Pato EXPELS His Frustrations- Quick Thoughts on the EXPEL 375

Photo: Pato O’Ward celebrates his first Indycar win. Photo by Chris Jones, Indycar

Finally. Pato O’Ward knew he could win Indycar races before he even raced in the series. I remember his first press conference at Sonoma in 2018 before his first Indycar start. There was a quiet confidence about him. I felt then that I was looking at a future Indycar Series star. Today the road to stardom in the Indycar Series officially began.

O’Ward’s first series win came tonight with a series of strong passes, including moving past two cars on the second restart. His car was one of the strongest the entire race and the pit strategy on the final stop put him in a position to go for the win. he showed the patience he has sometimes lacked in waiting until the right moment to overtake Josef Newgarden with 23 laps to go. This won’t be his last win of 2021. We have a new contender for the championship.

Slow Start

Scott Dixon brought the field to the green flag at a slower than normal pace. The resulting six car pile up at the back of the pack caused the first 18 laps to be run under caution. I was surprised there was no red flag, but I assume the television window played a part in keeping the lap count going.

Alexander Rossi is off to another frustrating start to his year. He is more irritated this year about it because he feels his car is more competitive than it was in 2020. Rossi felt Indycar should have held qualifying for today’s race. That may not have prevented the accident, but I see his point, that some of the drivers involved in the wreck would have started further toward the front.

One of the problems with double header weekends is it is hard to deviate from the schedule. A last minute call to qualify today would have caused teams to scramble for an extra session. Indycar might want to look at building some flexibility into their double header schedule for a situation like this weekend in the future.

Tough Weekend for Bourdais, Daly

The early promise shown by Sebastien Bourdais and A. J. Foyt racing fell apart, literally theses last two days. Bourdais was involved in two of the three crashes the past two days. Neither was his fault.

Conor Daly struggled to a 21st place finish Saturday and ended up upside down today. Again the aeroscreen prevented an unpleasant outcome.

Both Dale Coyne cars and both Foyt cars suffered damage in the incident.

It is a good thing that the next race is in two weeks. Some of these cars were the teams’ cars for the Indianapolis 500, so there is plenty of time for repairs.

A Better Race

After Saturday’s race, I was not expecting an improvement in the racing tonight, although I though it would play out differently. Sunday’s race turned out to be a darned good one. I don’t know if it was the earlier start time in warmer temperatures than Saturday, or the teams learned some things in the first race, but there was passing for position, including at least three passes for the lead.

The oval package still needs a lot of work to make the cars race better. Texas Motor Speedway has to somehow eliminate the PJ1 compound for Indycar. I would not mind future races to be like what we witnessed tonight.

Kids!

Indycar is four races into the 2021 season. Drivers under the age of 25 have won three races and have been on the pole three times. One of the poles was awarded by rule due to rain. Both Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward have won their first Indycar race. Colton Herta the “veteran” among the under 25 crowd, has won four races and four poles in his career. Palou led the point standings until the end of Saturday’s race. O’Ward is now second to Dixon in points, while Palou is third.

The future of Indycar is looking very bright.

Notes

It is hard to believe that Josef Newgarden led his first laps of 2021 in the fourth race of the year tonight.

In four races Indycar has seen four different winners from three different teams. two different drivers have won the two earned poles.

The Top 5 finishers tonight represent five different teams.

Alex Palou is the only driver to have led laps in every race this year.

This is the deepest into a season I can remember going without a win by a Team Penske driver. I will be shocked if I can still say that by the end of this month. Penske’s record at IMS on both the road course and in the 500 is second to none.

EXPEL 375- Another Dixon Runaway?

Tonight’s EXPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway could possibly be a repeat of lat night’s race. There are a couple of factors that may change the outcome. The race is 36 laps longer, 248 laps, which will require an extra pit stop. The temperatures will be warmer, which will increase tire wear. Whether these things are enough to make a better race I’m not sure. It will be just be different.

The starting lineup- Entrant points once again determine the lineup. The points used for today’s race reflect the standings following last night’s race. Setting the lineup when qualifying is washed out is a no win situation for the series. There is no way to make everyone happy. Some fans have said there is plenty of time to qualify today. That may be true, but there is no broadcast window for it, and the rules for this situation are in the rule book.

Here is how the grid looks. Green flag is at 5:15 pm Eastern on NBCSN. Coverage begins at 5 pm Eastern.

I will be back with my thoughts on Race 2 later tonight.

Texas Preview- Caution or Chaos?

Indycar ends its four races in three weekends opening stint at Texas Motor Speedway with the running of the Genesys 300 (212 laps) Saturday and the XPEL 375 (248 laps) Sunday. The races make up the first of two scheduled double headers in 2021. Detroit is slated to host a double header June 12-13. Should the Toronto race need to cancel again, look for as third twin race weekend at either Mid Ohio or Portland.

Texas Motor Speedway has stood by Indycar since the split in 1996, hosting at least one race annually. There was a double header in 2011, two races ran on the same night. The staring grid for Race was determined by each driver spinning a tire. The number on the other side of the tire was where that driver started. Tony Kanaan and Will Power won the two races that night. Both are competing this weekend.

This is a crucial weekend for teams and drivers on several fronts. First, drivers want to be in a good points position heading to IMS for the GMR Grand Prix and 105th running of the Indianapolis 500. Second, teams hope to escape two oval races with little to no car damage before going to Indianapolis. TMS has seen a lot of equipment torn up over the years.

We will see either two cautious races or we could see the usual Texas chaos. here are some things to look for this weekend.

Season Debuts

Three veterans will participate in their first events of 2021 this weekend. Ed Carpenter, who only drives in the oval races, will pilot the number 20 car for his team. Conor Daly, the road/street driver of the 20, will move to Carlin in place of Max Chilton.

Popular veteran Tony Kanaan steps into the 48 for rookie Jimmie Johnson at Chip Ganassi Racing. Johnson decided before the season began that he would not run the ovals in 2021.

Pietro Fittipaldi, who drove eight Indycar races in 2019 for Dale Coyne Racing, returns to the team and will be in the 51 car normally driven by Romain Grosjean, another rookie sitting out oval events to begin the season.

Limited Track Time

With just one 75 minute practice Saturday morning, smaller teams and newer drivers may at a disadvanage. TMS is not an easy track to learn. Qualifying is just two hours after practice. Any damage to a car in practice could likely result in a starting position at the rear of the field.

Different Racing

Races at Texas are normally held at night. The racing changes as the track cools and the cars react to the temperature change. Both races will be held in late afternoon. Saturday’s race begins at 6:45 local time, with sunset at 8:11. The race will finish at twilight. Saturday’s high is predicted to be 70 degrees, much cooler than it is for the traditional early June date. there is also the possibility of rain.

Sunday’s race begins at 4:15 Central time and should be complete well before dusk. A high 82 degrees is forecast with a much smaller chance of precipitation than the previous evening.

No Go Zone

Teams that tested at Texas were disappointed to find that the traction compound put down to help the NASCAR race still was on the track. TMS president Eddie Gossage tried to remove it, but it still is dangerous territory for an indycar. The 2020 season opener was essentially a one groove race. This year it looks like we will see more of that type of racing. Pit strategy and when the yellow flag comes out sould determine the winner.

Veterans Return to the Top

Ovals are usually a veterans’ game. In the fist two races, second year drivers Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou won the pole and race respectively at Barber. Last weekend at St. Pete third year driver Colton Herta won both the pole and the race. This weekend we get to to watch drivers older than 25 win all the honors.

I think Team Penske wins both poles and one race. The other race winner will come from either Ganassi or Andretti.

Here is the schedule with broadcast times and channels: