Newgarden Leads Chevy 1-2-3 in Practice 2

Josef Newgarden led the final practice round before qualifying for the GMR Grand Prix at 4: 30. Newgarden edged Rings Veekay and teammate Will Power in a Chevy sweep of the top 3. All four TeM Penske cars finished in the top 10, with Scott McLaughlin fifth and Simon Pagenaud eighth.

Pato O’ Ward struggled for most of the session but salvaged a ninth place at the flag.

Scott Dixon had a clutch failure and ended 23rd.

Juan Pablo Montoya struggled the entire practice period and was the slowest car

The top 12:

In

Newgarden Fastest in Friday Practice

Photo: Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Things are back to normal at St. Pete. Josef newgarden and team Penske teammate Will Power ended the lone Friday practice 1-2 on the speed chart. Newgarden’s time of 1:00.8029 was 0.083 seconds faster than Power. Colton Herta was third quick. The top five were within 0.0963 seconds of Newgarden.

The session was red flagged with just a couple minutes to go when Sebastien Bourdais spun. Cars returned to the track with just seconds left, but no one had time to get another completed lap.

Discussing today’s track conditions and the closeness of the times, Newgarden said that the track was “really high grip today.” He believed that the high grip contributed to the close speeds among the top five.

The Day

The crowd got bigger as the day went on. I’m not sure that it reached the 20,000 capacity, but a decent number of people were there. Mask wearing, which was good at first, diminished as more people came.

I didn’t care for waiting until 4:15 for the first appearance by Indycar today. I understand why a practice needed to be cut from the schedule, but an earlier time for your featured series would be better.

Two liveries I really liked- Simon Pagenaud’s Australian Gold.

Indycar photo by Chris Owens

And Alec Palou’s NTT Data. I love the number in a circle.

Indyvar photo by Chris Owens

Notes- Dalton Keller seemed to be having an engine issue. His car sounded very rough entering turn 1.

It was interesting watching Romain Grosjean try different lines through the first turn.

Tomorrow Indycar has practice at 9:45 a6 qualifying at 1:45. Both sessions are live on Peacock. The qualifying will re air on NBCSN at 10 pm Eastern.

Indycar 2021 Part II-Another Championship Coming Down to the Wire

Photo: Josef Newgarden looks to regain the Indycar title. Indycar photo

Long Beach, September 26- The NTT Indycar Series championship hinges on who finishes ahead of whom. Will Scott Dixon win his seventh title? Does Josef Newgarden win his third? Will Alexander Rossi finally earn the trophy he covets?

This is the scenario I see playing out in the season finale. I’m not ready to declare that the young drivers will be battling each other. We might see a brief spurt mid season where Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta are ibn the hunt, maybe one of them leading for a bit, but I think we have one more year of the old guard. By old guard i mean drivers over 25.

I see O’Ward winning multiple times and another first time winner out of the group including Jack Harvey, Rinus VeeKay, and Alex Palou.

While a driver has just seventeen chances to win in a season, there are 51 chances to get on the podium. The number of podiums could well determine the title since I thin there will be nine different winners in 2021.

The early schedule favors Newgarden. He has dominated at barber the last few years, and he won St. Pete last fall. As always happens, though, is the early leader comes back to the field. Dixon has not won at either of the first two tracks. The lack of short ovals will later be a disadvantage to Newgarden.

It’s gong to be wild ride to the finish line.

Winners

Who are the nine winners this year? I will name them, but unlike some stories I’ve seen, I won’t assign a number of wins. Here they are, in no particular order:

Newgarden

Dixon

Rossi

Herta

Power

Harvey or VeeKay

O’Ward

Rahal

Sato

Sebastien Bourdais could restore some glory to the iconic nuimber14

Will Bourdais Help Foyt?

A storyline to watch is how much will having Sebastien Bourdais in the team’s number 1 car help A. J. Foyt Racing? The season starts at two tracks where Bourdais has done well. In 2020, Bourdais started seventh and finished fourth at St. Pete. I think Bourdais will improve the qualifying and will have several top 10s and a couple of top 5s. A podium spot may sneak in there as well.

Will Peacock Ruffle Some Feathers?

Practices and most qualifying will be on the new Peacock streaming service this season as NBC is phasing out NBCSN. The service is $.99 a month and can be cancelled anytime. If you just get it for the months of the Indycar season, it is 4#0. NBC Gold costs almost $50 for the year. I bought Peacock in tuime for last week’s open test at IMS. I was impressed by the coverage and the picture quality, even on my phone and tablet.

Peacock has now built an Indycar page which has the upcoming broadcasts for the next two weekends. Don’t dismiss it until you try it.

Predictions

Josef Newgarden will win his third Indycar title in 2021. Scott Dixon has always had a difficult time in a year where he is defending his championship. Alexander Rossi and Andretti Autosport need a strong run at the Indianapolis 500 to have a chance. Last week’s test did not give me hope for that to happen.

Scott McLaughlin will win Rookie of the Year simply because he is the only rookie who will drive in all 17 races. He would probably win anyway.

Graham Rahal will win the Indianapolis 500. The team dominated with a first and third in 2020. I expect them to be strong again in May.

Newgarden Leads Day 2; Thinks Race Will be Better

Photo of Josef Newgarden by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

On a day that I wish we could save for may, 31 cars hopeful of making the field for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 completed the second day of open testing. Josef Newgarden, two time NTT Indtcar Series champion, had the quickest time of the two days, 226.819 miles an hour.

The first hour of the morning allowed the rookies, Pietro Fittipaldi and Cody Ware, to complete their rookie tests, and the drivers who needed to complete their refresher tests to co mplete their two phase runs.

Conor Daly led the veterans session from 10-11 before all cars were turned loose on the track. The day was interrupted twice for brief rain sprinkles and the afternoon action stopped for some track inspections.

Newgarden summed up his day in a zoom call with media after the session finished.

“It was a pretty good day,” Newgarden said. “I was happy enough with the car. I think we still need some work, for sure, but to just get an initial read on where we’re at is good. Obviously, there are a lot of new parts and differences to the last couple of years, so we’re just trying to assess what we need to really work on these last couple of weeks before we get back here in May. But I’m pretty happy.”

He responded to questions about the duifference between this year’s car and last year’s car. he likes the changes and thinks the racing will be better.

“Yes, definitely. It’s easier to follow. It’s still tough. You’ll still get a big front wash in traffic. 10 cars back, it’s always going to b e difficult. But I think they’ve made the ability to follow better. That balance separation between clean air and dirty air is definitely reduced.Some of them are tricky to drive, some of these parts. I think you’re seeing some split camps here along pit lane. Not everybody is running the same stuff. That’s been interesting to watch. There’s more downforce on the car. I think the balance shift in traffic is less.Yeah, the ability that we’re going to have to race compared to last year will be better.

I think you have a better opportunity this year looking at the amount of downforce we have, the balance shift in and out of traffic. I think you have a better opportunity to fight for the win in the third or fourth car inline.I think more than that, you are a quick car during the race,you somehow find yourself in the back, I think you have abetter opportunity of making your way forward. Those two elements will automatically help the show. But you don’t want to have it so easy where we’re packed up the entire field the entire time. I think that’s something that you would want to avoid.It’s a balancing act. I think it will be a lot better than last year as far as the ability to race up front. Time will tell. But I think you’ll have a better show.”

Juan Pablo Montoya. Photo by James Black, Indycar

Juan Pablo Montoya, two time Indianapolis 500 is returning to the race after a three year absence. He gave his thoughts on the Arrow McLaren SP Chevy he drove in the test to the Indycar he last drove.

“They’re a little harder to drive, I think. I think the difference between clear air and dirty air is a little bigger. I think the changes from what INDYCAR did, from what everybody says, it’s a little harder as before, but not that bad.”

As for adjusting to the aeroscreen, Montoya felt the aeroscreen was similar to the sports cars he drove the last three years.

“It wasn’t too bad to get used to it. I thought it would be a little more intrusive. It’s definitely a pain in the butt to get in and out of the car, and it’s a lot hotter. I know like here it hasn’t been that bad in the oval. I did a test in Laguna. In a road course, you don’t get a lotof air. That was kind of shocking.Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of weird because, like, you’re really in a little bubble. It feels a little bit once you’re driving like a sports car.”

Notes

Andretti Autosport seemed to be struggling a bit as they did last year. The team did not have a driver in the top 10 today.

Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal look to be right wher they were last year with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Sato won the 2020 race and Rahal finished third.

Montoya and Helio Castroneves were quick in their first outing in cars not owned by Roger Penske. It’s still odd seeing them in non-Penske cars.

Arrow McLaren SP could be a factor in the 500 as well as during the rest of the season. Montoya’s input should help push the team up a notch this year.

Today’s results, followed by the no tow time sheet:

RANKCAR NO.DRIVERTEAMENGINESPEEDLAPS
12Josef NewgardenTeam PenskeChevy226.819121
230Takuma SatoRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda226.39660
386Juan Pablo MontoyaArrow McLaren SPChevy226.12368
49Scott DixonChip Ganassi RacingHonda225.906126
515Graham RahalRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda225.644157
647Conor DalyEd Carpenter RacingChevy225.639137
712Will PowerTeam PenskeChevy225.501162
860Jack HarveyMeyer Shank RacingHonda225.266140
95Pato O’WardArrow McLaren SPChevy225.118156
106Helio CastronevesMeyer Shank RacingHonda225.074128
1122Simon PagenaudTeam PenskeChevy225.001184
1228Ryan Hunter-ReayAndretti AutosportHonda224.949134
1326Colton HertaAndretti AutosportHonda224.203164
1420Ed CarpenterEd Carpenter RacingChevy224.146146
1510Alex PalouChip Ganassi RacingHonda224.134112
167Felix RosenqvistArrow McLaren SPChevy223.973126
1718Ed JonesDale Coyne Racing With Vasser-SullivanHonda223.905104
183Scott McLaughlinTeam PenskeChevy223.808195
1927Alexander RossiAndretti AutosportHonda223.636136
2045Santino FerrucciRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda223.519137
2116Simona De SilvestroParetta AutosportChevy223.45892
2229James HinchcliffeAndretti Steinbrenner AutosportHonda223.458127
2348Tony KanaanChip Ganassi RacingHonda223.10199
2424Sage KaramDreyer & Reinbold RacingChevy223.09581
2598Marco AndrettiAndretti Herta-Haupert w/Marco & Curb-AgajanianHonda222.815138
2614Sebastien BourdaisAJ Foyt EnterprisesChevy222.627125
2759Max ChiltonCarlinChevy222.258114
288Marcus EricssonChip Ganassi RacingHonda222.135188
2951Pietro FittipaldiDale Coyne Racing w/Rick Ware RacingHonda221.943144
304Dalton KellettAJ Foyt EnterprisesChevy220.19697
3152Cody WareDale Coyne Racing w/Rick Ware RacingHonda218.43858

Indianapolis 500 test – Friday all-skate – no-tow timesheet

RANKCAR NO.DRIVERTEAMENGINESPEED
115Graham RahalRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda221.549
23Scott McLaughlinTeam PenskeChevy221.153
327Alexander RossiAndretti AutosportHonda220.889
428Ryan Hunter-ReayAndretti AutosportHonda220.490
512Will PowerTeam PenskeChevy220.405
620Ed CarpenterEd Carpenter RacingChevy220.263
726Colton HertaAndretti AutosportHonda220.242
822Simon PagenaudTeam PenskeChevy220.099
959Max ChiltonCarlinChevy219.922
1060Jack HarveyMeyer Shank RacingHonda219.881
117Felix RosenqvistArrow McLaren SPChevy219.670
122Josef NewgardenTeam PenskeChevy219.668
135Pato O’WardArrow McLaren SPChevy219.621
149Scott DixonChip Ganassi RacingHonda219.558
1598Marco AndrettiAndretti Herta-Haupert w/Marco & Curb-AgajanianHonda219.518
1614Sebastien BourdaisAJ Foyt EnterprisesChevy219.293
1730Takuma SatoRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda219.175
184Dalton KellettAJ Foyt EnterprisesChevy219.174
196Helio CastronevesMeyer Shank RacingHonda219.027
2024Sage KaramDreyer & Reinbold RacingChevy218.431
2147Conor DalyEd Carpenter RacingChevy218.424
2229James HinchcliffeAndretti Steinbrenner AutosportHonda218.014
238Marcus EricssonChip Ganassi RacingHonda217.991
2416Simona De SilvestroParetta AutosportChevy217.880
2510Alex PalouChip Ganassi RacingHonda217.670
2651Pietro FittipaldiDale Coyne Racing w/Rick Ware RacingHonda217.619
2786Juan Pablo MontoyaArrow McLaren SPChevy217.600
2848Tony KanaanChip Ganassi RacingHonda217.563
2945Santino FerrucciRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda217.068
3018Ed JonesDale Coyne Racing With Vasser-SullivanHonda216.992
3152Cody WareDale Coyne Racing w/Rick Ware RacingHonda215.776

Frye: Test Results Produce More Questions

Photo: Pato O’Ward leads the group during testing at IMS Friday. -Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Jay Frye declared it a good day. It gave Indycar a direction although there is still work to do.

“When we came into this, we thought really at the end of the day that this would precipitate more questions than answers. That’s probably what happened, right. Which is fine. That’s what we expected,” the Indycar president told the media after the four var test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Friday.

“We did learn a lot. But it did also create a lot of other questions,” Frye concluded.

The test, with drivers Scott Dixon, and Alexander Rossi representing Honda, and Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward driving Chevrolets, involved various versions of push to pass in an attempt to simulate what the hybrid component might look like in 2023.

Frye explained what Indycar was looking for.

I think today we’ve got a lot of data off the car in a direction on what approach to go with,” he said. “In the way that we have push to pass, with the hybrid system that would kind of be obsolete. You’ll have a bank of energy that you have with the hybrid system that once it will go away, that you will be able to recharge it so it will be on all the time basically. With push to pass there’s an amount of time or there’s an amount of pushes. That’s what we looked at today. We just gave the drivers for every 200 seconds, you’re going to go do a 20 lap run. Use it as you want it. Most used about half, so 100 seconds. It was interesting to see how it played out.”

“We thought they would have liked that for a longer time. This is new. We’ve never done this on an oval. We’ve tested it at Pocono, Texas and Phoenix before but that was with the old package. For this new one, it definitely is much better than it was before which is cool,” Frye concluded. He also noted that trap speeds which are normally around 230 mile an hour, were 236 miles an hour Friday.

The new, larger 2.4 liter 2023 engine, and the hybrid energy recovery system should give the cars 200 more horsepower in 2023. Frye said the series will not allow that much all at once, but adjust the and work up to 900 horsepower.

Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, and and Josef newgarden discuss what they learned in Friday’s test at IMS. Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar.

The Pit Window spoke with three of the drivers after the early end to the test day.

Scott Dixonliked some of the changes and noticed the increase in speed.

“Obviously there’s a lot of power and some of the durations are quite long,” Dixon said. “10 seconds at 70-80 horsepower, especially in a car that’s trimmed out. Your average lap speed could jump by several mph. There’s some good changes to see how you can apply that and to what effect or not effect on the tire and in regards to running in traffic.”

Dixon’s concern with the push to pass is how long a driver would be locked out of the system after using it. He prefers a shorter lock out time.

Alexander Rossi doesn’t think the push to pass would change anything on an oval.

“Yes it’s a pretty big horsepower boost with the push to pass,” said the Andretti Autosport driver. “We’re going to have to look at it to see if it changed anything for the better or worse. It’s definitely different. We got that test accomplished and have some hard data to look at for the future.”

Josef Newgarden was happy to help Indycar gather data and glad that he learned some tings.

“I thought it went well. When you learn something in testing you’re happy about it. I thought we learned some stuff today on our cars on how things works and how they could potentially work in use scenario.

“The horsepower bump was tunable. You could definitely raise the horsepower increase up or down so that jump in the performance off the corner could be bigger or smaller. The length of it is all adjustable. We ran through a couple of scenarios and a couple of configurations. It’s definitely noticeable. A couple of configurations were noticeable. If you want to run a system like that, it’s really what’s the right configuration to give to the field. I think that’s the type of info we were trying to arm INDYCAR with and now it’s on to them to see what we do in the future.”

Frye said that testing of the hybrid system would likely be in January and February of 2022.

Notes

It was wonderful to watch cars on the IMS oval again. It has been more than a year since I have seen the oval used.

Improvements made by Roger Penske are obvious. Most noticeable is the new video board on the back of the Pagoda. it spans the entire width of the building and the high resolution screen is fantastic.

The main thing is how clean the plaza and Victory Circle are. I was so used to how the areas appeared, but I now realize that they were long overdue for sprucing up.

Testing for the Indianapolis 500 is schedule for April 8 and 9, between the mass vaccination clinics at the Speedway. I assume the turn 2 mounds will be open as they were yesterday.

Newgarden: Focus on 500 Win and Aiming for Another Championship

Photo: Chris Jones, Indycar

Don’t get Josef Newgarden wrong. He is focusing on winning the Indianapolis 500 this year. That doesn’t mean he is putting his desire for a third NTT Indycar series title aside. He would gladly take both in 2021. Since 2017, Newgarden’s titles have come every other year. This is one of those years. About his plans for the upcoming season, Newgarden says,

“Well, it’s definitely the same. It’s a little boring, but it doesn’t change. We want to win an Indy500. For me specifically, that’s a big goal. I’ve not won that race. Obviously as a team, we’ve had a lot of success there. They’d like to add to that.For me, I’d like to get my first. Then the championship as well, yeah, we’re looking for another one. Obviously I was hoping we were going to win our third championship last year and we could be working on the fourth. We’re going to have to go back to square one and try to knock the third off this season.”

Winning the 500 takes a lot of time and effort. Newgarden explains,

“Indy is a really tough track, not only because it’s the most important race but I think because it’s all about very small details, and those little details take a tremendous amount of time and effort to move the needle. It’s all these little things that add up at the end of the day when you show up in the month of May . It takes a tremendous amount of time to make large progress at Indianapolis, whereas at another track you may find a small difference or small change with something that you found that didn’t take nearly as much energy or money or resources.

We didn’t perform like we wanted to at the 500 from a qualifying standpoint and race standpoint. I think that’s why we’ve heavily leaned to get that right in the off-season.We haven’t left anything else behind. We’re still pushing forward on all the other fronts because we need to be strong across the season.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske crew was was not as strong at Indy as they have been in the past.

“Last year our qualifying form was not strong. We were all disappointed with our speed. That was first and foremost. How do we fix the speed of the cars from last season? There’s been a tremendous amount of work that’s been put in. We have the best of the best in my opinion when it comes to talent and personnel. There’s been no shortage of effort and time to make these Penske race cars as fast as possible. That was first and foremost.”

Newgarden shares many other drivers’ optimisim that Roger Penske is the right man to leading Indycar during these difficult times.

“I think this year has strong potential to really go to the next phase of where we’re at in this pandemic, hopefully back to a newer normal and working towards what we love, and that’s having people at the track, putting on great shows,providing great entertainment.I’m really excited. As we get to this next phase, I think the best is still yet to come from Roger Penske and the entire organization. I think, like I said, we’re all very thankful that he’s in charge and that we’ve got a good direction in front of us.”

Newgarden summed up his 2020 season as one where the breaks didn’t fall his way.

“I feel like last year was one of those years. We were just inthe wrong place, wrong time, a little too often. You have that happen just one too many times, basically what happened to us is the result of it. I felt like our momentum was quite consistent throughout the year, at least from a performance standpoint. We could just not seem to catch enough breaks. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Quick Thoughts (After a Deep Breath)-Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Photo: Joe Skibinski, Indycar

The Race

If Indycar wants to make St. Pete the season finale, I’m fine with that.The venue produced the finale drama that is missing from long road courses. Mistakes on a street course are costly.

I hope this race shows Indycar that double points are unnecessary for the finale.

What a great drive by Josef Newgarden, capped by an amazing pass for the lead. His win was a normal ending to a race which typified how the year 2020 has gone overall.

Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

It was great fun watching Newgarden and Scott Dixon both doing exactly what they needed to do to have a shot at winning the title. I hope we can see this championship rivalry for a few more years.

This race had everything- leaders crashing, yellows playing with strategy, some rain, the pace car running out of fuel, the title intrigue, and the Andretti Autosport drama on both ends of the grid.

 I have never seen a team that had a complete vise-grip on a weekend destruct as quickly as Andretti Autosport did today. The team had seemed to have figured out what was ailing them early in the season the last few races and were in line for a podium sweep at one point.

With Marco Andretti not qualifying for the Leaders’ Circle, you have to wonder if we see the 98 next year.

I hope Alexander Rossi uses all of this year’s frustrations to have a monster season in 2021. Today had to be particularly heartbreaking to be on the verge of salvaging something from this year and have it go away so fast.

I think James Hinchcliffe did enough this weekend to be the prime candidate for the 26 car next year.

A couple more laps of yellow and Alex Palou might have been able to get to the end of the race. I hope he will be back next year. I really like the way he drives.

Sebastien Bourdais appears to already be helping A. J. Foyt Racing. He was in the top 10 all weekend. After getting shuffled back on pit stops and with the aid of the cautions, he worked his way up to fourth at the end. Foyt placed both cars in the top 10 with Charlie Kimball finishing eighth.

Pato O’Ward didn’t win a race this year, but I will be shocked if he doesn’t win one in 2021. Arrow McLaren SP had a competitive season. Another nice drive today for his second runner-up finish of the year.

Congratulations to Rinus VeeKay, Indycar rookie of the Year. I’m glad that he will get another year at ECR to continue to grow as a driver.

I appreciate NBC going overtime with thier coverage to allow for an interview with Dixon.

The Title

Josef Newgarden (R) congratulates Scott Dixon on winning the Indycar series title. phot from NBC on Twitter

Scott Dixon has firmly placed himself on the same plane as Foyt and Mario Andretti. He now has six championships to go along with 50 career victories. I expect him to tie Foyt with seven titles and to end up with close to 60 race wins before he is done. I have been privileged to see both Foyt and Dixon race. While they drove in different eras, each had superior talent to their peers. I may not have appreciated Foyt at the time he drove for all his accomplishments, but his career has given me the perspective and context to appreciate Dixon while he is still active.

The last four series titles-

2017- Newgarden

2018-  Dixon

2019- Newgarden

2020- Dixon

We should have maybe three more years of this rivalry.

Dixon and Newgarden completed every lap this season. It is extremely rare that one driver accomplishes this feat in a season. It is obvious why they were the title contenders and that there was only a 16 point difference at the end.

I will be back on Tuesday with my season review, which may be divided into two parts. Thanks for follow along this weekend and all season. I appreciate you so much.

Race Day at St. Pete- The Title and Money on the Line

Good morning. Today’s schedule: (All Times Eastern)

10:40-11:10 Warm up NBC Gold

2:32 Green Flag NBC 2:30-4:30 100 laps

A reminder – cars will be on the pace lap when the television broadcast begins.

Scott Dixon just needs to maintain his starting position to win his sixth championship. The window of possibilities for Josef Newgarden shrunk a bit when he didn’t win the pole yesterday. His eighth startoing spot will make it hard for Newgarden to get the 53 maximum points today. Both drivers need to get through turn 1 of lap 1 cleanly.

The leaders’ Circle final spot is still up for grabs. Marco Andretti will start 23. The 98 is seven points out of the Circle at the moment and will need to move up to have a chance. Sebastien Bourdais’ seventh starting spot should help the 14 car keep the final spot. Conor Daly starts 14th. The 20 car is six points ahead of the 14 in 20th.

Simon Pagenaud was headed for his best qualifying effort of the year until his late spin cost him his two best laps. Still he starts 12th, which is an improvement. Pagenaud has not let where he starts affect his racing. he could be a factor today.

Rookie of the Year

When the green flag flies, Rinus VeeKay will earn Rookie of the Year honors. VeeKay, dribving for Ed Carpenter Racing, got off to an awful start this season at Texas. He crashed in qualifying and crashed early in the race, also taking out rookie Alex Palou. The rest of the season VeeKay showed tremendous improvement, capturing a pole and a podium spot at the Harvest Grand Prix.

Notes from the Ground

I received several messages yesterday from friends at the track. My friend Ed Murray said there wer fewer vendors, which was to be expected.. he said people were complying with mask wearing.

I later saw a photo from the stands where several fans were not wearing masks. I later heard from others that track staff was reminding people about the policy.

The track claims that nearly all tickets have sold.

I wonder how much of the grandstands will remain standing for the March race.

I applaud the efforts of Indycar, Green Savoree, and the city of St. Petersburg to put this race together for a second time this year.

I’ll be back with a quick warm up recap and then my race quick toughts this afternoon.

St.Pete Preview- The End of a Long and Winding Road

I really didn’t think this race would happen this year. Rescheduling a street race is a monumental task, and few cities would want to go through the inconvenience a second time in the same year. If the 2021 schedule holds, the NTT Indycar Series will return to St. Pete in a little more than four months. Kudos to everyone who made this event happen, but a special hat tip to the city of St. Petersburg, who had to bear the brunt of this uncertainty.

Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be the 15th edition of an Indycar race on the streets of the central Florida city. The first race was won by Paul Tracy in 2003. After a year’s absence, racing returned in 2005 and has continued uninterrupted since then.

This year’s race is scheduled for 100 laps, down from the 110 laps of the past few years, on the 1.8 mile, 14 turn course. 2020 is the first year St. Pete has hosted the finale. it is usually the season opener. In the span about four months, it will be the finale of one season and the opening race of the next year.

Although the title hunt is a two man race, and Scott Dixon is in a very good position to win his sixth title, there are several other things to look for this weekend. There is still a battle for the final Leaders’ Circle spot. Some drivers are hoping for a good showing to help secure a seat for 2021. Scott McLaughlin is making his Indycar debut, while a couple other drivers may not return to the series next season.

Championship on the Line

Scott Dixon heads into the weekend with a 32 point lead over Josef Newgarden. Dixon’s lead, which at one point had swelled to 117 points, has had what for him is a slump with four finishes in the bottom half of the top ten. Newgarden, meanwhile has steadily sliced the lead with two wins in the last four races.

Dixon needs to finish ninth or better to clinch the Astor Cup regardless of how Newgarden fares. Newgarden will need some help from Dixon to have a chance of winning his third title. I don’t see Dixon losing the crown.

Debuts and Auditions

Australian Supercars champ[ion Scott McLaughlin makes his long anticipated Indycar debut for Team Penske in car number 3. McLaughlin’s firast Indycar race had been set for the GMR Grand Prix in May. He participated in the Spring Training test in Austin and was third fastest. Mclaughlin will be a full time driver for Penske in 2021. It will be strange seeing someone besides Helio Castroneves in the number 3.

James Hinchcliffe, who is finishing the season for Andretti Autosport in car 26, which was vacated by Zach Veach, still has nothing set for next season. Coming off of 13th and 14th place finishes in the Harvest Grand Prixs, Hinchcliffe could use a good showing to insure he has a place on the grid next year.

Oliver Askew has been cleared to drive after undergoing concussion protocols. This is Askew’s last drive for Arrow McLaren SP. Askew will look to have a good weekend as he seeks a new ride for 2021. Felix rosenqvist will take Askew’s  seat at AMSP  next season.

Charlie Kimball is not confirmed for another year for A. J. Foyt’s number4 seat. He needs a strong showing to stay in contention for the ride.

The Battle for 22nd

Four cars will be jockeying to finish the season entrant points stand ing in 22nd, the final leader’s Circle spot. Entering St. Pete, Foyt’s number 14 car is in the final slot with 173 points. The 98 is 23rd with 166. The addition of Sebastien Bourdais to the 14 should help Foyt stay within the Circle. The 20 car of Ed Carpenter Racing is 21st with 179 points. One of these three cars will end up on the outside looking in for the $1 million plus payout from Indycar.

The race broadcast is on NBC beginning at 2:30 Eastern time Sunday. The green flag is at 2:32. Cars will be rolling when the broadcast begins and there will be no pre race show. The television window goes to 4:30, which may mean a very brief post race interview with the race winner and series champion.

My picks- Will Power to win the pole and the race. Scott Dixon will take his sixth  series championship.

Look for session reports tomorrow and a race wrap up Sunday evening.