TRACK: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5 mile, oval with a dogleg), DISTANCE: 250 Laps (375 Miles)
Other than Indy or Long Beach, this is the next longest venue on the circuit. INDYCAR has been coming to Texas every year since 1996. This weekend will mark the 36th race that the series has held on the 1.5-mile track. This will also be the third straight time though that the race weekend will be held outside of the month of June. In 2021, it was held in early May. Last year it was moved up to March and now the date moved into April. The only other exception was that the 2016 race weekend, which was started in June, but due to so much rain, wasn’t completed until August.
- 12 of the last 13 winners have 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.
- From 2003 though Race 1 of 2011, there were 11 straight races to where the race winner came from the top five of the starting lineup. It’s only happened five times in the last 13.
- Few cautions may occur too. We’ve had 4 of fewer in 14 of the last 16 Texas races run.
- There’s been single digit lead changes in 3 of the last 6 Texas races (15 last year).
- 1 groove track now due to the PJ1 compound but 2nd lane started to open up more last year.
- Texas has led to some dominating performances recently. Every race since 2009 has seen someone lead at least 100 laps in all but two of them and one of which was the 2011 shortened races. The other, Dixon led 95 laps.
- 3 of the last 5 races however, the driver to lead the most laps though, also failed to win the race too. Newgarden only led 3 laps a year ago and just 54 laps in his 2019 win. 46 of his 54 laps led in that 2019 race came in the final stretch. Pato O’Ward only led 25 laps in 2021’s win.
TRACK COMPARISONS/WHO’S BEEN GOOD ON THEM
The only comparison to Texas now would be Indianapolis since both run the superspeedway package, but you really can’t compare those 2 since Texas is a full 1 mile shorter in length. Texas is a track that really just stands on it’s own.
The top teams at Texas are the top teams in the series. Penske and Ganassi have alternated wins in each of the last five years and 7 of the last 9 overall. RLL and AMSP are the only 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.
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.
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.
For Texas, Penske led 209 of 248 laps (84%).
So, in the first race back on these tracks, did anyone do enough this offseason to close that gap?
McLaren looks the part right now with all 3 cars in the top six in the opening practice and each in the top 5 in qualifying. However, 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?
McLaren could be tops in the next best list with scoring a pole last year with Felix Rosenqvist and a race win here in 2021 with Pato O’Ward.
RLL has 2 podiums which equals the amount of Andretti and is one more than McLaren. They finished third with Graham Rahal in 2021 Race 2 and have led the second most laps of the teams not named Penske and Ganassi in this span.
RLL has led 88 laps since 2017. Andretti has led 102 laps but 93 of which came in 2019. McLaren has only led 25 laps, all by O’Ward in 2021. Schmidt Peterson led 2 laps in 2019 and 31 in 2018.
RLL didn’t qualify well last year, nor this year, and I don’t know how you just magically turn that around this quickly? They started 24th, 26th and 27th at Texas and 21st, 31st and 32nd at Indy. Getting to mid-pack is honestly the next progression.
Andretti is young.
In terms of manufacturers, Honda has taken 4 of the last 8 overall at Texas. But, those are also their only wins at Texas since 2013 too. Last year, it was more even in terms of superspeedway success.
Chevy went 1-2 in Texas and had 3 of the top four finishers. They also combined to lead 229 of the 248 laps (92%). In Indy, both manufacturers were split 3-3 in the top six. However, Honda won the race and had 2 of the top three finishers while leading 166 of 200 laps (83%).
To find more separation, you have to look prior to a season ago then. Honda had the package to beat prior.
In 2021, Scott Dixon led 206 of the 212 laps in Race No. 1 en route to a dominating win. Graham Rahal, another Honda driver, led the other six laps. Honda put three cars in the top five that night and six in the top nine overall.
A day later, a Chevy (Pato O’Ward) won but Honda’s combined to lead 191 of the 248 laps.
At Indy in 2021, Honda went 1-2 and led 92 of 200 laps that day.
A year prior to that, Honda put 8 cars in the Fast 9 at Indy, swept the top 4 finishing spots and led 180 of 200 laps. At Texas that year, they had two cars in the top four and combined to lead 159 of 200 laps that night too.
In 2019, Josef Newgarden won at Texas in a Chevrolet powered car, but Honda drivers accounted for leading 194 of the 248 completed laps though and took four of the top five finishing positions including six of the top eight even. Newgarden, was the only Chevy driver to lead and he did so all at the end. He was also the only Chevy driver to lead in 2020 too as no other Chevy driver has led a lap at Texas since 2018. In 2018 in fact, Honda led 66-percent of the laps (162 of 248) too and took eight of the top nine finishing positions then as well.
That’s Honda leading 80-percent (918 out of 1,156) of the Texas laps entering last season. Chevy flipped the script so what happens on Sunday?
Chevy went 1-2-3-6-7 in Practice 1, 2-4-6-7-8 in Practice 2 and has four of the top five starters.
- This is a 4 stop strategy type of race, but it’s all about timing the stints right.
- If you count backwards, the final pit window would take place from Lap 190-200. If that final stint stays green, the guys that pit early will have a quicker burst of speed, but fall off as the run goes on. The guys that pit later will lose time to the guys with newer tires, but gain time when it counts in the end. Pit too soon, you’re a sitting duck. Pit too late, you don’t have enough time to catch up. There’s a happy medium. But, you have to manage your tires too. You have to lay a set at the end in case for a late race caution which changes everything. Then, the second to last stint would be Lap 140-150. That doesn’t count any other yellow flags though, where it would be wise to pit under caution then having to come down on green flag sequences. You can’t afford to not pit under caution because not doing so and having to pit under green while most others don’t, well you’ll surely lose at least a lap in the process.
In 2020, Firestone limited the amount of laps per stint to 35. By comparison, the stints were around 65 laps in 2019. In 2021, it was a little better but keep in mind both races that year were varying lengths. How will this weekend look? Can your tires last a full 65 lap stint under green flag conditions or is the fall off so great that you need to break the stint in half?
I’ve said it a lot here but Texas is a track that’s often been hard to figure out. The tires have played a big role in this because if you have minimal fall off over the course of a run, the cars can’t separate from one another and danger ensues. If you degrade too much, it creates single file racing without a lot of action. Throw in the Texas heat factor, the stained track from PJ1 and you never really know what you’re going to get. So, it’s anyone’s guess to how this weekend’s race is going to look.
So, while the tires are a bit of an unknown, the tire and pit strategy are going to be key.
While some don’t envy the rookies, I don’t envy the strategists either.
With track position being key, you have to be flawless in pit lane but with longer green flag runs possible, you have to figure out the best time to pit and not lose ground on either side during your stint because passing is not easy here.
You also have to have luck on your side too.
In Race 2 of 2021, Dixon, dominated early. He led 163 of the first 185 laps. The only way that he wasn’t going to win this race was something out of his hands happening. Well, that something happened.
It all started with Jack Harvey’s caution for a mechanical failure on Lap 117. Dixon, had led all but eight laps up until that point of the day, but that yellow completely altered the complexity to this race.
Everyone pit during that caution period on Lap 119 and from then on, it went into a fuel saving race. Dixon, didn’t want to lead. Neither did anyone else.
Graham Rahal passed Dixon for the lead on Lap 139, but Dixon stormed back 12 laps later on Lap 151 to regain the top spot. Rahal, slowed so much, Dixon couldn’t risk allowing everyone else behind to gain ground of them any longer. So he made his move back.
Everyone that stint was just trying to conserve enough fuel to get them to a point to where they could pit for one last time and make it to the end without stopping again.
Dixon and Rahal pit from the top two spots on Lap 186. At that point of the race, Chevy had led a grand total of six laps. That comes after Honda led all 212 laps a day prior.
They were 1-2 heading to pit road for the final time. But, that was their demise too. The pair of Chevy’s being driven by Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden went a little bit longer on that stint.
It was Lap 188 when O’Ward hit pit lane and Newgarden pit for his final time two laps later. Those two staying out a little bit longer proved to be the winning move.
Rahal, leaped Dixon following their stop, but then O’Ward exited ahead of both. Newgarden, was able to pit and come out ahead of all three due to a caution for Felix Rosenqvist flying on Lap 190 when his right rear tire literally fell off on track.
Takuma Sato, Marcus Ericsson and Ryan Hunter-Reay had yet to pit at that point. Ericsson and Hunter-Reay ducked down pit lane under the final caution of the day. Sato, stayed out. He last hit pit lane on Lap 166. There was no way that he could make it to the end. So, the guys behind him were in the best position and they lineup behind was Newgarden, O’Ward, Rahal and Dixon.
Dixon, had the best car but the undercut worked against him. Being in fourth, there was now nothing that he could really do since you really couldn’t go on the PJ1 areas to pass. Rahal, had a fast car, but it went away in the end.
Last year, McLaughlin dominated much of the day but his car went away once he hit lapped traffic in the end. It allowed Newgarden to close up and on 7 lap fresher tires, he was able to use the high line on the final lap to win.
Last year we entered this weekend wondering if it was going to be the last. However, after a thrilling show captured with a photo finish, the future of INDYCAR 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 event.
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.
Now, the series is back for the second race of the 2023 season. Unfortunately, all momentum was lost via this month-long break between St. Pete and now, but the best part is, 3 of the 5 April weekends will feature a race as well as a two-day Indy test this month as well.
That leads into the most important month of the year at Indy.
He won this race in 2019 and was third a year later, sixth and second respectively in 2021 and won again last year. He was ninth and second quickest respectively in practice and starts fourth.
A runner-up in his Texas debut was eye opening enough. An eighth place run a day later was even better. McLaughlin led 186 laps and narrowly missed out on the win last season. While he was quickest in Practice 1, fourth in Practice 2, he does start 15th. That doesn’t worry me, however.
He has finished 12th and 15th in two of his four Texas starts, but was third and first respectively in his other two (2021 doubleheader). Also, at Indy, O’Ward has three top six finishes in as many tries. This weekend, O’Ward was second and 13th in practice and qualified fifth.
This will be his 24th career Texas start. He’s won five times, four of which coming since 2015 including 3 of the last 6 overall. Dixon has netted four straight top five finishes on this track as well including being fifth last March. He’s led 677 laps here since 2018. This weekend, Dixon was 10th and 1st in practice and starts on the front row for the 10th time of his career here.
Only two top fives in eight Texas starts has him on this list and not the favorites. But, he’s a great superspeedway racer which is also why he’s on this list as a sleeper and not a fade. Rossi was 5th in Indy a year ago and now takes over a McLaren car that has proven to be quick on these types of tracks. He was 3rd and 11th in practice and starts third.
Starting to finally find his groove on these tracks last year. He should have won this race in 2020, was 13th and 16th in 2021, but won the pole last year and had some bad luck while pitting from the lead which dropped him to 21st. At Indy, he finished fourth last season too. This weekend, he once again earned the pole and was sixth and eighth respectively in practice.
Heading into the 2022 season, Ericsson’s Texas finishes were 7th, 19th, 19th and 12th respectively. His last two Indy finishes were 32nd and 11th. Then he went out and led 10 laps while finishing third in Texas last March and won the Indy 500 last May. Ericsson has been quiet this weekend in being 19th and 10th in practice and starts 16th.
Foyt hasn’t had terrible cars at Texas. 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. He starts 14th.
Last year was his first top five at Texas since 2017. 4 of his previous 5 finishes were each 13th or worse. At Indy, Power has finished just 14th, 30th and 15th respectively since the addition of the Aeroscreen. This weekend, he was 14th and sixth in practice and starts eighth.
Great fantasy play here. He was runner-up in the 2021 Indy 500 to go along with a pair of top seven’s at Texas in 2021. However, he was seventh again here a year ago and ninth in Indy. Can he truly pick up a superspeedway win? He’ll be in the top 10 and maybe even a top 5, but I’m wary of going to victory lane. He was 13th and 9th in practice and starts 7th.
I expect big things out of this opportunity next month, however, his recent Texas finishes have been DNS, 9th, 14th and 20th respectively. He has one top five finish (Race 1, 2011) in 14 Texas starts. While he’s with a car capable of winning (finished 6th last year), Sato has struggled to bring his cars home here too (6 DNF’s) and has just three lead lap finishes. That’s why I’m fading him despite being eighth and third in practice and qualifying 6th too.
Likely too young here. 3 of the bottom 4 finishers last year were these cars with Devlin DeFrancesco in 24th, Romain Grosjean in 26th and Alexander Rossi in 27th. The guy between these three? New driver for them in Kyle Kirkwood in 25th.
Grosjean also finished 30th at Indy. DeFrancesco was 20th and Kirkwood 17th. I don’t see them magically getting to the front this time around in Texas either.
Colton Herta is their best play, however he’s finished 12 or worse in two of his last three Texas starts and has 1 top 10 in his last three Indy tries too.
So despite starting 10th (Herta), 11th (Grosjean), 12th (DeFrancesco) and 20th (Kirkwood), I’ll pass.
Meyer Shank Racing
This was a surprisingly off pace weekend for them. Simon Pagenaud, despite three podiums in his last seven Texas starts including eight straight top 10’s (8th last year) and was also 8th in Indy as well, was 11th and 18th in practice and starts 22nd.
Helio Castroneves has won here four times and just won the Indy 500 in 2021. 3 top fives in his last six Texas starts make him a formidable sleeper on Sunday. Castroneves also was 7th in last year’s Indy 500 too. However, he’ll only start 21st and was only 17th in practice 1 after sitting out final practice due to a gear box issue.
Ed Carpenter Racing
Solid fantasy plays here, but I don’t sense they can make up that much ground on Penske, Ganassi or even the McLaren bunch. Conor Daly’s last four Texas finishes have been 6th, 21st, 24th and 28th respectively. He starts 25th. Ed Carpenter was 5th in 2020, but 17th and 11th in 2021 and 13th last year. He’ll roll off 18th. Rinus VeeKay is their best play in being 9th in Race 2 of 2021 and 10th a year ago. However, he’ll start 26th himself.
Graham Rahal is a past winner (2016) and has six top six results in his last eight Texas tries. However, RLL lacked on superspeedway’s last year, most notably in qualifying. They started 24th, 26th and 27th at Texas and 21st, 31st and 32nd at Indy.
Santino Ferrucci charged up to finish ninth in one of their cars here last March while Rahal was collected in a crash and came home 22nd. Christian Lundgaard was 19th.
Jack Harvey hasn’t been at his best on high speed ovals while Lundgaard is only in year 2 on them. Rahal is always a threat, but how much did they improve upon on these tracks between last year and this and was it enough to truly close down that gap from Penske and Ganassi?
Dale Coyne Racing
Rookie Sting Ray Robb is in for a wide eyed experience while sophomore driver David Malukas (11th at Texas, 16th at Indy) could be more in store for a top 10 rather than a top 5.
Juncos Hollinger Racing
Likely not a win from a first-year driver in Agustin Canapino on his oval debut. Neither for Callum Ilott who was 16th and 32nd in his two superspeedway starts from a season ago.