5 storylines heading into Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Jimmie Johnson’s Hand

Jimmie Johnson went to bed on Friday night not knowing what his status would be for the rest of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach race weekend. He suffered a practice crash early on in the lone practice session on Friday when his No. 48 Honda got into the tire barriers in Turn 5. Johnson, didn’t move his hands far enough away from the wheel and as a result, broke a bone right below his right pinky finger.

He didn’t know how much of an effect it would have on his efforts for practice and qualifying on Saturday as well as 85 laps of racing on Sunday.

See, Johnson didn’t want to do anything to hinder his chances of competing in next month’s Indianapolis 500. If there was a risk of potentially making his injury worse, he said that he’d sit this weekend out to ensure he could be at Indy in May.

When he was reevaluated on Saturday morning, they found his hand in a better placement as Friday. With a carbon fiber brace available, he figured he’d try it out in practice to see how it all works.

Johnson, completed only 14 laps before getting into the Turn 1 barriers. He said he was okay after the incident but felt terrible for his team to have to repair his No. 48 Honda again. Despite the crash, he was fine and tried out qualifying later.

Unfortunately, he was penalized for impeding Graham Rahal’s lap and as a result, would qualify 25th out of 26 cars. Still, he said he felt fine in the car on Saturday and will indeed race on Sunday.


Colton Herta shattered the 5 year old record on Saturday – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Record Breaking Pace

For the 2nd time in 3 races, we’ve seen the track record shattered. For St. Pete, Will Power went 59.3466-seconds besting Jordan King’s four year old record of 1:00.0476-seconds in 2018. This time in Long Beach, Colton Herta went 1:05.3095-seconds which shattered Helio Castroneves’ record in 2017 of 1:06.2254-seconds.

The speed wasn’t surprising though. The reason for that is that the tires that Firestone brought to street courses this season have made a jump in the speed department too. 

“I think Firestone continually develops the tire. That’s part of it,” Alexander Rossi said. “There’s some sort of sealer or something down that is probably contributing to some of the grip level as well.

“I don’t know that we have a definitive answer. It’s something that we should probably understand before we leave here so that we know coming back if it’s going to be the same or revert to the old days.

“Ultimately it’s a lot of fun. It’s awesome out there some of the speeds you can carry even through the fountain and stuff is pretty spectacular.

“I’m loving it. I think it’s going to be a great race and a good show for everyone tomorrow.”


Rahal and Castroneves crashed near the mid way point – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Devlin DeFrancesco Texas Penalty

On Friday, INDYCAR officials announced a six-position starting grid penalty for the No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport entry for avoidable contact involving driver Devlin DeFrancesco during the Sunday, March 20 race at Texas Motor Speedway.

DeFrancesco was in violation of:

Rule 9.3.3. Avoidable Contact – The primary responsibility for avoiding contact with a Competitor resides with the overtaking Competitor and the secondary responsibility resides with the Competitor(s) being overtaken. A Competitor who fails to demonstrate their responsibility and initiates a maneuver that results in contact with another Competitor may be penalized. According to the rulebook, a penalty can be applied at the next INDYCAR race if the penalty cannot be served at the event where the infraction took place. The series’ next 2022 event is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 10 on the Streets of Long Beach.

DeFrancesco was in the mix in a pair of incidents that day. He 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, on Lap 129, he made a not so wise three-wide move entering Turn 3 on the Lap 129 restart sparking a three car crash.

INDYCAR has taken action and it has been a topic of conversation in the paddock this weekend with some drivers wondering how a penalty can take place weeks after the race itself. INDYCAR noted that this was a rule that was brought forth in the winter meetings and that they can take evasive action whenever they choose due to this.

Some are for it to send a message while others think it’s maybe a little too extreme.

I wrote that day though, would it benefit INDYCAR to get Indy Lights back on the IMS oval. 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 that day that 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.

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.

Can Grosjean pick up his 1st career INDYCAR win on Sunday – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Andretti Autosport’s Race To Lose?

Andretti Autosport entered this weekend’s race as the favorite but many wondered if they’d actually perform. The NTT INDYCAR Series has seen a lot of parity lately, so much so we started questioning last season if this the “Big 3” was becoming a “Big 4” or dare I even say a “Big 5.” Well, after how this season has started and with how things have transpired, I almost seem to think it’s really a “Big 2” that’s separated themselves from the field with the next 2-3 teams grouped together that way.

That’s honestly more of an inditement to the Andretti Autosport program than anything else. See, they were a part of that “Big 3” with Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. It was them and then everyone else.

However, 2 of the 3 have distanced themselves while the other has slipped back into the clutches of everyone else.

No one has won as many Indy Car championships since 2003 than this trio. In fact, no one has won a title outside of them since 2002 (Panther Racing). The thing is, Andretti pulled their weight until 2013. From a nine year span between 2004 and 2012, they had won four titles.

In the 10 years since?

None.

Penske and Ganassi have combined to win nine straight including 13 of the last 14 in general.

Since the start of the 2019 season, Penske has won 21 times. Ganassi is behind them at 13. Andretti is still third, but they have just six trips to victory lane in that span. Ganassi has more than doubled Andretti which is a large gap now between second and third.

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing is fourth with three victories, so half of Andretti’s total which honestly may have Andretti in third all by themselves. But, if you go in the Aeroscreen era (2020-present) Andretti has four wins with Arrow McLaren SP with two. Penske has 12 and Ganassi 11.

Its been a rough start to the year for the AA camp. Can they turn it around in Long Beach? This is the spot if so. They’ve dominated the last three years there. Rossi led 71 of 85 laps in his 2018 win. He backed that up with leading 80 of 85 more laps in 2019. We didn’t go there in 2020 due to the pandemic but when we came back in 2021, Herta led 43 of 85 laps in giving AA their third straight win.

Now, they have 3 cars in the top 6 of the starting lineup including putting 3 cars in the top 6 of practice and if you include their Mayer Shank Racing alliance, they put 4 cars in the top 5 on Saturday’s session.

This is likely their race to lose. They could have had a front row sweep if not for Romain Grosjean’s Turn 5 incident on the final lap of qualifying.


Weather Conditions

The change in track conditions between the two days has been astounding. In session 1 of practice on Friday, it was 95 degrees ambient with a track temp of 132 degrees. On Saturday morning, it was nearly 30 degrees cooler air temp and 56 degrees cooler track temp. It was 68 degrees for session 2 with a track temp of 76. For qualifying, it was still 68 degrees out with a track temp warming to 111.

It’s completely altered everything between the two days and kept the drivers and engineering staff on edge with massive swings of temps.

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