The name of Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES race may have a different name, however, the venue and pole winner is the same. For the second straight year, Felix Rosenqvist won the NTT Pole Award at the Texas Motor Speedway. This time, the Swedish driver turned in a lap of 220.048 mph in his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet en route to his 4th career pole.
Three of his four career poles have been since this race last year. In fact, all four of his poles have come at two different tracks (Indianapolis road course, Texas Motor Speedway).
Rosenqvist was the 10th qualifier of the session and held off 18 drivers to lead the field to green in Sunday’s PPG 375 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).
Scott Dixon will share the front row with his former teammate as the Chip Ganassi Racing driver went 219.972 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda. That was Dixon’s 10th career front row starting spot at the Texas Motor Speedway including five of which in the last eight tries. In fact, Dixon has qualified in the top seven in 10 straight races here.
Rosenqvist’s Arrow McLaren Racing teammates of Alexander Rossi (219.801 mph) and Pato O’Ward (219.619 mph) will start third and fifth respectively while last year’s winner, Josef Newgarden (219.801 mph) rounded out the top five in position No. 4.
Newgarden has started in the top 10 in seven straight races here.
Arrow McLaren Looks Like The Team To Beat
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?
Penske drivers 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.
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.
RLL’s Puzzling Pace
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was beaming with confidence entering this season. They felt like they fixed their speed deficit in a lot of areas. However, they looked off in practice in the season opening weekend in St. Pete and once again, looked off in Practice 1 at Texas.
They took the bottom three spots on the speed charts with Graham Rahal (219.600 mph) being 26th, Jack Harvey (219.548 mph) in 27th and Christian Lundgaard (215.983 mph) being last in 28th.
In qualifying, they took three of the final five spots and only went 24th with Rahal (217.611 mph), 27th with Lundgaard (216.210 mph) and last (28th) from Harvey (216.103 mph).
RLL lacked on superspeedway’s last year, most notably in qualifying. They started 24th, 26th and 27th at Texas in 2022 and 21st, 31st and 32nd at Indy.
MSR/ECR Cars Surprisingly Struggled Too
A year ago, Meyer Shank Racing took the 6th (Helio Castroneves) and 15th (Simon Pagenaud) starting spots. Ed Carpenter Racing also had Rinus VeeKay up in eighth. This year, the five combined Meyer Shank Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing cars are starting 18th or worse.
Castroneves went from 6th to starting 21st. His speed was down from 220.768 mph to 218.196 mph. So was Simon Pagenaud in going from 220.338 mph a year ago to 218.103 mph this time around. He’ll start 22nd.
VeeKay will roll off 26th while Ed Carpenter (18th) and Conor Daly (25th) join him in the back.
McLaughlin, Ericsson Shockingly Absent From Up Front
2 of the 3 podium finishers last year will come from Row 8 on Sunday. Scott McLaughlin led 186 of the 248-lap race and narrowly lost out on the win in the end a year ago. Marcus Ericsson was third and later won the Indy 500 too.
In fact, McLaughlin topped all drivers in practice this morning. However, McLaughlin was only 15th fastest in qualifying (218.765 mph) while Ericsson was 16th (218.698 mph).
Ericsson though, has never really qualified well here. He’s started 14th, 17th, 9th, 13th, 14th and now 16th. McLaughlin was 15th and 7th in the 2021 doubleheader weekend but second last year.
PPG 375 Starting Lineup
Row 1: Felix Rosenqvist, Scott Dixon
Row 2: Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden
Row 3: Pato O’Ward, Takuma Sato
Row 4: Alex Palou, Will Power
Row 5: David Malukas, Colton Herta
Row 6: Romain Grosjean, Devlin DeFrancesco
Row 7: Benjamin Pedersen R, Santino Ferrucci
Row 8: Scott McLaughlin, Marcus Ericsson
Row 9: Callum Ilott, Ed Carpenter
Row 10: Agustin Canapino R, Kyle Kirkwood
Row 11: Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud
Row 12: Sting Ray Robb R, Graham Rahal
Row 13: Conor Daly, Rinus VeeKay
Row 14: Christian Lundgaard, Jack Harvey