Thursday, June 4, 2015

Track Walk: Texas 2015

The ninth round of the IndyCar season takes place at Texas
The second half of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season kicks off from Texas Motor Speedway for the Firestone 600. This will be the 27th race at Texas Motor Speedway. Last year, Ed Carpenter stayed out on the final caution while Will Power pitted for new tires. Carpenter held on as Power charged from sixth to second in the final four laps. Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the podium in his first IndyCar start at Texas.

Time: Coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. ET on Saturday June 6th. Green flag at 8:50 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Brian Till (Leigh Diffey is on Formula One duty in Montreal), Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are in the booth with Kevin Lee, Robin Miller, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider working the pit lane.

Aero Changes
Texas will see a slight change in the IndyCar aero package. The rear-wheel guards will now be closed, preventing air from flowing through. The rear wing angle also must be set between -6 and -10.5 degrees to increase overall downforce.

Can Honda Win?
The first year at Texas saw Hondas lead 191 of 228 laps and the race ended with a Honda 1-2 as Justin Wilson took a surprise victory from 17th on the grid after Graham Rahal brushed the wall exiting turn four on the penultimate lap.

In the last two races at Texas, not only has Honda only had one top five and four top tens but Chevrolet has led all 476 laps at Texas in the last two years.

Both Honda victories this season have come in wet conditions with James Hinchcliffe taking the infamous inaugural Grand Prix of Louisiana and Carlos Muñoz working strategy to perfection to switch from slicks to wets without losing the lead and having lightning cause Belle Isle 1 to end early.

Honda struggled at the Indianapolis 500 as Chevrolet led 193 of 200 laps, had the top four finishers and eight of the top ten. Carlos Muñoz led the most laps among the Honda drivers at Texas with three laps while Alex Tagliani and Justin Wilson each led two laps.

At Indianapolis, Team Penske finished 1-2 with Juan Pablo Montoya leading Will Power to the checkered flag. Ganassi drivers Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon finished third and fourth. Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti finished fifth and sixth. The four Chevrolet drivers to round out the top ten at Indianapolis were Penske's Hélio Castroneves, CFH Racing's J.R. Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden and Penske's Simon Pagenaud in that order.

How Many Will Finish On The Lead Lap?
In the last three races at Texas Motor Speedway, a total of 17 cars have finished on the lead lap with the most cars finishing on the lead lap in one race being six. A driver will need to be on their A-Game if they want to find themselves in contention late in the race. Also to note that the last three Texas race have averaged 3.33 cautions per race for an average of 27.333 laps. Should this year's race only have three or four cautions there won't be many opportunities for a driver to make up a lap by being waved around.

The other thing to look out for is if there is a late caution, do teams stop for tires? Last year at Texas, Will Power went from sixth to second in the final four laps. At Iowa, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden spoiled the Ganassi party as they charged from 9th and 11th in the final nine laps to first and second. At Milwaukee, Newgarden pitted on lap 236 and fell to 12th, one lap down. In the final thirteen laps, Newgarden worked his way through the field, unlapped himself and finished fifth. Last year, it was clearly beneficial to pit for fresh rubber. Will teams do the same this year?

Driver Changes
Ryan Briscoe returns to the drive the #5 Arrow Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Briscoe won at Texas in 2010 from pole position. Briscoe is the last pole-sitter to win at Texas. He has five podiums and seven top tens in eight starts at Texas. His average finish at the 1.5-mile track is 4.9. Briscoe finished 12th in the Indianapolis 500 as a late substitute for the injured James Hinchcliffe.

Pippa Mann will be in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. This will be Mann's second appearance at Texas. She made her Texas debut in 2013 where she started 19th and finished 24th after suffering an engine failure after 2 laps. Mann's best finish in her career is 15th and she has never finished on the lead lap in her eight previous starts.

Tristan Vautier returns for the second consecutive weekend in the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. In his lone Texas start in 2013 he started 24th and finished 18th, three laps down.

Fast Facts
This will be the ninth IndyCar race to take place on June 6th. The last was in 2009 where Hélio Castroneves won at Texas. All eight previous races on June 6th have either taken place at the Milwaukee Mile or Texas. Billy Boat won at Texas on June 6, 1998. Boat is the last American driver to win June 6th.

Hélio Castroneves has the most victories at Texas with four. Team Penske leads all teams with eight victories at Texas. Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and Ed Carpenter are the only other past Texas winners entered for this year's race.

Team Penske has won a Texas race in a year ending with an odd number four consecutive times. The last time Penske didn't win a Texas in a year ending with an odd number was 2005 when Tomas Scheckter won with Panther Racing. In 2011, Dario Franchitti driving for Chip Ganassi Racing split the Twin 275s with Will Power driving for Penske.

The previous 26 Texas races have averaged 14 lead changes a race.

The average starting position for a Texas winner is 4.5769.

Three times has a driver won at Texas starting outside the top ten: Arie Luyendyk 1997 (11th), John Paul, Jr. October 1998 (14th) and Justin Wilson 2012 (17th).

Can you name the top five finishers at Texas Motor Speedway?

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 43 laps to become the eighth driver to reach the 4,500 laps led club.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 65 laps to become the twenty-seventh driver to join the 1,500 laps led club.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 47 laps to join the 1,000 laps led club.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 97 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 24 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 6 laps to reach the 100 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud scores his first career oval victory. A Honda does lead at least one lap. All 23 starters will complete at least 10 laps. More than eight cars will finish on the lead lap. Penske will not sweep the front row. There will be no more than two Hondas starting in the first four rows. At least two drivers in the top ten of the championship retire from this race. Sleeper: Ryan Hunter-Reay.