Newgarden vs. O’Ward
Sunday’s 1-2 finish for Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward was the seventh time that they’ve done that with Newgarden leading O’Ward in the head-to-head advantage 5-2.
Rosenqvist With Some Major Work To Do
For the second straight year, Felix Rosenqvist won the Texas pole. Also for the second straight year, he didn’t use it to his advantage. Rosenqvist crashed on Lap 179 and would finish a disappointing 26th. That comes on the heels of being only 19th in St. Pete. As a result, the Swedish driver sits way back in 25th in points. In a contract year, that’s not a great start.
Most assume Alex Palou is coming to Arrow McLaren Racing in 2024 and with Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi already under contract, plus Kyle Larson having a deal for the Indy 500, I don’t see any room for Rosenqvist to remain.
The problem is, with results like this, unless he can find some substantial funding he may struggle to land a ride in general.
That’s because Callum Ilott is shining and admitted he’s after a bigger seat. David Malukas is sixth in points and turning heads. They’d get considerably more attention right now than Rosenqvist would on the free agency market.
O’Ward Among The Best On Ovals
Sunday’s runner-up finish was Pato O’Ward’s 15th career podium and 25th top five finish in 57 career starts. Oddly enough though, a chunk of those have come on ovals. O’Ward has made 16 oval starts with two wins, five runner-up finishes and 12 top four results including 11 top four’s in his last 12 tries.
David Malukas sits sixth in points (10th St. Pete, 4th Texas) after a pair of top 10 finishes already this season. Callum Ilott is one spot behind in seventh (5th St. Pete, 9th Texas). It seems like each are getting closer and closer at a breakout victory.
When you look around Malukas up front, you’d see a pair of Penske’s, three Ganassi’s, a McLaren and an Andretti driver. That’s 7 of the top 8 in the final finishing order. Malukas was the odd man out as the only other one among them on the lead lap.
Penske and Ganassi have alternated wins in each of the last six years here and victors in 8 of the last 10 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.
That’s how impressive he was in coming from his ninth place starting spot.
Statistical Great Race
An insanely close finish last year saw 15 lead changes with 12 of the 27 starters leading at least one lap. I’d say Texas delivered.
How would this year look?
With some more downforce added and similar race conditions, this year’s PPG 375 delivered an even better show than the one of last year. The 26 lead changes were the most here in over two decades. The 2001 race was the last time that we had as many lead changes on the 1.44-mile-high-banked track.
The 482 passes for position was nearly 200 more passes last year. Now, this race that was once left for dead has been revived. In fact, this track was almost left for dead as it wasn’t putting on good racing for any series.
Expensive Start To 2023 Season For Andretti
7 wrecked race cars in a 2 race span out the gates to the season has Andretti Autosport 11-17-20-28 in points. This isn’t the start that they envisioned after making some changes between last year and this. It didn’t have to start off like this though.
A strong Thermal test led to a strong test in Sebring. That led to three cars in the Fast Six in St. Pete including Romain Grosjean on the pole. Instead, all four cars were collected in crashes.
Texas saw 3 of the 4 crashed once again.
Kyle Kirkwood showed so much promise in not only the testing days at Thermal Club and Sebring, but also in St. Pete too. Being quick in both practices and qualifying in the Fast Six showed that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Unfortunately, it’s been all downhill from there.
A crash in the Fast Six, a crash in the season opener (15th place) and now another DNF in Texas (27th), has him marred down in 20th in points after the first two weeks.
He’s not the only one with some bad luck.
Romain Grosjean had a chance to win St. Pete. He won the pole but crashed with Scott McLaughlin in going for the lead after their final pit stop. Grosjean finished 18th. He crashed with two laps remaining in Texas and was scored in 14th as a result. He sits 17th in points.
Devlin DeFrancesco crashed hard on the opening lap in St. Pete and did so again in Texas as he’s finished 25th and 23rd respectively this year. He’s 28th in points.
Colton Herta also crashed in St. Pete (20th place) but did rebound to finish 7th in Texas. He’s 11th in the standings heading to Long Beach.
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 both practices at Texas too.
They took the bottom three spots on the speed charts in session 1 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).
For the race, they weren’t even close to being competitive. All three were lapped by time we got to the halfway mark with the top finisher being Harvey in 18th. Lundgaard was one spot behind in 19th. Rahal crashed on Lap 219 with Devlin DeFrancesco and was credited with a 24th place finish.
RLL lacked on superspeedway’s last year too, most notably in qualifying. They started 24th, 26th and 27th at Texas in 2022 and 21st, 31st and 32nd at Indy.
This could have the four-car team for Indy worrying.
Sato Couldn’t Back Up Fast Car
I expect big things out of this opportunity next month, however, despite being eighth and third in practice and qualifying sixth for Sunday’s race, I wasn’t very high on Takuma Sato’s chances to win. He proved me right in being the first casualty in finding the Turn 2 wall on Lap 49.
Sato’s recent Texas finishes now have been DNS, 9th, 14th, 20th and 28th respectively. He has one top five finish (Race 1, 2011) in 15 Texas starts. Sato has struggled to bring his cars home here too (7 DNF’s) and has just three lead lap finishes.
Ganassi Still Puts 3 Cars In The Top 10
Sato crashed but Scott Dixon motored home fifth to set the new record for career top five finishes (194). Alex Palou was two spots better in third while Marcus Ericsson was eighth. A year after Ganassi put all four cars in the top 7, they put 3 in the top 8.
While they’ve not won either year, to have seven top eight finishes in eight tries is pretty good.
Penske/Ganassi Still Dominating Superspeedway’s
The last eight races on this track (all in Aeroscreen), Penske and Ganassi have dominated all. In those last eight years, Penske and Ganassi have combined to have taken 17 of the 24 podiums spots and have led led 78% (1,489-for-1,902 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 965 out of the 1,158 laps turned (83.3%) and taking 12 of the 15 podium spots (80%).
Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have alternated wins here in each of the last six years and 8 of the last 10 overall at that.
Penske drivers went 1-2 here last year and led 209 of 248 laps (84%). They went 1-6 this time around, leading 123 of 248 laps (49.5%). They’ve also now had a driver finish either first or second in in each of the last 8 Texas races too.
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.
That’s why heading to Indy next month, these two organizations will be the ones to beat.