5 things I’m now watching for Sunday’s PPG 375 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)

2nd Lane

Last year we entered this race weekend wondering if it was going to be the last. However, after a thrilling show with a photo finish, the future of the NTT INDYCAR Series and Texas isn’t as bleak as it once was. The cooler temperatures but run in the daytime conditions plus an outside lane practice on Saturday evening helped allow for a second groove to race on for Sunday’s race.

Heck, the race winning pass came from the outside in 2022. An insanely close finish, 15 lead changes with 12 of the 27 starters leading at least one lap, I’d say Texas delivered.

The thing is, I wish I could say, “as advertised” but that would be a lie. That’s part of the problem but more on that later.

Unfortunately, we didn’t expect much out of last year’s race since the second lane of the Texas Motor Speedway was essentially a “no go zone.” Or was it? Leading into the race, everyone was still skeptical on how racing much above the first lane would go.

However, the race itself actually was actually pretty sporty. While you couldn’t go into that lane very often, you could still make passes.

Saturday’s special 30-minute session was a huge help in making it that way. 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.”

Now, what happens this time around?

Scott Dixon thinks that the racing package itself, well it may actually be even better.

“I think this year the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has done a good job I think of bringing some updated aero pieces which I think will definitely tighten the pack and allow for some side-by-side racing with the addition of a full-field high line practice, which I think will help as well as we sort of did definitely in St. Louis,” Dixon said on Tuesday afternoon via a weekly INDYCAR zoom call.

“I know it’s definitely more downforce in the 200-to-300-pound mark maybe. Then I think I don’t remember if we ran barge boards there last year. You have the full strokes on the underwing. There might be a couple of other things.

“Yeah, I think previously we had trimmed maybe sidewalls, strokes, yeah. It’s definitely I think a pretty big adjustment as far as adding downforce to the car for the race.”

Dixon says the combo of aero, the weather being cooler and that second lane practice being back again, this could very well make Sunday’s race the best we’ve seen at Texas in a while.

“All three of those should make, one, the second lane a little more usable, which will definitely tighten up the pack, and ultimately make it a lot more racy for everybody,” he continued.

“I think for the drivers you just hope it doesn’t become a pack race. I don’t think it’s going to be that extreme.”

If that’s the case, then this weekend is all down to being dependent on that second lane and if the surface is raceable like it was last year.

“Half the time we don’t realize some of the stuff until we actually turn up,” Dixon said. “So I’m not actually sure they have applied some of that texture to the high lane. I think with the addition of the high line practice that will give everybody at least some idea of what that grip level is like.

“You’re right, the traction compound will probably be the biggest defining point I think that you deal with. Just last year when you got yourself out of trouble, you got onto that stuff, it was difficult to keep it all in one spot, keep it off the fence.

“Hopefully they haven’t had any of that recently laid down, and that may make it a much easier situation for ourselves going into the weekend, especially for the race.”

INDYCAR has confirmed that no traction compound has been put down between last year’s race and this one, so there’s a real possibility this could be a good show again.

The only other factor in this is what kind of potential troubles having NASCAR tire rubber (Goodyear) being down on Saturday in comparison to INDYCAR’s tire compound (Firestone). However, Dixon says with the amount of cars here this weekend (28), they could get their rubber down quicker and it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

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. So, what does this groove look like on Sunday and was last year’s race enough to bring any sort of crowd back?

The Grandstands

Was last year’s race enough to bring any sort of crowd back?

The problem from last year’s exciting race was, not many people actually saw it. The 2022 crowd was a complete embarrassment. Shame on the fans or lack thereof.

Now, I get reasoning on why fans haven’t flocked to Texas much over the last several years. I’m sure fans grew tired of baking in the North Texas early summer heat while watching a high-speed processional. However, last year proved that INDYCAR and Texas can still coexist and put on a good show.

Was it enough to bring the fans back, however?

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 last spring. The problem now is, did last year’s race do enough to play host in front of people or will these drivers risk their lives in front of a bunch of aluminum rows of nothing.

Last year was like that Fontana race a few years ago in being one of the best races that no one saw. Even if the racing is improved again this year, is there enough to bring fans back in 2024 or is this now the best that we’ve got?

If it’s another dismal crowd, then this isn’t a good look for INDYCAR fans base. For INDYCAR races and tracks to work, they need packed houses. Last year should be enough to bring people back.

But will it?

One could say this has been the least attended race on the schedule. For a track that was hosted fans in excess of 100k, the last several years’ worth of attendance has been embarrassing.

If it looks the same this year, it would be a farce.

For a fan base that screams they want more ovals, where have you been? Why do you never show up to them?

While I get this is a problem for all sides, the fans aren’t given a free pass on this either. 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 last year’s race, but that doesn’t mean you just ignore the race all together. At what point do you make this series appointment viewing whether it be in person or on TV?

You make other things appointment viewing. Why not INDYCAR? There’s always excuses and I’m telling you for those that didn’t show, you’re potentially costing INDYCAR another oval.

In the track and INDYCAR’s defense, no one showed up for the Cup race the last two Fall’s either to which NASCAR and the drivers themselves called out their 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.

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.

Now, maybe they have something to build off…

So, where do we go from here? How many show up? It’s a crowded weekend in the Metroplex. A Taylor Swift concert, the women’s Final Four and the Rangers are hosting the NL Champions Philadelphia Phillies…

Penske and Ganassi swept the top 7 finishing spots last year in Texas – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Can Arrow McLaren Truly Top The “Big 2”

Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have alternated wins here in each of the last five years and 7 of the last 9 overall at that. RLL and McLaren are the only other exceptions with Graham Rahal’s win in 2016 and Pato O’Ward’s in Race 2 in 2021. RLL also won the 2020 Indy 500 too.

Last year, Penske and Ganassi swept the entire top 7 of the final finishing order.

However, it looks like McLaren may be the ones to beat on Sunday. They put all three of their cars in the top five of the starting lineup (1st, 3rd, 5th) and also went 2-3-6 in practice this morning.

The thing is, can they truly hold off the Penske and Ganassi’s? In final practice, they took 5 of the top 6 speeds on the timing charts.

Penske drivers also went 1-2 here last year and led 209 of 248 laps (84%). They’ve had a driver finish either first or second in in each of the last 7 Texas races and will start 4th, 8th, 15th.

Ganassi played second fiddle to Penske last year in Texas but in Indy, it was Scott Dixon leading 95 laps, Alex Palou 47, Marcus Ericsson 13, Tony Kanaan 6 and Jimmie Johnson 2. That’s 163 of 200 laps (82%) and the win.

The last seven races on this track (all in Aeroscreen), Penske and Ganassi have dominated.

In those last seven years, Penske and Ganassi have combined to have taken 15 of the 21 podiums spots and have led led 81% (1,341-for-1,652 laps).

Last year, they led 219 of the 248 laps run. A year prior, it was all 212 laps of Race 1 and 188 of 248 in Race 2. In 2020, it was 198 of the 200 laps. In 2018, it was 204 of the 248 and in 2017, it was 233 of the 248. The only exception was in 2019 when they only led 87 of the 248 laps.

That means since 2020, they’ve combined to have led 817 out of the 908 laps turned (90%) and taking 10 of the 12 podium spots. Can anyone truly stop them on Sunday?

The thing is, 12 of the last 13 winners here have also 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. Also, just five times in the last 13 races did the race winner come from a top five starting spot too.


The Texas Motor Speedway is a daunting place in general. Even the most seasoned of veterans get nervous for this one. Mix in the first high speed oval of the season and you get a tough race weekend for rookies. Most of them have never raced on an oval before let alone a superspeedway. With the Indy NXT Series not racing the Freedom 100 anymore, there’s not much experience to be had for a track like this.

“Honestly I came from an era where I think it was six and six,” said Scott Dixon on having oval experience before getting to a place like Texas. “You did six ovals and six road courses, a season of 12 races in Indy Lights. The fields were 30-plus cars.

“Having that feeling I think of both, but it’s got to be meaningful, too. Sometimes when I’ve watched the Freedom 100, IMS, they’d be running four-wide around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I was like, Yes, it’s great racing, great to watch, but it doesn’t really teach you anything for what the bigger category does.

“I think if it’s done in a productive and meaningful way, I think it totally makes sense.

“Some of the circuits like St. Louis or Iowa, those I think are great circuits to understand oval racing on a short track version and how the car moves around. Some of the bigger speedways I think you got to pick the right ones because the budgets can be extremely tough. You don’t want cars just crashing out all the time.

“As long as it’s a car that’s in the low-grip situation, one that’s very difficult to race, I think it’s very, very important for the junior categories to have those races.”

Which is why most rookies just try and survive the Texas race weekend and bring their cars home in one piece. That’s something that’s been harder and harder to do lately with an over 50% crash rate here for rookies.

7 of the last 13 rookies crashed in the race including 4 of the 7 last season. Just six rookies since 2019 have even finished on the lead lap and one of them was Jimmie Johnson who was far from a rookie at Texas. Scott McLaughlin is another but he was with Team Penske in 2021.

“You know, I think for some of them, they’re just hoping for a smooth weekend,” Scott Dixon said of the challenges rookies face at Texas. “I think for all of us, you don’t want to see any kind of crashes or people getting injured or anything like that. You hope everybody keeps it where it should be.

“Yeah, I think all the new guys have got solid heads on their shoulders. I don’t think they’re going to go out there and do anything stupid. I think they’ll have a great race.

“Yeah, no concern from my point of view. We’ve all been there. I was once there. All of us have gone through that. You definitely go into those weekends with your eyes wide open, man. Actually I had Indy Lights oval racing before that. I couldn’t imagine going straight into an INDYCAR race, especially at Texas, for the first time to get your oval experience.”

Since 2020, only Oliver Askew (9th), Scott McLaughlin (2nd) and Jimmie Johnson (6th) have top 10 finishes at Texas as rookies.

How Rookies Have Fared At Texas Lately

2022: 6th (Johnson), 11th (Malukas), 16th (Ilott), 19th (Lundgaard crash), 24th (DeFrancesco, crash) 25th (Kirkwood crash), 26th (Grosjean crash)

2021: McLaughlin (2nd, 8th), Fittipaldi (15th, 21st, crash)

2020: Askew (9th), O’Ward (12th), VeeKay (22nd, crash), Palou (23rd, crash)

2019: Ferrucci (4th), Ericsson (7th), Herta (18th, crash)

2018: Pigot (11th, not rookie in INDYCAR but at Texas), Veach (16th), Claman DeMelo (17th, crash) Wickens (19th, crash), Leist (22nd, fire)

2017: Ed Jones (17th, crash)

2016: Rossi (11th -2), Chilton (15th), Daly (21st, crash)

2015: Chaves (10th, -2), Karam (12th, -3), Coletti (19th, -9)

Which is why I wonder how Agustin Canapino, Sting Ray Robb and Benjamin Pedersen react this weekend to the high banks of Texas.

“I think if you use it wisely, it helps,” Dixon said of being a veteran here. “I don’t know. I always kind of approach it two different ways. I think the first time, for example, like when I went to the 500 the first couple years, you’re kind of blown away by so many different things that you just don’t focus on the specific. Things maybe kind of cycle yourself out of it or you become too obsessed with it, things like that.

“What I’m saying is sometimes it’s better to not know what’s coming than all the times that you’ve been there. Especially for a lot of us, too, some of us veterans, we used to race there twice a year so we have done a lot of races there throughout our careers.

“Yeah, I think as long as you use it in a meaningful way, it’s always good. But, again, I think sometimes if you’re a rookie or somebody that’s coming for the first few races there, it’s sometimes better not knowing the possibilities of what could come or might happen.”

Big Teams Still Up Front, But Foyt Lurking

Yes, Arrow McLaren looks like the ones to beat, however, the entire top 4 Rows belong to Penske, Ganassi and McLaren. In fact, 11 of the top 12 starting spots overall belong to them and Andretti Autosport cars. In saying that, watch out for the Foyt camp.

If you go back to the top 7 Rows, two of the only three non-Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and McLaren cars each reside in the AJ Foyt Racing camp.

Benjamin Pedersen as a rookie qualified 13th (219.100 mph). He was an impressive 18th in practice. Santino Ferrucci starts 14th in his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet (218.892 mph).

Foyt also hasn’t had terrible cars over the recent past at Texas either. JR Hildebrand finished an impressive 14th last year while rookie Kyle Krikwood even led some laps (5) and if not for a Lap 114 crash, was in the hunt for a top 10 finish. Now, you get Ferrucci who was ninth last year despite no practice and has 3 top 10’s in as many tries at Indy.

Ferrucci was 12th in practice too.

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