Detroit Preview: Points Lead on the Line

Indycar returns to Belle Isle after a year away because of the pandemic. The double header gives those drivers who had a difficult Indianapolis 500 a chance to get back some points. The event also allows the points leader a shot at gaining a comfortable lead. In 2021, Scott Dixon is not leading the points for the first time in 17 races going back to last season. His teammate, Alex Palou leads Dixon by 36 points, and Pato O’Ward is just one point further behind. We could see the standings get scrambled after Saturday’s race, then flip again at the end of the day Sunday.

Palou May Slip in Race 1

Alex Palou has a six place grid penalty for race one, making his qualifying effort on a track he has never seen very important. He needs to make the third qualifying round and end up n the top half of the grid. Palou has led laps in every race in 2021, but that streak is in danger of falling tomorrow.

O’Ward struggled at St.Pete, the only other street race so far in 2021, but he is optimistic about his chances at Detroit, where he has raced sports cars. As far as Beating Dixon for the title. O’Ward said,

“Yeah, what I learned was that you have to beat the master of consistency at his own game in order to win the championship. I think that’s the best way to putit. We just need to outscore him as much as we can every weekend. I think that’s the best thing we can do in order to have a shot at the championship at Long Beach.”

O’Ward acknowledges that he has already used up his bad races and cannot have another if he wants to have a shot at the title at Long Beach.

Dixon, who finished a disappointing 17th in the 500, needs to show his trademark consistency the rest of the season. June is usually the month when Dixon really starts get going, and the month starts at a track where has won three times.

New Qualifying Format

Double header qualifying has been two 15 minute groups with the fastest driver in each group making up the front row, and the faster of the group leaders on the pole. For Detroit in 2021, the six fastest in each 10 minute group will have another 10 minute round, the Fast Twelve, to determine the pole. This format makes qualifying more similar to qualifying at the other road and street course races.

Qualifying takes the same amount of time as in the past, and I think it is more fair. usually the second group is quicker because of the rubber laid down on the track by the first group. The format will give some drivers a second chance at starting up front.

Eight for Eight?

The NTT Indycar Series has produced six different winners in six races this season. A different winner in Race 1 will tie a record, which can then be broken on Sunday. While I would like to see that, I think the record will be tied Saturday and Sunday will see 2021’s first repeat winner. The record for different winners in a season is 11. We are well on our way to that mark.

A different winner each race keeps the championship battle tight. I hope the trend continues.

First Penske Win?

Even more surprising than the six winners in six races is that a Team Penske driver is not in that group. I believe this is the weekend for the team to break into the winner’s column tomorrow. Simon Pagenaud’s charge to a third place after starting 26th has him fourth in the standings, 47 points behind Palou.

It’s odd not seeing Josef Newgarden have a victory yet this year. On Saturday, one of these two drivers will be in Victory Circle.

For Sunday, I think we will see a repeat winner, either Dixon or O’Ward.

The first key at Detroit is to qualify well. The second key is pit strategy to gain track position. Alex Palou will need to use both to keep his lead in Race 1 in order to have a chance to remain first in the standings heading to Road America.

Today’s practic is 5-6:15 pm Eastern, streamed on Peacock. I will be traveling to Detroit later this morning, and will have a wrap up this evening.