s a bit of everything.
“I honestly don’t have anything to prove to anyone. I’m truly doing this because I want to race cars and I want to race in the INDYCAR SERIES.
“Of course I’m a competitor, of course I knew that I should run better on ovals, and was able to do that this weekend. That feels good. I don’t have some axe to grind. I don’t have a point to prove. I’m just going racing. I’m just purely happy I had a great day in the race car.”
Does this finish though set up what could be a great Month of May? All four Ganassi cars finished in the top seven here on Sunday and with a sixth place run in his oval debut, does that bode well for his Indy 500 race winning aspirations?
“I’m not against that. Let’s go,” he said. “I think today just showed what the 48 car is capable of. We all know what the Chip Ganassi cars are capable of. I just haven’t been fast enough on the street and road courses to put the car in that window and get results.
“To be here on a track I know, an environment that I know, I was able to provide and do that for the team. I feel very excited about it, very encouraged about the remaining oval races that are on the books.
“I know I’m going to have a great car. We’ll see how it goes.”
Does he legitimately think he can be an Indy 500 winner?
“I feel like that’s an aggressive statement, for sure. But why not?” Johnson said. “Why can’t we? The 500 is a special race. We’ve seen favorites win. We’ve seen the race won by strategy, first-time winners, a variety of different things that have taken place.
“Helio is like ages older than me and he won last year. Really, anything’s possible. Building off today, if I had a poor running today or didn’t feel the car, get a sense of the car, I would think the hill to climb during the month of May would be much steeper. Learning what I did today, I’m going to start at such a better spot.
“If the race was 50 laps longer, I think I would have finished further forward. If I started 10th, the way the track played out, my result would have been better than a sixth.
“Why not? Let’s dream big.”
Penske/Ganassi Dominate Texas Finishing Order, Big Season Ahead for Penske?
It’s not a shock that Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing swept the entire top 7 of the finishing results of Sunday’s XPEL 375. They’ve won each of the last nine INDYCAR titles including 13 of the last 14 overall. They’re the true “Big 2.”
They won 11 of 17 in 2019 and 12 of the 14 races in 2020. They also won 9 of the 16 last year and now 2-for-2 in 2022.
On Sunday, no one had anything for them but that’s not all that surprising in the sense that both have now combined to have won 6 of the last 7 races here too. They’ve in fact have won 7 of the last 9 overall at Texas at that. RLL and AMSP are the only exceptions with Graham Rahal’s win in 2016 and Pato O’Ward’s in Race 2 last year.
So for Penske to take 3 of the top 4 finishing spots and have now either won or finished second in each of the last 7 Texas races, there’s no reason to question their pace here. Also, this is their second straight win to start the season off with too as I wonder if this is a huge season for them coming.
They went 1-3 in St. Pete and now 1-2-4 in Texas. That has them with 3 of the top 4 spots in the drivers standings entering Long Beach.
Last year, it took Team Penske 9 races to finally break the gates down to victory lane. The thing is, out of those 9 races, they finished runner-up in 5 of them including the first four races to the season.
For Ganassi, Texas was much better for how St. Pete turned out. In the season opening weekend, the first practice session was a concern. They only went 15-17-19-24 in it. On Saturday morning, they’d surely be back to their rightful spot on top of the speed charts right?
Palou crashed but he was seventh. Johnson had several problems and was 25th out of 26 cars. Marcus Ericsson was 15th on Friday and 13th Saturday. Dixon, was 19th and now 20th.
By no surprise, none of their four cars made the Fast Six in qualifying. However, they still showed improvement. Johnson, started last (26th) but the other three at least made it out of the first round.
Dixon and Ericsson shared Row 4. Palou rolled off 10th.
In the race, they had 3 of the 4 finishing in the top 10 with Palou and Dixon on opposite strategies and Ericsson overcoming a penalty for an unsafe release on his 1st stop to come away ninth.
Dixon, is 0-for-18 in St. Pete but does have four runner-ups including three podiums in the last six years.
Ericsson, was seventh in each of the last two years prior and now ninth. To make up that much ground without a caution is eye opening especially for a driver who won twice on street courses a year ago. Palou, was only 13th and 17th in his last two years but now gets a podium.
To go from Friday to what they did on Sunday was a large improvement. Then they show up in Texas.
McLaughlin A Legit Title Contender
A year ago, Scott McLaughlin was thrilled to be runner-up here at the Texas Motor Speedway. It’s amazing how far a year comes. Now, McLaughlin brought the same No. 3 Chevrolet home runner-up. It may be a different paint scheme, but everything else was the same.
The only difference?
McLaughlin’s emotions. Now that he’s found his confidence back, he’s quickly finding out again that finishing in second place sucks.
“Look, I’m gutted. I’ll reevaluate everything over the next few days,” McLaughlin said after his fourth career top five finish. “But it’s funny, like last year I was fist pumping and jumping out of the car finishing second. I’m like today, It sucks. That’s how it is. That’s how we’re growing. I’ll learn from this, get better.”
He led a race-high 186 of 248 laps and was well in control of the race until he wasn’t. Lapped traffic got in the way which made his car not so good anymore. Josef Newgarden moved to put his car where McLaughlin wasn’t on the final lap and it paid off.
He passed McLaughlin on the outside and won by 6-hundreths of a second.
“Looking back at it, if I would have thought about it in my head, which I already have done a million times, my car was tightening up, especially in traffic,” McLaughlin continued. “It probably wasn’t handling exactly how it had at the start earlier in the race. I was sort of maxed out on my tools. I was trying to control the traffic, couldn’t catch the traffic too much. At the end the traffic checked up into me.
“I knew there were going to be dramas in three and four. I struggled with my turns at three and four. I guess I wasn’t prepared to take the risk on the outside at 3-4, which looking back at it I should have. My teammate Josef, obviously Josef chose to. Once he was on the outside of me, I can’t do anything.
“It would have been risky for me, for both of us, if I had moved. I mean, when I got told that he’s in the second lane, I was like, Oh, here we go (laughter).
“Looking back at it, I was just too tentative. At the end of the day I’ll learn from that. I just didn’t want to go out the last corner, hit the fence, not have either of us win, because I quite easily could have taken Josef out.
“It is what it is. At the end of the day it’s one of those days when you look back at the end of the year, championship-wise it might work out very good.”
As far as what he could have done differently and what he learned from it?
“I lost the championship on the last lap in 2017. That is very similar, but not as hectic,” he said.
“What would I do different? Probably take the high line. Like I said, I didn’t risk that today. I think, yeah, should I have? Yeah, probably. That’s an experience thing that I’ll learn and come back with, maybe think about that for next year.
“Like I said to you guys before, I was pushing out of three. I didn’t have the confidence to run that line, that groove behind those cars. Once he was up there, like I had nothing. I mean, it is what it is. I’ll learn from it.
“Yeah, that’s INDYCAR racing, oval racing. It’s why we love it. I think today’s package, I had a lot of fun out there regardless. Passing. When we ended up having the fuel race, I slipped back to fourth, had to work my way back to second, almost the lead. That was fun. It’s what I remember watching when I was a kid.
“I certainly hope we continue to build with this package and get this better. Once you have a bit of two lanes through this track, it’s going to be a lot of fun and we’ll have races like we did today.”
Newgarden though, notes that McLaughlin didn’t do anything wrong. It was Newgarden who took all the risk and that he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“Oh, yeah. I mean, look, Scott didn’t do anything wrong,’ he said. “I took a risk. I mean, I took a big risk there at the end. I just held it in 3-4 to see if it would work. If it didn’t work, it was going to be on me that I took a risk and I didn’t work out.
“I made that in a very split-second decision. I’m serious when I say I was pretty much conceding with a lap and a half to go. It was going to be what it was going to be. I wasn’t in position correctly for the final stint.
“I just went for it. He didn’t do anything wrong, up on traffic, getting loose. I was a little stronger than him at the end for sure. It would be unwise, it actually shows his wisdom. It would have been very unwise for him to take a flyer and go high side without knowing what’s going to happen. He won the first race, leading the championship. That would have been silly for him to do that decision.
“For me it was a risk but I think it was somewhat calculated. I saw people going up there toward the beginning and middle of the race. I took a calculated risk and it worked out.”
As far as how much experience played a role?
“It helps tremendously,” said Newgarden. “I have been here a lot more than he has. This is my 11th appearance at Texas. I have a lot more to draw from experience-wise. I’ve seen these situations a lot more than he has. From that standpoint, it’s an unfair advantage for me experience-wise on what to do or not do.”
McLaughlin led 49 of 100 laps in his first ever INDYCAR triumph in the season opener on the streets of St. Pete. That victory came a day after scoring his first ever series pole. Now that we’re in Texas, the site of his best result last year, his confidence was high leading into it.
“I think there’s momentum and also self-belief and believing that you guys can do it as a squad, guys and girls,” he said. “I think the Car 3 team, before we went to St. Pete we believed we could pop out a result here and there and be strong, but the way that St. Pete went for us was fantastic. Certainly when you have that confidence early, it’s a fantastic thing, but now it’s all about keeping that going, and, yeah, I believe the momentum is that. The momentum, you’ve got to — even if we did qualify a little bit further down today, I still think we would have rolled into tomorrow’s race feeling pretty good.
“It’s a good vibe on the team, and I put that down to Benny Bretzman. He is such a great team leader, great for the camaraderie between the guys and girls on the team. He puts a lot of confidence in me and my ability. That certainly is a momentum-builder for all, for sure.
“You just go out and wheel the thing and see what you’ve got. I feel comfortable with what I’ve got, and I put myself down that I can be as good as anyone in this series, and that’s why I’ve come here to challenge myself. Yeah, confidence is a big thing, and I lost a little bit of that last year, and it’s nice to get some of that back, but we’ll see what we’ve got tomorrow. Yeah, all good.”
He’s confident and has a hunger still for tracks that he didn’t know he’d grow to quickly love.
“I just enjoy ovals. I enjoy the challenge. It’s very intricate. You have to think about all parts of the corner. There’s almost eight or ten parts of the corner that you have to really think about to give feedback for the engineer. We took turns one, two, three, four, but for me I break it up into almost 20 parts throughout the track, and I enjoy that.
“I guess one thing as well last year for me was I had bad habits on the road course, straight course that I had to iron out, and ovals I could come and just be brand new. I just learned off Will and Josef and Simon. I just copied what they were doing and found my own way, and I’m really enjoying it, and I just love the racing.
“INDYCAR is oval racing. I feel like we have to have ovals. I enjoy it. It’s part of our DNA, and that’s why I’ve come to America for INDYCAR racing for ovals.”
This was huge for his psyche because after a rough go of it in his rookie season last year, he was down. He wasn’t used to not winning. 56 wins overseas was a lot. To go from that to being lucky for a top 10, well that hurt his confidence.
See, he came over here in the middle of a pandemic. For a family man that’s close to his parents, to go through a season like he endured in 2021 was difficult to not have them by his side either.
It was just he and his wife and that’s it.
“Yeah, I came over three times,” he said. “I had won straight back-to-back championships, and I know I’m a rookie and I wasn’t kidding myself, but at the same time it’s hard to go from the mindset of, okay, win every week and that’s all that matters, nothing less, to going, hey, I’d love a top 15. I don’t work like that. I’m a competitive bloke. I want to win. I want to get poles. I want to dominate races and not even worry about things.
“It definitely took — I did that for four years, and then coming here and was basically — it just mucks with your head, and you’ve got to be realistic about things, and I put a lot of pressure on myself, like why isn’t this happening, why am I sucking in qualifying when I’m good? I’ve done that before, I’ve proved that.
“It’s a mind game, man, and you’ve got to be on top of it. You’ve got to just believe in yourself.
“Like I said, Karly has been my absolute rock with that. She’s put the belief in me. I would be nothing without her.
“Definitely some hard times, but she’s pulled my head in, Roger’s pulled my head in, and we just got on with it. Speaking pretty candid, it’s just how it is. As a professional sportsman you go through highs and lows. You’re getting paid good money and you’re running 15th, it’s not good. For me it’s not good. I drive for the biggest motorsport team in the world. For me it wasn’t good.
“But I feel like today, this weekend, we proved that hard work, perseverance, you can get there, and I felt very proud of that.
“I miss my mom and dad dearly and my family. Wish you guys were here. What a day.”
The last time he’s seen his parents?
January 2020 he said. He last saw his sister during his INDYCAR debut in Oct. 2020. That was the last time for both.
“Yeah, I miss them dearly. My mom and dad, they’re the ones that got me here and made me believe in myself. My mom and dad have been infatuated with the USA for many years, and I guess that put the love of the USA and the want to come over here to the big leagues when I was a young kid, even way before my Supercars success.
“Then obviously I met just a guy named Roger Penske and we kicked it off. I’m tremendously grateful for the position my mom and dad put me in and the position Roger and Tim Cindric put me in.”
Power Finally Has 2 Straight Good Races To Start A Season Off With
Will Power has always said that if he can start the seasons off better, then watch out. He’s consistently ended the years strong, it’s just the beginning of them that have been his Achilles heel.
Well, Power got the finishes that he’s needed. While he hasn’t won yet, a third and fourth place results to start 2022 off which is vastly better than he’s started recent seasons off with. As an example, a runner-up last year in Barber to kick off 2021 was good but his results after wasn’t.
Power’s podium that day in Barber was his only top five in the first eight races. Furthermore, half of those eight saw him finish 13th or worse. He’d then score three podiums in a five race span after before cooling off in the final three races of that season.
Heading into this season, if you combine the first two races over the last six years (12 starts), he’s had just three top fives and five top 10’s.
Now, he has a pair of top fives.
“I’m really, really happy to start out this way,” Power said. “I think anytime you’re on the podium, anytime you have a top 5 that’s not the day you’re going to look back and go, oh, that cost me the championship. If you can keep rattling off those top 5s you’re going to be in the game. Definitely happy with the result.”
In saying this, the first race he’s been getting down. St. Pete was the 3rd podium in the last 4 years of the season opener. It’s the second race that he’s had the problem. The finishes of the second race in the past three years prior to today?
24th, 20th and 8th respectively. He was 13th and 22nd respectively in the two years prior to that.
On Sunday, he was fourth. That’s his first top five here since his 2017 victory.
Next we go to Long Beach to where Power’s a multi-time winner there as well.
As to what he needs to do for this season now to turn this into a potential championship one?
“Finish really well in the double points race at Indy like we didn’t last year, and have my car start when I’m leading in Detroit,” he jokes. “That group of points right there probably would have put me in the game. So there’s a big chunk right there.
“But honestly, it’s those days that really got us. Like we were in — we were going to be a top 5 at Indy and then the brakes went to the floor and I had no brakes and then couldn’t pit really, and then in Detroit obviously the thing didn’t start.
“But those little gremlins, those little things are the things we look back as things that really cost us, kind of things out of my control, but I also reflect and look at where I can be better, as well. If that all comes together, I really believe we can win the championship and be right there, at least a contender right until the end.”
Ericsson’s Oval Improvement Has Him Thinking Championship
Marcus Ericsson told me following his runner-up in 2019 at Belle Isle that he was excited for what his future was going to be here in the NTT INDYCAR Series. See, that was his rookie season and most of these tracks were the first time that he’s seen them. In Belle Isle, he saw the track a day prior. For the doubleheader weekend, he was runner-up the second time that he saw the track.
The thing is, for 2020, he joined a new team at Chip Ganassi Racing. Unfortunately, a pandemic ensued which didn’t help the learning curve. It’s hard to get to know a new team with social distancing. How can you get full laps when practice is limited and testing outlawed. So, 2020 was essentially a second rookie season. He’d still get nine top 10’s which is up from three in 2019. He also had three top fives and went from 17th to 12th in the final standings.
2021 he was back with Ganassi and now finding his groove. He’d score 12 top 10’s in 16 races but most importantly, two victories. That propelled him from 12th to 6th in points and had him thinking championship for 2022.
So far, those championship dreams are legitimate. Ericsson, was ninth in the season opener in St. Pete and now third in Texas. He’s fifth in points (-39) after two races and hopeful to become the third different Ganassi driver to win the championship in as many years.
He beat those Ganassi teammates on Sunday in the XPEL 375 as he led the four car Ganassi brigade across the finish line in the end. They’d finish collectively 3-5-6-7.
“It was a great day for us in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda,” Ericsson said. “We started a bit further back than we would have liked. I didn’t really have a great run yesterday in qualifying. Had some work to do.
“But I did a really good start, some good restarts, then my guys did really good strategy. My car was pretty difficult to drive in the beginning of the race, but we adjusted throughout the race to get it better. That was pretty helping me.
“Huge team effort today, get all the way from 14th up to the podium, yeah, a very good day. I’m very happy with that.”
That learning is what helped him give great feedback to his crew to get the car dialed in to be among the best there at the end. The thing is, he doesn’t know exactly as to what clicked but it’s something that definitely has.
“I don’t know,” he said on why he’s bee so fast on ovals already. “But it’s been something, to be honest, ever since I came to INDYCAR, I’ve enjoyed ovals. There’s been a lot to learn coming from European racing, no oval experience. It’s been a quite steep learning curve.
“I felt pretty comfortable on them, but I haven’t really got any results on them until today. That was one of the big areas that we focused on in the off-season this year, to really analyze, for me to look at lots of data, onboards, trying to understand oval racing better so I could get some more results on the ovals.”
He says that in order to win that championship he so covets, an oval improvement was needed and a third place run already is what he needed. That’s the final gap to close in order to legitimately challenge for a title.
“If you look at the championship last year on road and street, I think I was second or third in that championship, but on ovals 12th or 13th,” he continued. “An area we’ve been focusing on this season. To get to the first oval of the year, get my first podium on the oval, I think shows all that work that I and my engineer and the rest of the 8 car group, Dario, all the work we put in is paying off.
“I feel like that was the biggest reason why I wasn’t, like, really in the fight for the championship all the way last year. On the road and streets, I had enough points to take it down to the last race. Just lacking too much on the ovals.
“It’s been a big focus for us. We worked really hard. I worked really hard, studied I don’t know how many onboard videos of Scott Dixon, Indy, trying to understand the racing on the ovals especially.
“I think that’s so much experience, being tactical, thinking ahead, being on top of your tools and all that. It’s been something, like I said, I’ve been working a lot on. It’s such a great feeling to see that work is paying off, we get this podium.”
Ericsson said that he hopes this podium in Texas is comparable to his win in Belle Isle. You have to get over the hump to make future success happen.
“When I got my first win, it was a big relief. You go on from there because you get a lot of confidence. I’m hoping and thinking it will be the same thing here: I get my first podium on an oval, build on that and go to Victory Lane next time.
“I went into this season with the goal to win the championship. I was sixth last year. Running up front in the championship, winning races.
“Started off this year, St. Petersburg, I think we should have been on the podium without the pit lane penalty that put me back from fourth to 25th. I think that shows how much pace me and the car had there.
“To come to Texas, superspeedway, finish on the podium, we’re going to be contenders. We will be all year. I’m feel confident, ready to take that fight and get the championship.”
Rossi’s Terrible Luck Continues
I wrote entering the season that Alexander Rossi was betting on himself. He was a free agent at the end of the 2022 season but wasn’t just going to return to Andretti Autosport unless things changed. He was open to signing a new contract but would rather bet on himself to see if he could have better results which could in turn sway him to either stay or maybe even test the market to see what his value was elsewhere as well.
But, if results didn’t change, he most certainly would be gone.
So far through two races, I don’t see why he’d want to come back. Rossi qualified 13th and finished 20th in St. Pete and now started 12th and finished 27th in Texas. That has him 27th in points out of 29 drivers.
Rossi, was sixth and fourth respectively in practice in St. Pete but only qualified 13th. The team elected to not pit with everyone else that hadn’t already done so on Lap 27 of the 2022 season opener. They were desperate to stay in the front. So, he’d lead 10 laps but have to pit on Lap 37. Without a yellow the rest of the way, that move pushed him further down.
For Texas, he had a mechanical failure on Lap 11.
“At least we saw the green,” he’d say. That’s how low that it’s gotten for him. Now, he’s reeling even further.
He hasn’t won a race since Road American in 2019. He led 54 of 55 laps that day. In fact, that was the 10th race of that season. At that point, he had led in 7 of the 10 races to account for 182 laps led.
But, over the last 39 races during this winless streak, he’s led a total of 95 laps. He led 83 laps in 2020, two last year and 10 in St. Pete. That’s it.
Also during this 39 race drought, he has finished 17th or worse in 7 of his last 19 starts. He had 6 finishes of 17th or worse in his previous 47 races.
The prime of his INDYCAR career is being wasted and he’s not anywhere near to where he expected to be in his career path in terms of success yet.
The Andretti Autosport driver seemed to be on a quick path to a championship once he won his second career NTT IndyCar Series race in Watkins Glen during that 2017 season. From the Toronto race that season through the one at Road America in 2019, Rossi had six wins, 16 podiums and 22 top five finishes in a span of 33 races. But, over the last 39 races, he’s yet to win, has just 8 podiums and only 11 top fives.
He was second in the championship in 2018 and third in 2019. But, this dip started during the middle of that ’19 season which is why he didn’t hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy that season and why he’s hasn’t yet overall. He was 10th in the final standings last year.
That’s why with him being in the final year of his contract, he’s not just running to the negotiating table with Andretti Autosport to reup. He feels like the results could be better for both sides.
Pit Road Costs AMSP
Felix Rosenqvist got his groove back in qualifying on Saturday. Unfortunately, he failed to lead a single lap and pit road was costly to his new found momentum. On Lap 99, Takuma Sato and Devlin DeFrancesco had an incident in Turn 2 which the contact between the two sent Sato up the track and into the wall. During that caution, the field decided to hit pit road for the second time of the race.
At that time, Arrow McLaren SP was running 3rd and 4th with Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward being there respectively. That’s when their race changed.
Rosenqvist entered his pit too hot and slid through his box. He’d go from 3rd to 16th. O’Ward hit his left front tire changer and would go from 4th to 17th as a result. That also was a penalty too for O’Ward as he’d have to pit again to serve his penalty.
Then, not long later, Rosenqvist had a mechanical failure and have his day end early in 20th. O’Ward wouldn’t be able to rebound as he’d come away 15th.
After a rough start to the year in St. Pete, AMSP isn’t off to the finest starts to th eseason now in general.
O’Ward/Herta’s Championship Hopes Off To Tough Start
Pato O’Ward was only 12th in St. Pete and now 15th in Texas. That has him 13th (-64) in points after two races for which if he wants to win a championship this season, he’s going to have go go on a roll here soon.
Same for Colton Herta. His goals of being a champion rest on turning top fives into podiums. So far, he’s 0-for-2 in 2022.
On Sunday, he had a slow final stop. That cost him a potential top five in going from up front to 12th. He’s seventh (-47) in points now.
In St. Pete, he also had a had a car for a podium. He was second in both practice sessions and qualified in third. He led 97 of 100 laps in a win in that very race last year. Unfortunately, not having his car fueled all the way during his first stop cost him dearly. He had to pit a little earlier in the final window which forced him to have to fuel save. That dropped him from a podium to fourth. That’s exactly what he was talking about the last two years. Days like he’s had this season so far cost him championships.
He had 10 top fives in his first 32 starts to his career. The problem was, he only had four podiums out of those 10.
Last season, Herta had seven top fives in his No. 26 Honda in 16 races run. Out of those seven, five of which were on the podium giving him more podiums in 16 races last season than in 32 starts prior.
Still, he needs to do so on a more consistent basis. Alex Palou had eight podiums. Josef Newgarden had six. They were 1-2 in the championship. Sine 2016, all but one champion had a podium finish in 50% or more of their starts throughout a season. Josef Newgarden had a 41% podium rate in 2019. Other than that, everyone else has been around the 50% mark.
That’s what Herta is missing is turning those solid days into podiums.
Mix in Rossi’s bad luck, Romain Grosjean’s car having a mechanical failure and Devlin DeFrancesco causing two incidents on Sunday, this has not been a great start to the year for Andretti Autosport in general.
Expensive Weekend For RLL But Ferrucci Shows He Belongs Here
Jack Harvey was the only driver to find the wall in practice on Saturday. On Sunday, his teammate Graham Rahal was collected in the Lap 129 crash. That’s 2 of their 3 cars wrecked in less than 24 hours to spark a very expensive weekend for the team.
In saying that, Santino Ferrucci showed us once again that he’s deserving of a full time opportunity. He was on the grounds this weekend as a fan. Ferrucci, was spotted in the pits on Saturday speaking to friends in the paddock. Then, with Harvey’s crash and his relationship with RLL last year, they needed a driver and Harvey was there already available.
The thing is, he didn’t know he would be racing until early Sunday morning. A few hours later, Ferrucci drove from last to 9h in his first race of the season.
Isn’t it time we give him a fair shake. In five races for RLL last year, he had four top 10’s with a worst result of 11th. In three Indy 500 appearances, he has a top 10 in all too.
The kid can flat out drive. He’s still young (23) and able to right now race for who he wants. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has signed him for the Indy 500 but with so many rides potentially opening up for 2023, maybe his name should be higher on people’s lists.
Is he brash? Sure. Does he wreck some? Absolutely. But that aggression and bravery is also why he can win multiple races in this series as long as someone gives him a chance to. Imagine what he could have done on Sunday with the proper preparation.
He hasn’t raced at Texas since 2020. He had no practice. Didn’t qualify. Hopped in and race on Sunday and morning and he leaves with a top 10.
Does Indy Lights Need A Superspeedway?
One of the factors into a lighter crowd in Texas was that there was no Road to Indy activity. Granted, you can’t run USF2000 or Indy Pro 2000 on a superspeedway. However, Indy Lights you certainly can and as we saw on Sunday, maybe Roger Penske needs to revisit not having them run on superspeedway’s anymore.
They didn’t run the Freedom 100 in 2020 due to the pandemic. The race wasn’t brought back since. That could be causing some issues with the young drivers at tracks like Texas because they have no superspeedway experience prior.
Kyle Kirkwood was making moves all race but found the wall on Lap 114. Devlin DeFrancesco was driving a little over his head in pushing Takuma Sato into the traction compound and causing his No. 51 Honda to get into the wall as a result, then making a not so wise three-wide move entering Turn 3 on the Lap 129 restart sparking a three car crash.
Would some superspeedway experience help this? I don’t think it would hurt. Texas, if they come back, could benefit from another race and the fans have been begging for the Freedom 100 to return as well.
Race Was Good, Crowd Was Not
Sunday’s XPEL 375 was surprisingly good. An insanely close finish, 15 lead changes with 12 of the 27 starters leading at least one lap, I’d say Texas delivered. Unfortunately, we didn’t expect much out of it since the second lane of the Texas Motor Speedway was essentially a “no go zone.” However, the race itself actually was pretty sporty. While you couldn’t go into that lane very often, you could make passes.
Saturday’s special 30-minute session was a huge help. Also, with the downforce levels where they were and how well the tires played out, you could follow closer and make moves around the outside entering Turn 1. You’d just have to make sure you quickly get down once making your maneuver.
“The track was so much more raceable today compared to a year ago,” said third place finisher Marcus Ericsson. “It was really fun out there because you could actually overtake people, go side by side through 1-2, even 3-4 sometimes. It was really raceable out there. It was really fun to race today. We had the last two years where it’s been difficult to overtake.
“That was a huge improvement. I hope also it was more fun to watch as well.
“Ovals, it’s a lot of fun to race, a lot of tactical and all that. Sometimes when we go racing, it’s very hard to overtake on the ovals, then it gets very static racing, you get frustrated because you cannot really make moves.
“That was not the case today. I think whatever INDYCAR has done, they’ve done a great job. We need to sort of understand what we did right this weekend to get the racing this much better because it was a lot more fun when you knew you could get around people, not easy, but you could get around people. That was making a huge difference for the enjoyment behind the wheel, I would say.”
It allowed passing. We saw a last lap pass on the outside in Turn 4 for which Josef Newgarden credited Saturday’s one-off session for allowing him to make it.
“I think the session they ran yesterday cleaned up a little bit of the second lane,” he said. “It really did. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did in three and four last year. There’s just no way. I would have hit the fence for sure.”
Second place finisher Scott McLaughlin agreed.
“They almost need to do that not only here but everywhere,” he said. “No one’s going to run the slower lane. People don’t do that. We’re focused. Like Gateway, I’m sure Iowa. I agree with Josef. I think extra downforce was helpful.”
I mean, what’s the difference between Texas and Indy now? It’s not like you can pass on the outside at Indy either. You have to be strategic and make it happen. That’s exactly what we saw.
The problem was, not many actually saw it. Sunday’s crowd was a complete embarrassment. Shame on the fans or lack thereof.
That has me still wondering if the NTT INDYCAR Series comes back in 2023 or not. The second lane is the second lane. We saw INDYCAR do everything that they can do to help make it come in. Luckily, the drivers adapted and did make moves. The problem now is, is it worthwhile coming back with playing host to a bunch of aluminum?
This is like that Fontana race a few years ago of one of the best races that no one saw.
This isn’t a good look for INDYCAR to have a crowd that you wouldn’t be able to know if it was staged in the 2020 pandemic sanctioned races or not. For INDYCAR races and tracks to work, they need packed houses.
Texas was far from it. One could say this will be the least attended race on the schedule. For a track that was hosted fans in excess of 100k, this was embarrassing. Haven’t I mentioned that word before?
That’s what this was.
For a fan base that screams they want more ovals, where were you? I hope the TV ratings come out to rival the Indy 500 because you certainly didn’t do your part and show up in person. Maybe you watched on NBC….
While I get this is a problem for all sides, the fans aren’t given a free pass. Yes, I get the racing at Texas has been lackluster over the last decade and yes I get the second lane was the biggest topic of conversation entering Sunday’s race, but that doesn’t mean you just ignore the race all together.
In the track and INDYCAR’s defense, no one showed up for the Cup race last Fall either to which NASCAR and drivers themselves called out the attendance. Well, here we are again which could lead me to believe that this isn’t necessarily an INDYCAR fan base problem. Maybe it’s a Texas fan base problem.
If that’s the case, is it the track not promoting or attracting fans? That could be it. Honestly it plays a part. I mean it’s clear that in order for ovals to work in INDYCAR you need support events too. That’s what makes road/street courses as well as Gateway work. They have constant action all day.
Texas didn’t provide that.
So I get the build up and entertainment being low which doesn’t bring fans out. So I side with the fans in that aspect. That’s on the track. So is the racing surface. This track was ruined with the repave and reconfiguration. It doesn’t even work for NASCAR either as one could say this is the worst track in both NASCAR and INDYCAR.
They have their faults in this too.
INDYCAR has a hand in it as they can promote too but they’re at the bottom of the blame game. They’ve tried. They’ve done almost everything that they can but nothing seems to be working. Which leads me to believe this marriage may be over.
The relationship started in 1997 and unfortunately started having problems in 2012 when the racing went from an exhilarating pack race to a spread out snoozefest. INDYCAR has actively been trying to help the racing ever since over the last decade but it’s a hard one to nail. Too much downforce and too much grip from the tires leads up back to a pack race. Too far the other way gets you four lead changes for an entire race. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle but that’s a hard line to find since a minor change in either direction can lead to an extreme race on one side or the other.
Then, once they’ve found it, the track hasn’t cooperated in the sense of the traction compound ruining a second lane.
So, where do we go from here? The drivers want to come back. The series and track want to make it work. The fans don’t see to want to. The racing and track as is won’t change unless Texas gets another repave/face lift and I don’t see that occurring unless SMI likes what Atlanta did so much that they make Texas replicate that.
There’s no contract in place now. The relationship is now over. Do they come to an agreement in the coming months on a new contract for the future?
INDYCAR can’t have only Indy as the only superspeedway on the schedule so they need to find a replacement which is harder than it seems. Yes, Milwaukee has been mentioned, but that race hasn’t always had the fan interest and is also a short oval.
The fans scream for more ovals but Pocono, Milwaukee, Phoenix and now Texas would like to have a word on where your money is for your mouth…