Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Best of the Month: April 2024

It only goes quicker. April is done. A third of 2024 is behind us. No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun. There is still more that will happen than has happened, but so much is already behind us. Some has been spectacular. Some has been forgettable. Some wish they could forget. Some wish they never will. It is at this point we acknowledge perhaps the best drive we saw all month, if not greater than the 30-day timeframe that was April 2024.

How Did Scott Dixon Win at Long Beach?
We did this last year after Dixon won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course in August on a three-stop strategy from 23rd on lap seven after making his first pit stop on lap four of an 85-lap race. Some are calling what Dixon did at Long Beach less than two weeks ago greater than that.

In the same vein, we will analyze how Dixon won on the streets of Long Beach. 

For starters, Long Beach was not as great of an obstacle compared to the IMS road course race last summer. Last August, Dixon was effectively dead last and had been in an accident on lap one. You could not have asked for a more improbable strategy than the one he pulled off, stopping first on lap four and making it on only two more stops from there. 

At Long Beach, Dixon started eighth. He spent 15 of the first 16 laps in seventh. He made his first pit stop on lap 17; early, but not excessively early considering some considered lap 25 as the earliest for the pit window opening for the first stop. After Dixon stopped, he restarted 13th as most of the field did make a pit stop and the closest car that did not stop was in 11th. There was less in the way to Dixon's march to the front. 

Speaking of Dixon's march to the front, the key thing is lap times. Dixon's overall average lap time over the 85-lap race was 71.92363 seconds. How does that compare to the three drivers that finished directly behind him, all three of which ran long on the first stint to ensure a shorter final stint in the race?

Driver Average Lap Time
Dixon 71.92363
Newgarden 71.94844
Herta 72.0055
Palou 71.85448

On average, Dixon was 0.02482 seconds faster per lap than Newgarden, and 0.08188 seconds faster per lap than Herta. Extrapolate that out over 85 laps, and Dixon was 2.1097 seconds quicker than Newgarden, and 6.9598 seconds faster than Herta. Palou was actually faster per lap than Dixon by 0.069148, a 5.87758-second advantage in the Catalan driver's favor over 85 laps. 

But that takes into consideration caution laps where everyone is running the same speed. What about green flag laps only?

Driver Average Green Flag Lap Time
Dixon 71.46266
Newgarden 71.41014
Herta 71.47933
Palou 71.36812

Here, the advantage is again in Palou's favor and even Newgarden's. Newgarden was an average of 0.052525 seconds over those 80 laps, or 4.202 seconds faster than Dixon. Palou's advantage was 0.094544 over 80 green flag laps, or 7.56352 seconds over Dixon. Herta was the only of the three again slower this Dixon. Dixon was an average of 0.01667 seconds faster than Herta over the green flag laps. That adds up to 1.3336 seconds in Dixon favor over 80 laps.

However, the full-race distance is not where the race was won and lost, nor was it in all 80 green flag laps. It was won from lap 19 onward, the lap of the one and only restart through the checkered flag. Here is how it played out...

Driver Average Lap Time From Lap 19 Onward
Dixon 70.13166
Newgarden 70.28707
Herta 70.3415
Palou 70.34647

This is where the margins open up. Here, Dixon is a full tenth faster than Newgarden per lap, 0.15542 seconds to be exact. Over the final 67 laps, that amounts to 10.41314 seconds for Dixon. For Herta, Dixon's average is 0.21349 seconds per lap quicker, or 14.30383 seconds over the entire green flag run. This is where it swings against Palou. Dixon averaged 0.21481 seconds per faster than his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, or 14.39227 seconds over the final 67 laps. 

Over every lap and all 80 green flap laps, Palou was a combined 13.4411 seconds faster than Dixon, but in the final 67 laps, all run continuously under green flag conditions, Dixon was 14.39227 seconds quicker. That shakes out to 0.95117 seconds in Dixon's favor. Dixon was 1.7664 seconds ahead of Palou at the checkered flag. 

Newgarden's numbers shake out to Dixon being 8.32084 seconds ahead and Newgarden was fourth, 3.9735 seconds back. As for Herta, Dixon was a combined 22.58863 seconds quicker over those three segments of the laps, yet Herta was 0.9798 seconds behind Dixon in second at the finish.

Like the IMS road course race, Dixon did not have to make two green flag pit stops. He made one. That meant only one in-lap and one out-lap during the race. Newgarden, Herta and Palou all had to make two. A lot can be pointed to that, but Dixon still had to stretch the fuel, and he and his Ganassi crew worked the numbers to get the fastest possible strategy while stretching the final two stints over 34 laps each time. It also helped that Dixon did not have as far to go to get to first. After all, he technically never left the top half of the field over the entire race.

All the credit goes to Dixon for turning another long-shot strategy into a victory. Will Power was on the same strategy, and he finished over 15.7 seconds behind Dixon at the finish. Basically every driver who was on the same strategy as Dixon ended up finishing worse than where they were running when they made their first pit stop on lap 17. Dixon was not only the one driver who finished better, but Dixon went from seventh to first, a six-position leap. On the same strategy, Power, who had a commanding lead through the first 15 laps, went from first to fifth. 

Dixon again got the most out of the car and it ended with another stellar victory.

May Preview
This is going to get plenty of coverage, and you might already be sick of hearing about it, but Kyle Larson will be attempting the Indianapolis 500. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion and past winner of the Knoxville Nationals and Chili Bowl will be making his long-anticipated attempt at The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. 

This has felt inevitable for over a decade. Ever since Larson won three of the 4-Crown Nationals races in 2011, we have known he would up to great things. At that time, Bryan Clauson was on the Road to Indy and running oval races in Indy Lights through a scholarship with USAC. Clauson's respectable results led to a "500" attempt in 2012. With a pathway to the Indianapolis 500 for dirt racers, Larson was a possible future participant after many years with no representation from the dirt community. 

Of course, a talent like Larson did not remain unattached for long, and he was soon in NASCAR's development system. The money and opportunity was too great to pass up. He remained active in dirt racing, but his full-time career path was heading to NASCAR and not hoping for a one-off shake at Memorial Day weekend's most famous race. 

Despite the move to stock cars, the clamoring for Larson to run this race never went away. It only grew stronger as he became a full-time Cup driver turned Cup race winner with a 24 Hours of Daytona victory mixed in while he kept being the most sensational thing on dirt.

I know we are only seven years removed from Fernando Alonso's stunning decision to run the Indianapolis 500 over the Monaco Grand Prix, but Larson is arguably the most decorated driver to show up and attempt the Indianapolis 500 since Nigel Mansell 31 years ago. Alonso came when he was in the cellar with a woeful McLaren-Honda, and Indianapolis was a treat to pick up the Spaniard's moral, something to feed his ego. 

Larson is attempting this race while being one of the top drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series, the defending Knoxville Nationals winner, the defending Southern 500 winner and the defending Turkey Night Grand Prix winner. This is bigger than Jimmie Johnson's one attempt two years ago when Johnson dabbled in IndyCar at 46 years old and after his Cup career ended with three consecutive winless season. 

Larson enters on top of the world, already a great driver. He has nothing to prove at Indianapolis, and yet he can further elevate himself in the all-time annals of motorsports. Every driver has a shot at history when they show up to 16th & Georgetown in the month of May. Larson has a chance to place himself somewhere higher than the likes of Foyt and Andretti.

Other May events of note:
IndyCar will be doing plenty from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 
Formula One bookends this month with Miami and Monaco with Imola squeezed in-between.
MotoGP will be in Le Mans and Barcelona. 
NASCAR has three races in the Carolinas, one of which is not for points.
Formula E has its most notable race weekend in Berlin before its first trip to Shanghai.
The sports car world is on eggshells before Le Mans, but the FIA World Endurance Championship has a round at Spa-Francorchamps and IMSA has a round at Laguna Seca this month.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Musings From the Weekend: Doing Barber a Favor

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Adrian Newey could be on the move from Red Bull. Ferrari will be sporting blue. Formula One has delayed giving points out down to 12th. There were a handful of missing competitors due to injury in a variety of series. Aero blocking was the key to victory in Dover. Formula E has had seven different winners from eight races. There was some racing in Germany. I missed practically all the two-wheel action from this weekend. Romain Grosjean got yelled at for not wearing a helmet. Tristan Vautier was in the paddock. A technical infraction dominated IndyCar's week. But, this is a chance to speak about where the race was, because it does not receive enough recognition. 

Doing Barber a Favor
If you aren’t running to purchase tickets for next year’s IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park, you should because it is undoubtedly one of the finest motorsports venues in the United States. 

Barber had been a track I wanted to visit for well over a decade, and things aligned for this weekend to be open for a trip to Birmingham. It is a place that truly needs three days to appreciate. 

For starters, the grounds are immaculate. I have never been to Augusta National Golf Club, and I likely never will, but Barber Motorsports Park is a picturesque parcel of land that has race cars zooming over its undulating hills and allows spectators a much more relaxed dress code. 

Come for the racetrack but stay for the park feel. Bring your own chair or blanket and lounge on the hillside, absorbing some sun and having a refreshing beverage. Once you have had enough sun, there is plenty of shade in the trees on the hillside. 

Don’t worry. There are plenty of locations to view from. If you want the most, the backside of the track covers four straightaways and the action-packed turn five. If you want an amphitheater feel and see a few hair-raising moments, the turns one, two and three section is a good place. Even there you have options. Sit high to see it all or get low and watch the cars slam through turn one and brake into turn two before they fall out of sight going into turn three. Or walk around and downhill to see the cars fall through turn three and then ascend over turn four. 

There is also the turns 13, 14 and 15 section, the final set of corners, a smaller version of the opening corners but still a good view. 

You could explore on your own. Turns 11 and 12 do not have their own dedicated section but there are more trees to hung under and watch in the shade. You can even find a small patch and watch the cars go up through turn 13 before swinging through turn 14. From that location you can also see the cars brake into turn five dead ahead. 

The bridges were only accessible to museum members on race day, but they were open to everyone on Friday and Saturday. It is arguably the best place to watch, worth much more than the $22 price of a museum tickets, but let’s not tell them that. Besides seeing the cars go through turns seven and eight, you can see the cars fully go through turns one, four, five and six, but it is more than the views of the track. With the bridges comes a path along the pond with the straightaway from turn eight to nine in full view. All of this in the comfort of the shade. 

Mixed in all of this is an assortment of statues that only add to the viewing pleasure along with benches to rest your legs. 

Somehow I have gone this far without mentioning the museum, a phenomenal collection of motorcycles that span back to the end of the 19th century with a litter of Lotus race cars and special displays honoring John Surtees and Dan Gurney. The museum in its own right deserves at least two hours. My suggestion would be to arrive first thing on Friday or Saturday and stroll the five floors plus basement and time it so once you have seen it all inside, you can head out to the bridges to watch a practice. 

It really is a park. If you aren’t a motorsports fan, it is a good place to hike around. Maybe it is the statues, perhaps it is the flowers, or it could be a good chance just to sunbathe in the grass, Barber provides something few racetracks can. If Indianapolis wasn’t Indianapolis, I would say it is the best venue on the IndyCar schedule. In terms of park feel, Road America is the only one I imagine being close. A trip to Wisconsin must be in order for a comparison. Laguna Seca is gorgeous, and the weather usually complies, but the dryness takes cannot match the lush location off exit 140 near Leeds, Alabama.

Even better for IndyCar, the race attracts spectators. Reports are 86,000 attendees showed up over the three days. You may note that is over 100,000 fewer than Long Beach got over the weekend prior, but Barber was full. I don’t know the exact breakdown, but let’s say 50,000 showed up on race day, that is more than most Major League Baseball games this past weekend. Unless it is Seattle or Atlanta, no Major League Soccer game would be drawing that. As much as we want mammoth crowds for IndyCar, we must acknowledge what is realistic, what is a good showing and if Barber Motorsports Park can make a weekend with at least 80,000 spectators into a financial success that has kept IndyCar there for 14 years with no signs of the series leaving, we should be happy.

Walking the grounds on Saturday during practice, I thought this should be the venue for the finale. It has a great crowd, great atmosphere, people are happy to be there, and the place is stunning. It is worthy of a finale and would provide IndyCar with the finale it has not had in a long time. Of course, I don’t want Barber to move from April. Move this race to football season in September and you kill it. But it goes to show IndyCar has big events. 

Through three races, you cannot knock any of St. Petersburg, Long Beach or Barber for not drawing people. They all have, and the timing goes with it. These races are in their sweet spots and are allowed to flourish. There will be more races with great crowds to come, Road America, Iowa, Mid-Ohio will be highlights of the summer. The events are there for IndyCar. It is now a matter of building one at the end of the year that matches the strong ones in the opening half of the season and take root as the championship-deciding location. 

I don’t know if I will ever making it back to Barber. I hope I will, but you should go, and don’t wait. It doesn’t have to be IndyCar. MotoAmerica races there in three weeks. GT World Challenge America is there September 6-8. If you want to see IndyCar, go in 2025. You will fall in love and think you have found your yearly spring getaway. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott McLaughlin, but did you know...

Jacob Abel won the Indy Lights race from Barber. 

Francesco Bagnaia won MotoGP's Spanish Grand Prix. Jorge Martìn won the sprint race. Fermín Aldeguer won the Moto2 race. Off the back of three consecutive runner-up finishes, American Joe Roberts leads the Moto2 championship. Collin Veijer won the Moto3 race.

Mitch Evans won the Monaco ePrix.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup race from Dover, his third victory of the season. Ryan Truex won the Grand National Series race.

Jack Aitken and Luca Engstler split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from Oschersleben. 

Jett Lawrence won the Supercross race from Philadelphia, his sixth victory of the season. Max Antsie won the 250cc race.

Coming Up This Weekend
Another Miami Formula One race.
NASCAR will be in Kansas.
Super GT has its Golden Week race on Friday from Fuji. 
European Le Mans Series holds its second round of the season at Circuit Paul Ricard.
GT World Challenge America is at Sebring.
GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup is at Brands Hatch.
It is Supercross' penultimate weekend from Denver.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

First Impressions: Barber 2024

1. This will be a quick first impressions because I was at the race today and it was a long one. With that said… 

In a week where Team Penske dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Scott McLaughlin closed the weekend with Penske on top in what was a clinical performance that overcame at least one untimely caution that could have derailed his race. McLaughlin had enough cautions fall that they effectively put him back in front when at first there was a worrisome moment.

McLaughlin was the best driver today. Every time he was out front, no one was close to him. The last caution with under five laps remaining made it closer than it ever was, but all McLaughlin had to do was hit his marks to clinch the victory,

2. Will Power made it a Penske 1-2 after he and McLaughlin swept the front row. Team Penske doesn’t have to cheat to win races. It never has. Whether you believe Team Penske deliberately left the software code for push-to-pass to be enable on the start and restarts at St. Petersburg and everyone knew they were breaking the rules or it was genuinely a mistake, Team Penske is still one of the top teams in IndyCar. Half the time, it will produce at least one car capable of winning at each race, if not two or all three. 

Penske received its penalty. Now, it is already out of the hole. Power is second in the championship, one point out of the championship lead. McLaughlin went from 29th to ninth. Josef Newgarden’s rough day sees him straggling in 15th, but this was a mere setback. Penske is going to be fine.

3. It took six career starts for Linus Lundqvist to get his first career podium finish. This one did not come easy as Lundqvist stretched his fuel 34 laps in the final stint. A year ago, nobody in IndyCar wanted Lundqvist. It took only three races as a substitute for Simon Pagenaud for Chip Ganassi Racing to sign him. How many other drivers just need that chance? It is still early, but Lundqvist keeps tracking upward.

4. Felix Rosenqvist and Álex Palou each stuck to the two-stop strategy and it netted them fourth and fifth respectively. Rosenqvist took fourth late from Palou. Three races, four events total, and Rosenqvist keeps being the most impressive driver of the season. He and Meyer Shank Racing have made great strides.

5. Palou’s top ten finish streak is now up to 21 races. Everyone is in trouble. Palou does not have many bad days. This could have been the day where choosing the wrong strategy could have shuffled him out of the top ten. Nope. There he is again, and in the top five at that. Palou is three points out the championship lead. Don’t be surprised if he is in first again shortly.

6. Christian Lundgaard looked to have the pace to hang with the Penske cars early. Lundgaard got stuck in traffic exiting pit lane after his first stop. That cost him time. He still pulled out a sixth-place finish but he probably wishes he did a little better. 

7. Committing to the three-stop strategy under the first caution elevated Santino Ferrucci into the top ten and it allowed him to lead 14 laps. Strategy aside, Ferrucci was running with the other cars in the top ten. He was 11th on the road at St. Petersburg, but the Penske penalties moved him up to ninth. This result makes it two top ten finishes for Ferrucci through three races, a start he and A.J. Foyt Racing would happily have taken if offered on day one of the season. 

8.  Who is the championship leader after three races? It is Colton Herta! On a day that salvaged a difficult weekend, eighth place has Herta leading the championship by a point over Will Power. This was Andretti Global’s worst weekend by far, but it says a lot that Herta got up to eighth when it appeared he wouldn’t be close to the top ten. He is also leading the championship because two Penske drivers had their points stripped. The team can be pleased of where they are at, but they know they have some work to do. 

9. Marcus Armstrong got bounced down the order throughout the race on the two-stop strategy, but he still finished ninth. If there is anything to hang his head over, Armstrong was the lone Ganassi car in the Fast Six, but he wound up the third best finisher in ninth. It isn’t the end of the world, but this could have been Armstrong’s day to set the tone for a top team. It didn’t work out that way, but the New Zealander is putting himself in the right positions. His day will come.

10. Kyle Kirkwood rounded out the top ten. After qualifying, it didn’t look like Andretti would get a car in the top ten let alone two. I think it is the bare minimum they could ask for and this day could have been much worse. Work to do but nothing to be ashamed over.

11. We are going to breeze through some guys…

Graham Rahal had a good day and could have been in the top ten if a few things went different. 

The same could be said of Romain Grosjean. 

Jack Harvey snuck up to 13th. I know it isn’t spectacular, but Harvey had barely any off-season testing. Dale Coyne Racing operates on a shoestring budget. Harvey has had three different teammates, all making their IndyCar debuts with limited to no testing beforehand. This is not the best scenario for him, but he is making the most of it.

Kyffin Simpson drove smart and finished 14th. That’s a good way to keep a ride,

15. Scott Dixon’s top ten finish streak is over at Barber. In his 14th start, Dixon was 14th. His race was never the same after he was pinched off the road when racing Graham Rahal. I thought Dixon was going for a space that didn’t exist. 

16. This is where I must watch the race back, and we might get a second impressions once the picture is clear, I do not know how Josef Newgarden’s day went. I see he finished 16th and I am pretty sure I heard he didn’t take tires at one point. There is more I need to know. 

17. Let’s crash through the rest of the grid. 

Neither Ed Carpenter Racing car had a good day. Christian Rasmussen’s spin was a disappointing end to his day. 

As good as Rosenqvist has been, Tom Blomqvist still looks like a driver readjusting to an open-wheel car after a decade out of them and spending most of that time in sports cars. That was expected, but boy could Meyer Shank Racing be sitting prettier with a more seasoned driver. 

Agustín Canapino was 20th. Sure. If you say so.

18. Luca Ghiotto was still going over how to start the car with a Honda technician on the grid. Ghiotto was tossed into the deep end. I have so many questions on how he got put in this car. Who called whom? Where did the money come from? Who else is Dale Coyne going to fly over in less than 48 hours notice ahead of practice. Ghiotto did admirable considering the circumstances. 

19. Sting Ray Robb explored a portion of the turn one tire barrier few have ever visited in the 21-year history of Barber Motorsports Park. In 21 starts, Robb has finished outside the top twenty in 14 races. I think we know who he is. 

20. Prior to this weekend, I wrote about how Arrow McLaren wasn’t really trending in the right direction even after Patricio O’Ward was awarded the St. Petersburg victory. Long Beach was not great. Barber was significantly worse. O’Ward lost the car after clipping the curb entering turn five. Then O’Ward clattered Pietro Fittipaldi off course. Definite penalty. Alexander Rossi had a loose tire after a pit stop end his race as he was on an alternate strategy. Théo Pourchaire had an incident on the final lap. These cars ended up 22nd, 23rd and 25th. Oof! McLaren might have received the worst thing in the St. Petersburg victory, because this team is still in the same rut it was prior to IndyCar finding Penske circumvented the rules. 

21. What a weekend from hell for Pietro Fittipaldi. Steering wrack failure in practice. O’Ward drilled him off course. This has not been a kind first three races at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for Fittipaldi. 

22. This ended up being longer than I expected. However, I will watch over the race and pick out anything I saw. Great day at the track. Barber Motorsports Park is more brilliant in person than the television shows, and it is stunning on TV. We will talk more about that as well. 

23. After two consecutive weekends with races, we get a breather before the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. 

Morning Warm-Up: Barber 2024

Scott McLaughlin won pole position for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a lap of 65.9490 seconds in the final round of qualifying. It is the sixth pole position of McLaughlin’s career. After his disqualification from St. Petersburg, McLaughlin has been classified outside the top twenty in two consecutive races. It is the second time in his career he has been outside the top twenty in consecutive races. He was 22nd and 23rd between Nashville and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race held in August 2021. The New Zealander looks to join Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden as winner of consecutive races at Barber.

Will Power makes it a Penske sweep of the front row. Power was 0.097 seconds slower than McLaughlin. This is the ninth time in 14 Barber appearances Power has started on the front row. Power has ten top five finishes at Barber Motorsports Park, including three consecutive. Prior to this three-race stretch, Power had failed to finish in the top ten in the prior three Barber races. 

Christian Lundgaard was 0.1328 off pole position and Lundgaard will occupy third on the grid. The Dane was 23rd last week at Long Beach, his worst finish on a road/street course in IndyCar competition. Lundgaard has not finished in the top ten in the first two races. The only time he has gone at least three consecutive starts without a top ten result are the first five races of his career. 

Patricio O'Ward makes his 75th career start this weekend, and O’Ward will do it from fourth. O’Ward started fifth in debut at Sonoma in 2018. He has finished in the podium every time he has started fourth in his career, including his first career victory at Texas in 2021. O'Ward has finished fourth, first and fourth in the last three Barber races.

Felix Rosenqivst starts fifth, and it is Rosneqvist’s third consecutive top five start this season, and his fourth consecutive top five start going back to las season. Prior to this run, his longest top five starting streak was two races. The Swede enters this race ranked sixth in the championship. This is the highest Rosenqvist has been ranked since he was sixth at the conclusion of the 2019 season finale at Laguna Seca. 

Marcus Armstrong takes sixth on the grid. This will be Armstrong’s 15th career start. The most recent driver to have a first career victory come in an 15th career start was Álex Palou at Barber in 2021. Armstrong has finished outside the top ten in his last two starts. The only time he has gone three consecutive races without a top ten result was at Nashville, the August Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race and Portland last year. 

Graham Rahal missed out on the Fast Six by 0.0524 seconds, but this is Rahal’s best starting position of the season. It is the seventh time in 14 Barber appearances he has qualified in the top ten. Rahal has not had a top ten finish in his last five starts. This is Rahal's longest top ten drought since 2014. He has six top ten finishes in his career at Barber.

Josef Newgarden looks for his 30th career victory from eighth on the grid. Newgarden is back down to 29 career victories after his disqualification from St. Petersburg. The only time he has won from eighth starting position was the 2020 St. Petersburg season finale. Newgarden has also now gone seven races without a podium finishes, his longest stretch without a podium since the final seven races of the 2018 season. 

Kyle Kirkwood qualified ninth, his second consecutive top ten start. Kirkwood had started outside the top ten in five consecutive races prior to this two-week run. The American is credited with top ten finishes in the first two races this season. Kirkwood has never had three consecutive top ten finishes in his IndyCar career.

Álex Palou has car #10 starting in position #10. This is the fourth time Palou has started tenth in his career, all four have come in car #10, and Palou has two top five finishes in the previous three occasions. The Catalan has four consecutive top fives finishes. Last year, Palou had nine consecutive top five finishes from Texas through Toronto. 

Romain Grosjean starts 11th. Grosjean's 57 laps led in last year's Barber race are tied for the third most by a driver that did not win the race. Will Power led 60 laps in 2017 but a late pit stop for a tire puncture knocked Power back to 14th. Marco Andretti led 58 laps in the inaugural Barber race in 2010 only to finish fifth. In 2022, Rinus VeeKay led 57 laps but finished third.

Tom Blomqvist advanced to the second round of qualifying for the first time in his IndyCar career, and Blomqvist will start 12th. This was the first time Meyer Shank Racing has had both cars make the second round of qualifying since the 2022 season finale at Laguna Seca. The team hasn’t had a double top ten finish day since Mid-Ohio 2022, 27 races ago. 

Scott Dixon will look for consecutive victories from 13th starting position after he fell 0.1075 seconds off transferring from group one. This matches Dixon’s worst start at Barber. He went from 13th to fifth in 2022. Dixon's average starting position over his last five victories is 12.8, and his victory from eighth last week at Long Beach is the only of those five races where he started in the top ten. 

Christian Rasmussen fell 0.0284 seconds shy of advancing to the second round of qualifying for the first time in his career. This will be Rasmussen’s best start in IndyCar after he started 21st in the first two races of the season. The Dane won at Barber Motorsports Park last year in Indy Lights. The only driver to win in IndyCar and Indy Lights at Barber is Patricio O'Ward. 

Colton Herta takes 15th on the grid, his worst start position ever at Barber. Herta enters this race with consecutive podium finishes for the first time since he won the final two races of the 2021 season at Laguna Seca and Long Beach. Herta is trying for three consecutive podium finishes for the first time in his IndyCar career. 

Alexander Rossi will start 16th, snapping a streak of five consecutive top ten starts at Barber. This is the fourth consecutive race Rossi has started outside the top ten. He has finished in the top ten in the previous three races. Only twice in Rossi's career has he opened a season with three consecutive top ten finishes. He did it in 2018 and he had four consecutive top ten finishes to start the 2019 season. 

Santino Ferrucci’s average starting position at Barber entering this race was 17.5, and Ferrucci will improve that slightly with a 17th place qualifying effort. After the Team Penske penalties were issued for the infractions at St. Petersburg, Ferrucci was elevated to ninth in the season opener. This is his first top ten result since he was third in last year's Indianapolis 500. It is his first top ten in a road or street course race since he was ninth at Mid-Ohio in 2021. 

For the fourth time in five Barber appearances, Marcus Ericsson starts outside the top ten, and he will be 18th at the green flag today. Ericsson's fifth place finish at Long Beach was his first top five finish on a road/street course since he was third at Long Beach last year. One twice has Ericsson had consecutive top five finishes in his career. He was second and first at Mid-Ohio and Nashville in 2021, and he was fourth and first between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500 in 2022. 

Linus Lundqvist makes it two consecutive Swedes on the grid in 19th. Lundqvist won on his Indy Lights debut at Barber Motorsports Park in 2021 and he also won here in 2022. Lundqvist is one of three drivers with multiple Barber victories in Indy Lights. Spencer Pigot and Patricio O'Ward are the others. Lundqvist is the only driver to win in multiple years in Indy Lights at Barber.

Agustín Canapino rounds out the top twenty. Canapino has opened the season with consecutive top twenty finishes, and he has three consecutive top twenty finishes dating back to last season. The Argentine driver had a pair of 12th place finishes to open the 2023 season. He was 26th at Barber last yea, which remains tied for his worst finish in IndyCar.

Luca Ghiotto makes his IndyCar debut in the #51 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing in 21st starting position. Ghiotto won seven races over his GP2/Formula Two career. He was also second to Esteban Ocon in the 2015 GP3 Series championship. Ghiotto becomes the first Italian to enter an IndyCar race since Luca Filippi raced for Dale Coyne Racing at Toronto in 2016. Ghiotto is the third debutant driver for Coyne in three rounds. 

Jack Harvey sweeps row 11 for Dale Coyne Racing. In the first two races of the season, Dale Coyne Racing did not have a car start better than 23rd, and a DCR driver had started last in each of the first two races. Harvey has gone 18 starts without a top ten finish. His best finish at barber was 11th in 2021. 

Kyffin Simpson takes 23rd on the grid. Simpson will be credited with fastest lap for the St. Petersburg race after the Team Penske penalties. Simpson becomes the seventh driver since 1993 to be credited with fastest lap on debut joining Nigel Mansell, Buzz Calkins, Greg Moore, Sébastien Bourdais, Hideki Mutoh and Linus Lundqvist.

Théo Pourchaire will make his second IndyCar start from 24th on the grid, two positions worse than last week. At Long Beach, Pourchaire made up the most positions from the start of the race, going from 22nd to 11th. Last year, Marcus Armstrong made up the most positions at Barber as Armstrong went from 26th to 11th. 

For the 20th consecutive race, Sting Ray Robb is starting outside the top twenty, as Robb wound up 25th in qualifying for the Grand Prix of Alabama. Robb retired from last year's Barber race with a mechanical issue after completing 36 laps. He has three lead lap finishes in his IndyCar career. 

Pietro Fittipaldi lost his fastest two laps in qualifying and the Brazilian will start 26th. Fittipaldi also had an accident in the Saturday morning practice after a steering rack failure. This is the second time he has started 26th this season. This is the fourth time in 12 starts Fittipaldi has started outside the top twenty. 

Rinus VeeKay had an engine issue prevent him from posting a respectable lap in qualifying, and VeeKay will start 27th due to that issue. The Dutchman was fastest in the Saturday morning practice session before this issue emerged. VeeKay has never finished in the top ten in the third race of the season. His best result was 13th in 2020 at Road America and in 2022 at Long Beach.

NBC's coverage of the Children's of Alabama Indy Grand Prix begins at 1:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 1:40 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 90 laps.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Track Walk: Barber 2024

The third round of the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series will be at Barber Motorsports Park for the 14th edition of the Grand Prix of Alabama. After 42 days between championship races, IndyCar will have five races over 43 days from Long Beach through Detroit, and there will be seven races over 64 days between Long Beach and IndyCar's second trip to California, Laguna Seca in June. Last year's Barber race was the fastest in the event's history. Scott McLaughlin won with an average speed of 115.019 mph. The previous record was the year prior when Patricio O'Ward won with an average speed of 114.304 mph.

Time: Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 28 with green flag scheduled for 1:40 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe will be in the booth. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee and Dillon Welch will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 3:40 p.m. ET (75 minutes)
Second Practice: 12:15 p.m. ET (60 minutes)
Qualifying: 3:00 p.m. ET 
Warm-up: 10:15 a.m. ET (30 minutes)
Race: 1:40 p.m. ET (90 laps)

* - All sessions will be available live on Peacock

Penske Penalized, Stripped of St. Petersburg Victory
On Wednesday morning, IndyCar announced Team Penske had been penalized for push-to-pass manipulation at the St. Petersburg weekend. It was found all three Penske cars had illegal availability to push-to-pass at the start and on restarts at St. Petersburg, a direct violation of the IndyCar rulebook, which states push-to-pass would not be available during such times of the race. Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin had used the push-to-pass system when neither driver was supposed to. Though Will Power had push-to-pass illegally available to him, Power did not use it at an improper time. 

IndyCar disqualified Newgarden and McLaughlin from the St. Petersburg race, stripping each driver of their respective first and third place finishes and all their points earned during the race. Newgarden does keep the point he earned for pole position that weekend. Patricio O'Ward inherited the St. Petersburg victory after the penalty to Newgarden. Power moves up from fourth to second, but Power had a ten-point penalty applied due to the push-to-pass system being illegally enabled though Power did not use it. 

All three Team Penske entries have been fined $25,000 and all prize money from St. Petersburg has been forfeited.  

With the forfeited victory, Josef Newgarden returns to 29 career victories, tied for 13th all-time with Rick Mears. O'Ward has five career victories, and his winless steak ended at 22 races. 

After the points penalties, Scott Dixon is the new championship leader on 79 points. Colton Herta moves up to second in the championship, two points behind Dixon, and Herta will be credited with two podium finishes this season, as he moves up to third in the St. Petersburg results. Álex Palou is now third in the championship, 12 points behind Dixon, and Palou moves up to fourth in the St. Petersburg results. 

O'Ward jumps to fourth in the championship on 64 points while Power settles into fifth on 59 points after his two-position promotion combined with the ten-point penalty. Felix Rosenqvist now has credit for fifth at St. Petersburg and he has 54 points, six points clear of Alexander Rossi and seven points ahead of Kyle Kirkwood. Rinus VeeKay and Marcus Ericsson round out the top ten on 40 points and 37 points respectively.

Newgarden drops from the championship lead on 87 points to 11th on 34 points, two points clear of Romain Grosjean and three points ahead of Santino Ferrucci. McLaughlin plummets down to 29th, dead last in the championship, on five points. The New Zealander had been tenth in the championship on 40 points prior to the penalty. 

Where Does This Leave McLaren
With one midweek decision, Arrow McLaren goes from entering Barber Motorsports Park having not won in the last 24 races to having only one race between now and its most recent victory. This decision still does not remove the fact that none of the Arrow McLaren drivers have led a lap this season, and the team has led only 50 combined laps in the last 12 races. McLaren led 203 combined laps over the first seven races of the 2023 season.

The penalty does not change that in the two years since O'Ward won the Grand Prix of Alabama after leap-frogging ahead of Rinus VeeKay through pit strategy, the team's only victories are the second race of the 2022 Iowa doubleheader when O'Ward won after Newgarden suffered a right rear suspension failure while leading as the race entered its closing stage, and last month's St. Petersburg race after Newgarden was disqualified. 

The revised St. Petersburg results may give McLaren a victory, but it does not cover up an inglorious weekend at Long Beach. None of the team's three entries made it out of the first round of qualifying. O'Ward hasn't started on a pole position since Mid-Ohio in 2022. Rossi has qualified in the top five only three times in 19 races with the team. O'Ward drove into the back of Rossi in the opening stint, puncturing Rossi's left rear tire and drawing O'Ward a penalty. For a moment, Rossi and O'Ward were running 26th and 27th. 

There was a slight recovery though. The timing of the Christian Rasmussen caution allowed Rossi to get on a favorable strategy and not attempt to run 33-35 laps on his final stint. With this, Rossi pulled out a top ten finish. Théo Pourchaire made up 11 spots after starting 22nd to finish 11th on debut. Even O'Ward got up to 16th after his penalty, but this result ended a streak of 11 consecutive top ten finishes for the Mexican driver. One top ten finisher isn't what McLaren is looking for, and it is a team that has been a funk even if the results say otherwise. 

Any McLaren success has likely come from O'Ward. Since joining the team in 2020, O'Ward accounts for 21 of McLaren's 26 podium finishes, including all five of the team's victories after Team Penske's penalty for St. Petersburg. The last time an Arrow McLaren driver who wasn't named Patricio O'Ward has led the most laps in a race was Robert Wickens in the 2018 St. Petersburg season opener when the team was still Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. 

If there are any reasons for optimism, it is O'Ward is now ranked fourth in the championship and Rossi is seventh through two races. Pourchaire will be back for his second race with the team in the #6 Chevrolet, and the Frenchman was the best finishing rookie last week at Long Beach despite having no test days prior to the weekend. Also, O'Ward has finished in the top five in three consecutive Barber races, and McLaren put all three cars in the top ten here last year.

Is This Dixon's Year?
After a stunning victory in Long Beach, new championship leader Scott Dixon heads to one of his best tracks, and yet probably the track that haunts him the most. 

With an average finish of 3.7692, Barber Motorsports Park ranks as Dixon's fourth best track with a minimum of three starts. It is the second best average finish among drivers with at least three starts here. However, Dixon has yet to win at Barber. 

In 13 starts, he has 13 top ten finishes. He has stood on the podium nine times, including six runner-up finishes. The only other track where Dixon has at least five runner-up finishes is Chicagoland. The only tracks where he has made more starts without a victory are St. Petersburg (20) and Iowa (19). Dixon has won at every other circuit where he has made at least ten starts, and Milwaukee is the only of that group where he has only won once. 

In 12 Barber races, he has made it to the final round of qualifying. Coincidentally, like a victory, a pole position has eluded Dixon at Barber as well. Pole positions have been eluding Dixon everywhere but Indianapolis lately. His most recent pole position on a road course was at Watkins Glen in 2016. 

Dixon hasn't started on the front row in 17 consecutive races and he has never started on a front row at Barber either. He hasn't started on the front row for a road/street course since Toronto 2022. His qualifying form has been spotty lately. In five of his last seven starts, Dixon has started outside the top ten, and he has only one top five start in that stretch. Yet, he has won four times, stood on the podium five times and finished no worse than ninth. 

Six times has Dixon entered Barber coming off a result outside the top ten. This will only be the second time he enters Barber fresh off a victory. The other time was after his first Long Beach victory in 2015. He ended up finishing third at Barber that year. But this is more than just one victory. Dixon has won four of the last six races. The only other time he has had four victories in a six-race stretch was in 2007 when he won three consecutive races between Watkins Glen, Nashville and Mid-Ohio and then won at Sonoma three races later. The only time Dixon has won multiple times in the first three races of the season was in 2020 when he won three consecutive races to open the season. 

Dixon also carries a top ten finish streak of 16 races into Alabama. This matches the longest top ten streak of his career. He went 16 consecutive from Kansas 2009 through the 2010 São Paulo season opener. 

Dixon already has the record for most different circuits with a victory. Laguna Seca became his 27th different track conquered last September. Barber would only extend that streak. The next closest driver is Will Power with 22 circuits. No other driver has won races at 15 different tracks. 

The Other Tortured Souls
Scott Dixon gets the attention for being the eternal bridesmaid of Barber Motorsports Park, but he isn't the only one who has been trying for years to win at this track and has left the Yellowhammer State empty-handed each time. 

Along with Dixon and two-time Barber winner Will Power, Graham Rahal has started all 13 Barber races. However, Rahal is 0-for-13. This place hasn't been as kind to Rahal as the other two, but he has had his moments. Rahal was runner-up in consecutive years in 2015 and 2016. In the latter year, Rahal was in a tight battle with Simon Pagenaud before suffering front wing damage in the closing laps while battling Pagenaud for the lead. The Ohioan limped home to second. However, he has not finished in the top five here since that 2016 race. Only once has he made it to the final round of qualifying. That was in 2019 when he and Takuma Sato swept the front row for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Sato won the race from pole position. Rahal retired due to an electrical issue. 

Alexander Rossi has been in just over half the Barber races. Never professed as one of Rossi's favorite tracks, his results are more pleasing than for most. He has five top ten finishes in seven appearances. This includes a streak of four consecutive races. He has started in the top ten in five consecutive Barber races. However, his best finish is only fifth, and that was in 2017 and 2019. Rossi has only led three laps out of 622 circuits around the 2.38-mile course. 

It has been a decade since Andretti Global has won at Barber Motorsports Park. Both Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson have made four starts here. Herta has one top ten finish and an average finish of 17.5. Twice has Herta retired from this race. He has never led a lap and he has never started better than ninth. Ericsson has three top ten finishes at this place, but the Swede has never finished better than seventh, and he has only one top ten start. Andretti Global has only five top five finishes over the eight Barber races since it won in 2014 with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The only other drivers entered this weekend with no victories and at least four Barber starts are Jack Harvey and Felix Rosenqvist. Harvey has never finished in the top ten in this race. He has never started in the top ten either. Last year, Harvey started and finished 24th. Rosenqvist has seen mixed results. He was tenth in 2019 and ninth last year, but he retired due to an accident in 2021, and he wasted a sixth place starting position with a 16th place finish in 2022.

If there is any hope for these drivers it is Barber is going through a spell of new winners. There have been five different winners in the last five Barber races. In the first eight Barber races, there were only five different winners. Prior to this streak, there had never been more than three consecutive different winners here.

Palou's Place to Pounce
The bad news for everyone is if they think Scott Dixon is great at Barber Motorsports Park, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Álex Palou is better. 

In three starts, Palou has finished first, second and fifth. His average finish of 2.667 is the best at Barber Motorsports Park among drivers with at least three starts. The Catalan driver has started third, third and second. His average starting position of 2.667 is the best among drivers with at least three Barber starts. 

Palou led 56 laps in the 2021 race. His 60 laps led ranks Palou seventh all-time at the track. Everyone ahead of him has made at least ten Barber starts. He has led more laps at this track than Dixon and Rahal, two of the three drivers to have started every Barber race, and he has led more laps than Sébastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan combined, three drivers that all started the Grand Prix of Alabama ten times. 

Considering Palou has 20 consecutive top ten finishes, this is not the place the competition was hoping to see if they were looking for Palou to cool off, especially when they will likely need Palou to come back down to Earth to have a shot at the championship. Palou received an extra bit of help after the Penske penalties lifted him to a fourth place classification at St. Petersburg. He went from sixth to third at Long Beach. If you are wondering if Palou can go from third to first at Barber, well that is what he did when he won in 2021. 

It is more than top ten finishes though. During this stretch, Palou has six victories, 12 podium finishes and 16 top five finishes. He has not gone more than two consecutive races without a top five result since a four-race stretch in 2022 that covered Toronto, the Iowa doubleheader and the summer Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race. He has led laps in 12 of his last 20 starts, and Palou has led ten laps or more in ten of those races. 

He isn't leading the championship but 12 points is nothing after only two races with 15 remaining in the 2024 calendar. The competition does pose a threat to keep Palou down. Besides Dixon's track record, championship leader Josef Newgarden has the most Barber victories with three, but Newgarden is on a bit of a Barber slump. The American has finished 14th or worse in the last three Barber races after having five consecutive top five finishes and seven consecutive top ten finishes prior to this dip.

Over the last three Barber races, Palou has scored 124 points, the most during that span, while Newgarden has scored 40 points, 15th most, and fewer than Christian Lundgaard, who has only raced in two of those three races. 

Sixteen drivers competed in all three Barber races from 2021 to 2023. Only Jack Harvey (37 points) and Conor Daly (30 points) scored fewer points than Newgarden and started all three races. The only other drivers to have scored at least 100 points during this period are Patricio O'Ward (117 points) and Will Power (109 points).

Indy Lights
After 49 days off, Indy Lights returns to competition for its second round of the 2024 season. 

Over a month and a half ago, Nolan Siegel won the St. Petersburg race, leading all 45 laps from pole position. One week after making his IndyCar debut in Long Beach, Siegel looks to extend his Indy Lights championship lead. He was second last year at Barber. 

Fourteen points off Siegel is Jacob Abel, who now has five podium finishes in his Indy Lights career but that first career victory remains missing from Abel's résumé. Louis Foster opened the 2024 season with a third place finish, and Foster looks to continue the good start. Last year, Foster was 14th in the opening two races of the season, one of which was at Barber.

Michael d'Orlando opened the season with a fourth place finish while Reece Gold rounded out the top five and took fastest lap in the process at St. Petersburg. Jonathan Browne was a mover at St. Petersburg, going from 11th to sixth. Caio Collet took home seventh while Myles Rowe slipped down to eighth. 

Salvador de Alba and Christian Bogle rounded out the top ten. 

A few drivers are hoping to bounce back after rough season openers. Josh Pierson suffered a setback after avoidable contact with Jamie Chadwick earned him a penalty. Pierson ended up 13th while Chadwick's team fixed the car, but she was 24 laps down in 20th. Chadwick's Andretti Global teammate Bryce Aron had contact that dropped him to a 19th place finish as well. 

Siegel and Gold each have won at Barber in USF Pro 2000 Championship competition in 2022. Rowe and Yuven Sundaramoorthy each won at Barber in U.S. F2000. Rowe won the first race in 2022 while Sundaramoorthy won the first race in 2021. In four U.S. F2000 starts at Barber, d'Orlando has two podium finishes and a finish of fifth. 

Besides Siegel, the next best returning driver from last year's Barber race is James Roe, Jr., who finished fifth. The only top ten finisher from last year's race back for 2024 is Bogle, who was seventh. 

The Indy Lights race will take place at 11:15 a.m. ET on Sunday April 28, and the race is scheduled for 35 laps.

Fast Facts
This will be only the third IndyCar race to take place on April 28. The first was on April 28, 1996 when Michael Andretti won at Nazareth. The second was on April 28, 2001 when Greg Ray won at Atlanta. 

Only three times has the Barber race winner gone on to win the championship that season (Simon Pagenaud 2016, Josef Newgarden 2017, Álex Palou 2021). 

Chevrolet has won eight of 11 Barber races since returning to IndyCar in 2012.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.1538 with a median of third.

The worst starting position for a Barber winner is ninth (Will Power 2012).

After having the first 12 Barber races won from an odd-numbered starting position, the last two Barber races have been won from an even-numbered starting position.

The pole-sitter has won five of 13 Barber races.

The average starting position of the last eight IndyCar races, acknowledging O'Ward won from third at St. Petersburg, is 9.125 with a median of eighth. 

Only two of the last eight races have been won from a top five starting position. 

Ten of the first 11 races of the 2023 season were won from a top five starting position.

Despite the average starting position of the last eight winners, the driver that has led the most laps has won five of the last eight races. 

The average number of lead changes in a Barber race is 6.769 with a median of seven. 

Nine of 12 Barber races have had six lead changes or more. 

Eight of 13 Barber winners have led at least half the laps in the race. 

The average number of cautions in a Barber race is 2.153 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 8.23 with a median of seven. 

There has never been a caution-free Barber race, but 11 of 13 races have had two cautions or fewer. The 2016 race had only one caution for one lap when the initial start was waved off.

The most cautions in a Barber race was six in 2011, which was also the only Barber race not to feature a lead change.

Scott Dixon takes the Barber victory ahead of an angry Josef Newgarden while Álex Palou gets another podium finish. One of those drivers will not make the final round of qualifying. At least one Penske car will retire and it will draw an onslaught of "karma" messages on social media. Patricio O'Ward's top five streak at Barber ends. Théo Pourchaire will again be the top finishing rookie. Kyle Kirkwood will get his first top five finish that isn't a victory. Marcus Armstrong will make up fewer than 15 spots from his starting position. At least two cars retire. Sleeper: Christian Lundgaard.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Musings From the Weekend: Josef Newgarden - Money or Fame?

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Formula One had its first sprint weekend of the season, and it went the way you expected. Shanghai re-profiled its final corner and no one knew about it until everyone got there. It wasn't the only corner re-profiled this weekend. A missing scoring pylon had many up-in-arms in Talladega. There is no longer a tie in Supercross, but it remains close with three races remaining. Imola provided a great event for the FIA World Endurance Championship. Scott Dixon won the Grand Prix of Long Beach, but it is Josef Newgarden who has been on my mind.

Josef Newgarden - Money or Fame?
It was Newgarden's 200th start this weekend at Long Beach. At one time, 200 starts was a sign of the end of an IndyCar career. If you weren't on the 18th green, you were approaching it. A driver was definitely on the back nine. 

For Newgarden, this is the halfway point. Thirty-three years old, Newgarden has 200 more starts in his future if he wants them. An average of 17 starts per season through his 45th year of life would add another 204 races to Newgarden's career total. Even then, he might not be done. But this isn't only a symbolic halfway point to the American's career. It is a pivotal moment before he enters the second half of his career.

In the final year of his contract at Team Penske, Newgarden finds himself about to hit the open market when salaries have increased around him. He already has 30 victories and two championships. The only drivers with more victories are in their 40s (Scott Dixon and Will Power). Besides the Antipodes, the only other multi-time champion in the series is the contractually complicated Álex Palou. Newgarden's value might never be higher than this moment, but does he want something Penske cannot give him?

Money far from lacks at Team Penske, but Penske hasn't felt the economic pressure from the driver market. Penske picks you rather than the driver picks Penske. It doesn't matter who is in the cars. They all win. Six of the 13 drivers with at least 30 career victories spent a chunk of their careers at Penske. Then throw in Rick Mears with 29 career victories, who effectively spent his entire career there. If a driver wants to win, and Penske calls, it would be wise to say yes.

With that place in IndyCar, Penske hasn't had to drive up driver wages, especially in the last 20 years as IndyCar shrunk in terms of interest and financial profile. Drivers would still be comfortable, but signing with Penske comes with an unspoken success tax. You might not earn the most, but you will win more times than not, and that is what the people remember. 

Newgarden is on the verge of becoming one of the most decorated drivers in IndyCar history. If he has 30 victories in 200 starts, what do you think he will do in the next 200 starts? Another 30 victories would place him in a club only A.J. Foyt currently occupies. Stick around for 225 to 240 starts could see Newgarden hit the lofty #68. However, would he remain on that trajectory changing his scenery? 

Stick with Team Penske and Newgarden has a shot. Leave and it becomes exponentially more difficult. A pay day elsewhere could come with the price of losing a place in history. Forty victories might become out of reach. It would make 50 unobtainable. 

For all that Arrow McLaren is paying its drivers, it is not the dominant force in IndyCar. Patricio O'Ward hasn't won since July 2022. Andretti Global is paying all of its drivers handsomely, but it hasn't won a drivers' championship since 2012. Colton Herta is approaching two years since his most recent victory. O'Ward and Herta are believed to be the highest paid two drivers on the grid. 

Chip Ganassi Racing is the only team matching Penske's output. Ganassi doesn't dig as deep in his pockets either as is evident with two rookies and a sophomore filling 60% of his five car team, and one of those drivers is Kyffin Simpson. 

Most of the grid cannot afford Newgarden. Most places would be a step back. It doesn't mean Newgarden will not have suitors. It also doesn't mean Newgarden isn't looking into the future. Team Penske as we know it could change in a blink. Roger Penske is 87 years old. Though the team has competed in IndyCar for 55 years, it is very much still in phase one and it will remain in phase one as long as its namesake is around. 

Does Newgarden want to be around when phase two begins? Does a Penske-less Team Penske interest him? Is the Tennesseean's foresight as good as his driving?

Newgarden is young enough where he will get another contract cycle after this, probably even two. His luster will not vanish if he has a two- or three-year slump. Once you leave the mountaintop, there is no guarantee you ever return. In two contract's time, Newgarden could have spent seven seasons firmly in the middle, gone through a few winless seasons and only once been a championship challenge, though even in that year he was a long shot. 

Sébastien Bourdais won four consecutive championships in Champ Car, and the second act of Bourdais' career saw him relegated to carrying small teams up the order in a smattering of races but never congealing a full season challenge or accomplishing enough to catch the interest of a top team. Bourdais had 31 victories in 74 starts. He won only six times in his final 153 starts. None of those were an Indianapolis 500 victory either.

Another IndyCar team didn't sway Bourdais away, as he went to Formula One, but Sébastien Bourdais never stopped being Sébastien Bourdais though no one valued him as such. The Frenchman finished ninth in a Lotus; the skill was still there. Newgarden taking the money could take him from flying on the high road to slogging it in the gutter. 

From what we have seen since the calendar flipped to 2024, Newgarden is a driver focused on winning. He has made it known he is cutting out all the distractions from his life, from the YouTube series with Scott McLaughlin to unfollowing everyone on social media, after a disappointing 2023 season, a season where all he did was win four times including the Indianapolis 500. Everything Newgarden has said and done shows he cares about only one thing. Will he feel the same way when the largest check he has ever been presented is placed in front of him?

At his highest price, does Newgarden cash in? Or does Penske offer something money cannot buy and warrant letting it ride?

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon, but did you know...

Max Verstappen won the Chinese Grand Prix, and Verstappen won the sprint race as well.

The #01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac of Sébastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande won the IMSA race from Long Beach. The #89 VasserSullivan Lexus of Ben Barnicoat and Parker Thompson won in GTD.

Jason Daskalos swept the GT America races at Long Beach.

Tyler Reddick won the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega. Jesse Love won the Grand National Series race, his first career victory.

The #7 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Nyck de Vries won the 6 Hours of Imola. The #31 Team WRT BMW of Augusto Farfus, Sean Gelael and Darren Leung won in LMGT3.

Andre Heimgartner and Will Brown split the Supercars races from Taupō.

Sébastien Ogier won Rally Croatia, his 59th World Rally Championship victory.

Nicholas Spinell (race one), Álvaro Bautista (SuperPole race) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (race two) split the World Superbike races from Assen. Adrián Huertas and Glenn van Straalen split the World Supersport races.

Jett Lawrence won the Supercross race from Nashville, his sixth victory of the season. RJ Hampshire won the East-West Showdown in the 250cc class.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar keeps it up and will race at Barber Motorsports Park.
MotoGP will be at Jerez.
NASCAR goes over to Dover.
Formula E settles into Monaco.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters opens its season in Oschersleben.
Supercross returns to Philadelphia for the first time in 44 years.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

First Impressions: Long Beach 2024

1. Scott Dixon may be the best we have ever seen. I have felt that after each of Dixon's previous three victories. It is strengthen today as Dixon ran a pair of 34-lap stints to close the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and held off the charging trio of Colton Herta, Álex Palou and Josef Newgarden to win for the 57th victory of Dixon's career, and his 20th consecutive season with a victory.

After Dixon won on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last August, I broke down the lap times and how Dixon won that race. This performance deserves the same treatment. It is one thing to make it to the finish saving fuel on a 34-lap stint. It is another thing to do it at the pace Dixon ran. Will Power was on the same strategy and was manhandling this race prior to the lap 15 caution for Christian Rasmussen's accident. Power ended up 15.7639 seconds behind Dixon in sixth. 

Oh! And Power was ahead of Dixon after the pivotal pit stops under caution on lap 17. Dixon didn't waste time and took the position early from Power as both drivers were conserving fuel. Only Dixon could save and go quicker. 

With the pace Josef Newgarden showed after his final pit stop with 27 laps remaining, it felt inevitable Newgarden would pass Dixon, who stopped seven laps earlier. Yet, Dixon held off Newgarden, and slight contact from Colton Herta knocked Newgarden out of a second and allowed Herta to go on the charge.

Once Dixon was leading coming to the white flag, it was curtains. Other than the 2007 season finale at Chicagoland, when has Dixon fallen a lap short on fuel? Dixon had plenty for the final lap and then some, but tire wear was in his favor. Those who stopped around 25-27 laps to go had worn their tires and could not power pass Dixon. Dixon could keep it wide and was not to be outmuscled in the closing laps. 

This race could not have happened if it wasn't for the lap 15 caution, and it looked like staying out and running out the stint distance was the right call. You look at the top five and four of those drivers did that. The only guy that didn't was the winner. I am not sure you could ask for a better split-strategy race, but if that is what it comes down to, roll with what Scott Dixon is doing.

2. Colton Herta was fortunate to finish second, but he was going to be on the podium no matter what. As for the contact with Newgarden, Herta said he got the corner wrong and didn't intent to bump Newgarden, which sent Newgarden into anti-stall, but it is overbearing if that is a penalty. 

Yes, Newgarden lost positions and it could have been much worse. Slight bumps like that can break a gearbox, but if that is a penalty, especially in the hairpin at Long Beach, there are going to be nine penalties a race. 

Herta didn't drill Newgarden with reckless abandon. It is a bump at 30 miles per hour. The location of the gearbox plays a role as well. That is something neither driver can control and IndyCar isn't going to redesign the car to re-position the gearbox. I think it is a racing incident though one that is more harsh than others. 

As for Herta's drive, he hadn't had consecutive top five finishes in over two years. He looked good today. Newgarden had a better car and did better in traffic, but Herta was there.

3. Extend the streak to 20. Álex Palou's podium finish is his 20th consecutive top ten finish. And this one wasn't all that remarkable either. Palou ran well the entire race, but this wasn't like 2022 where Palou was in the mix and was one of the contenders. He was behind Newgarden and Herta for majority of this race, and he was behind Ericsson for a bit. Palou doesn't put a wheel wrong and he gets great results. It was another podium. Until he stumbles, everyone is in trouble.

4. Josef Newgarden has a right to be frustrated. Newgarden has no way to defend himself from the contact from Herta. It was a tricky point in the race. The top four were pretty much all nose-to-tail entering the hairpin, and Dixon was directly behind four back markers. I don't think eight cars had been that close since the start of the race. That was another circumstance that played into the contact. 

Newgarden drove phenomenal today. He has already been driving motivated this year, but add this fuel to the fire after what felt like a possible victory lost, and at least a runner-up finish, he could go on a lethal tear. 

5. Marcus Ericsson needed a solid day and he got it. Ericsson was destined to finish fifth today. The issues at St. Petersburg weren't his fault, but a good result was pertinent for the Swede in race two with Andretti Global. Many likely think leaving Chip Ganassi Racing will be a detriment to his career. A day like today confirms Ericsson's ability regardless of team.

6. And now we hit Will Power. Power led the first 16 laps and was over six seconds clear of the field. That will be forgotten from today. Because Dixon won the race, most are going to say stopping on lap 17 was the right call and it was clearly better than staying out and running the stint out. But Power was on the same strategy and wound up over 15.7 seconds off winning the race. 

The strategy worked for Dixon. Considering Power was clear of the field, almost in a different zip code to Dixon in the early stint and the roles ended up completely reverse, this strategy was not a good call for Power. With Newgarden as close as he was to Dixon, you must think Power would have been better suited to win staying out on lap 17, and maybe he would have been able to topple Dixon.

7. Kyle Kirkwood was on the same strategy as Dixon and company, and Kirkwood went a lap longer than Dixon and Power before that final stop. It got Kirkwood seventh. For Andretti Global, having all three cars in the top seven and those cars get there over a split strategy in the team is a great sign. We haven't seen many of these days play out in Andretti's favor. Also, solid race for Kirkwood. Didn't overstep and looked competitive even on an alternate strategy.

8. I have no clue how Romain Grosjean ended up eighth other than he did not stop under the Rasmussen caution. Grosjean after that pit cycle under caution was about eighth, and he finished eighth. I don't know if there is a better illustration that staying out was the better strategy other than for Scott Dixon. For everyone else, they didn't gain ground from stopping early. Grosjean did gain ground staying out. 

Good result for Grosjean and Juncos Hollinger Racing. You take them however you can get them.

9. For whatever reason, Felix Rosenqvist started on used primary tires today, and he went backward immediately! That was a waste of pole position. Rosenqvist might not have been able to hold off Power on alternate tires for the lead into turn one but new primary tires likely would have kept him from sliding to sixth before you blinked. 

This has been a good start for Rosenqvist and Meyer Shank Racing. A pair of top ten finishes and a pair of front row starting positions is something MSR could not have dreamt last year, but this is another case of MSR getting strategy wrong and costing the team a result. It happened with Jack Harvey at the team. You can change the drivers all you want but if MSR continues making the same bad strategy choices then it doesn't matter who is driving.

10. Alexander Rossi likely thought he wasn't going to finish in the top ten today after about lap ten after Patricio O'Ward drilled Rossi from behind entering the fountain section, puncturing Rossi's left rear tire (that's a penalty, not Herta's contact on Newgarden). However, the way the caution fell in relation to Rossi's stop, played into his hand.

Rossi stayed out. He ended up in the top ten ahead of Power and Dixon with basically new tires and then Rossi decided to stop as if he never made a pit stop. If Rossi had decided to run the same strategy of conserving fuel, he likely finishes 20th. In an odd way, and we see this happen at least once a season in IndyCar, a untimely pit stop turned into a timely pit stop for a driver due to a caution and saved the day.

11. We are going to cover the next three drivers in one shot because Théo Pourchaire ended up 11th on the normal strategy ahead of Marcus Armstrong and Linus Lundqvist on the long final stint strategy. Pourchaire didn't do anything special but complete every lap. The team didn't put him on a fuel-save strategy on debut with only two days in the car prior tot he race. That was a great call for the team. 

Pourchaire is a contemporary to Armstrong based on their Formula Two past, and Lundqvist is a fellow rookie. This wasn't a case of Pourchaire walked in and stomped the field, but he got up to speed quickly. I hope we see him at Barber Motorsports Park next week.

12. I don't think Rinus VeeKay didn't anything particularly outstanding today to wind up 14th. Other than not stopping under the Rasmussen caution, I don't think VeeKay did more than just not stop early to get this result. The same can be said for Agustín Canapino in 15th. For Juncos Hollinger Racing, it is a great day to have both cars in the top fifteen. It doesn't mean it is a sign of things to come.

13. After his penalty, Patricio O'Ward rallied to 16th. I am not sure you can call it a rally when you didn't end up in the top half of the field. It lost O'Ward a lot of time and it didn't seem to matter what strategy he chose would get him out of that hole. That contact happened outside the top ten. Arrow McLaren was not starting this race in a great place. That is more of a sign to be worried about.

14. We are going to cover the three Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing cars here, because Graham Rahal was the best driver in 17th, but the team wasn't that bad today. Rahal had a botched final pit stop where the fuel hose was not working properly. Rahal stopped under the Rasmussen caution and was running fifth when he made his final stop. Of those drivers who ran a long final stint, the fifth best finisher of those drivers was Lundqvist in 12th.

That one issue cost Rahal about five spots. Maybe he would have ended up 11th. That is still a hell of a lot better than 17th. 

Christian Lundgaard was on the same strategy and got an unsafe release penalty after contact with Kyle Kirkwood. That was the right call and it knocked Lundgaard out of a possible top ten finish. To add insult to injury, Lundgaard had to stop for a splash of fuel on the final lap. Perhaps it would not have mattered. 

I am not sure what happened to Pietro Fittipaldi, but at one point I saw him lose about four positions on one lap and he had run a lap in the 72-second bracket, and this was mid-race. 

Lundgaard and Rahal should have been contending for top ten finishes. Fittipaldi wasn't that close though. 

15. Sting Ray Robb was 15th. That is it. 

16. We don't often see cars get lapped at Long Beach on the track at race pace, but that is what happened to Kyffin Simpson, Nolan Siegel, Santino Ferrucci and Tom Blomqvist. Simpson and Blomqvist was on the long final stint strategy, Siegel was on the normal strategy, and Ferrucci made his final stop with 16 laps to go, so I don't know what he was doing. 

17. Jack Harvey was in the wrong place and was clipped when Christian Rasmussen spun. It damaged the left side pod for Harvey and he couldn't overcome that damage. Rasmussen slightly brushed the wall a few corners before he spun exiting turn four. It wasn't an obvious mistake. It has happened to every driver. It is the kind of mistake Rasmussen doesn't want to make in race two of his career.

18. We never got word of what happened to Scott McLaughlin, but he slowed while clutching to the top ten with about 15 laps to go. McLaughlin was on the long final stint strategy. I don't know if he was going to finish better than tenth. He might have lost a few spots and ended up 11th or 12th, but this is still a blow for McLaughlin. It is tough to overcome a 26th place finish in contemporary IndyCar. 

19. Things have to fall in place for great races to happen. Everything fell the right way today. The Rasmussen caution could not have come at a better time. If it happens two laps earlier, nobody makes a pit stop. If it happens five laps later, everyone would have made pit stops. That split the strategies and it helps that the fuel windows are a decent size at Long Beach, despite being a two-stop race. You can go about 25-30 laps on. It allows wiggle room. 

Another caution falling was crucial. One caution at any point erases what we saw. There was a brief moment at lap 45 where if a caution fell nothing would have changed, at least in terms of pit stops. It would have changed intervals and shaken things up, but a caution at lap 50 and then everyone would have stopped and Dixon likely wins while the best Newgarden and Herta are racing for is ninth. 

Credit to the field for running about 65 laps without any major incidents despite the differences in strategy and lap times. Even though one team owner thinks we need about three to five fewer drivers on the grid, the abundance of competitors didn't hurt today's race. 

20. After 42 days between championship races for IndyCar, we have seven days until Barber Motorsports Park. Goody!

Morning Warm-Up: Long Beach 2024

Felix Rosenqvist claimed Meyer Shank Racing's first IndyCar pole position with a lap of 66.0172 seconds in the Fast Six session for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. It is Rosenqvist's sixth career pole positions. This is the third consecutive season Rosenqvist has won pole position for the second round of the season. In the previous two years, those races were at Texas Motor Speedway. The Swede finished outside the top twenty in each of those races, and Rosenqvist's average finish in races where he has started first is 16.6 with his best finish being eighth. Rosenqvist picked up his best Long Beach finish last year when he was seventh.

Will Power fell 0.0039 seconds short of his 71st career pole position and the 300th for Team Penske in IndyCar competition. This is Power's first front row start in a road/street course race since he was on pole position for the 2022 season finale at Laguna Seca. It is his first front row start on a street course since the 2022 season opener at St. Petersburg. Power has finished fourth in the last two races. Once before has Power had three consecutive fourth-place finishes. Those occurred over Texas, Long Beach and Barber in 2022.

Josef Newgarden made it three cars within 0.0887 seconds at the top of qualifying, Newgarden starts third. He is attempting to win consecutive races in a third consecutive season. Newgarden could become the 12th driver to win consecutive races to open since 1946, and the first since Scot Dixon won three consecutive races to open the 2020 season. Eight of the 11 drivers to open a season with cosnecutive races have gone on to win the championship. Long Beach marks the 200th start of Newgarden's career. He is the 28th driver to reach 200 starts. No driver has ever won in their 200th career start.

Colton Herta ended up 0.3612 seconds off Rosenqvist for fourth on the grid. This is the fourth time in the last five starts Herta has qualified in the top five, but he has only one top five finish in that span. He was fifth at St. Petersburg last month. Herta has not had consecutive top five finishes since he won the final two races of 2021 and then finished fourth in the 2022 season opener at St. Petersburg. He has not finished better than his starting position since he went from 14th to third at Toronto, eight races ago. 

Marcus Ericsson took fifth on the grid after falling 0.3867 seconds off his fellow Swede Rosenqvist. Ericsson has finished outside the top ten in his last two races. Ericsson has not had three consecutive results outside the top ten since he had an eight-race slump spanning the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He was third last year at Long Beach. It has been 12 starts since Ericsson's most recent podium finish, his runner-up result in the Indianapolis 500.

Álex Palou rounded out the top six. Palou won The Thermal Challenge held three weeks ago at The Thermal Club in Palm Springs, California. The previous non-championship race held in IndyCar was the 2008 Gold Coast 300, which Ryan Briscoe won. Briscoe followed that up with a victory in the succeeding IndyCar race, the 2009 season opener at St. Petersburg. Palou will look to replicate Briscoe winning the championship race following a non-championship race victory.

Christian Lundgaard was 0.0193 seconds off advancing to the final round of qualifying, and the Dane will take seventh instead. While Lundgaard won at Toronto last year, it is his only top five finish on a street course in his IndyCar career. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver has four top ten finishes in 11 street course starts.

Scott Dixon finds himself eighth, as Dixon was 0.0305 seconds behind the sixth-place time, which would have advanced him to the final round of qualifying. Dixon has finished in the top five in the second race of the season in four consecutive years and in seven of the last eight seasons. The only time Dixon has won from eighth in his career was at Mid-Ohio in 2019.

Marcus Armstrong makes it three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in the top ten, ending up ninth. Armstrong suffered his career worst finish at St. Petersburg, ending up 27th. Since 1946, only three times has a driver finished last in the season opener and gone on to win the championship. Tom Sneva was the first to do it after finishing 22nd in the 1978 Phoenix opener. In 1987, Bobby Rahal was 24th at Long Beach but clinched the title a race early with a victory at Laguna Seca. The following year, Danny Sullivan was 23rd at Phoenix but Sullivan went on to clinch the championship with a race to spare. 

Kyle Kirkwood rounded out the top ten, but Kirkwood was 0.0758 seconds off advancing to the Fast Six. This ends a slump of five consecutive races starting outside the top ten for the American, the final four of which were starts outside the top fifteen. Kirkwood won last year's Long Beach race from pole position having led 53 of 85 laps. Kirkwood is attempting to become the eighth driver to win consecutive Long Beach races. 

Scott McLaughlin had a streak of his own end with his 11th place qualifying effort. McLaughlin had started ten consecutive races in the top ten prior to this result. The New Zealander has two consecutive podium finishes dating back to last season. Only once has McLaughlin had three consecutive podium finishes in his IndyCar career. He was second, third and first over Nashville, Gateway and Portland in 2022. He was second at Laguna Seca last September and third at St. Petersburg last month.

Graham Rahal rounded out the second round qualifiers in 12th. This is Rahal's best starting position at Long Beach since he qualified sixth in 2019. This is his ninth time in 17 Long Beach appearances he has qualified outside the top ten. Rahal has not had a top five finish on a street course since he was fourth at Toronto in 2022, seven street races ago.

Alexander Rossi missed out on advancing from the first qualifying group by 0.0439 seconds, placing Rossi 13th. Only once has Rossi finished better than his starting position at Long Beach, and that was him going from 15th to sixth in 2021. Both of his Long Beach victories were from pole position. Rossi has finished outside the top twenty in the second race of the season in the last four years. In his previous eight seasons, Rossi has finished in the top ten only twice in the second race of the season.

Patricio O'Ward makes it an all-Arrow McLaren row seven, as O'Ward was 0.0449 seconds off advancing from group two. This is O'Ward's worst starting position at Long Beach, and it is the first time he didn't make it out of the first round of qualifying here. O'Ward opened last season with consecutive runner-up finishes. In four Long Beach starts, O'Ward has an average finish of 15.25.

Tom Blomqvist's first IndyCar race at Long Beach will see him start 15th, the best starting position of the Brit's brief IndyCar career. Blomqvist made three IMSA starts at Long Beach, but Blomqvist never finished better than fourth in class. That includes finishing seventh of eight GTLM cars in 2019 and sixth out of eight GTP cars last year.

Romain Grosjean finds himself starting 16th, his worst Long Beach starting position. Grosjean had made the final round of qualifying the previous two years here. The Frenchman could become the second driver to finish runner-up in three consecutive Long Beach races. Bobby Rahal was second at Long Beach in 1991, 1992 and 1993.

Linus Lundqvist makes his Long Beach debut from 17th on the grid. Lundqvist has finished outside the top twenty in his first two street course races in IndyCar. Lundqvist was 25th at Nashville last year and 23rd at St. Petersburg last month. Lundqvist's last three Indy Lights victories came on street courses. He swept the Detroit doubleheader and won at Nashville in 2022.

Agustín Canapino starts directly behind his Juncos Hollinger Racing teammate in 18th. Canapino was 25th in last year's Long Beach race after Hélio Castroneves squeezed Canapino into the barrier while the Argentine was leading. Canapino had stayed out and led three laps, the first laps led in his IndyCar career.

Pietro Fittipaldi makes his Long Beach debut this weekend in 19th position. Fittipaldi's grandfather Emerson made 13 Long Beach starts in IndyCar and five Formula One starts. Emerson's best Long Beach finish was second on two occasions, and his final Formula One podium was third in the 1980 race. Pietro's cousin Christian made seven Long Beach starts. Christian's best finish was fifth.

Rinus VeeKay rounds out the top twenty. This is the seventh consecutive street course race VeeKay has started outside the top ten. VeeKay was tenth at St. Petersburg. VeeKay has not had consecutive top ten finishes since the first two races of the 2022 season where he was sixth at St. Petersburg and tenth at Texas. 

Christian Rasmussen is a spot behind his Ed Carpenter Racing teammate in 21st. Ed Carpenter Racing has not had a top ten finisher in the last five Long Beach races. The team's most recent top ten here was eighth with Specner Pigot in 2017. ECR has had both cars finish 20th or worse in three of the last four Long Beach races. In 16 street course starts in Rasmussen's career, he won only three times and had six podium finishes.

Théo Pourchaire's IndyCar debut sees him start 22nd. Pourchaire becomes the first reigning champion from Intenational Formula 3000/GP2/Formula Two to start an IndyCar race since Sébastien Bourdais joined Newman-Haas Racing for the 2003 CART season after winning the 2002 International Formula 3000 championship.

Jack Harvey is back for his second race of the season after initially not being in Dale Coyne Racing's plans for Long Beach, and it sees Harvey take 23rd on the grid. Harvey has finished in the top fifteen in four of his five Long Beach starts. Dale Coyne Racing not had a top fifteen finisher the last two years at Long Beach, and DCR has not had a top ten finisher here since it had a double top ten day in 2017 with Sébastien Bourdais in second and Ed Jones in sixth.

Santino Ferrucci starts 24th, the 11th time in 19 races with A.J. Foyt Racing Ferrucci has started outside the top twenty. Ferrucci has not finished in the top ten in 12 consecutive races. Ferrucci was 11th in last year's Long Beach race, his first Long Beach appearance since 2019.

Sting Ray Robb's streak of four consecutive races starting 24th ends because Robb will start 25th at Long Beach after he lost his fastest two laps for causing a red flag. Robb has never started inside the top twenty for an IndyCar race. The Idahoan was 26th at St. Petersburg. It was Robb's worst finish on a street course. His previous worst was 22nd at Detroit last year.

Kyffin Simpson rolls off from the outside of row 13. Simpson was the best finishing rookie in the St. Petersburg season opener. Since 1979, in 54 applicable seasons of IndyCar competition between CART, Champ Car, the Indy Racing League and a unified IndyCar Series, only 22 times has the best finishing rookie in the season opener went on to win rookie of the year.

Nolan Siegel makes his IndyCar debut from 27th. Siegel becomes the 88th driver to race for Dale Coyne Racing in IndyCar competition. This is the fifth consecutive season DCR has given at least one driver their IndyCar debut, and it is the second time in four seasons Coyne has given multiple drivers a debut in a single season. 

USA's coverage of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with the green flag scheduled for 3:45 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 85 laps.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Track Walk: Long Beach 2024

The second round of the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series season is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, IndyCar's first championship race in 42 days. This 42-day break is the longest midseason break in IndyCar since there were 49 days between the Assen and Surfers Paradise rounds in the 2007 Champ Car season. This is the 31st time since the CART-USAC split in 1979 there have been at least 40 days between races midseason. Eighteen of those 31 40-plus-day breaks were between the race before the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis 500. The most recent of those was during the 2004 Indy Racing League season. 

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 21 with green flag scheduled for 3:45 p.m. ET.
Channel: USA
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe will be in the booth. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee and Dillon Welch will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 5:50 p.m. ET (75 minutes)
Second Practice: 11:25 a.m. ET (60 minutes)
Qualifying: 2:25 p.m. ET 
Warm-up: 12:00 p.m. ET (30 minutes)
Race: 3:45 p.m. ET (85 laps)

* - All sessions will be available live on Peacock

Can Penske Keep It Up?
The 2024 season could not have started much better for Team Penske. All three of its cars ended up in the top five at St. Petersburg with Josef Newgarden leading 92 of 100 laps on his way to victory from pole position. Scott McLauglin ended up third, his second St. Petersburg podium in the last three seasons, and Will Power was fourth.

It was the first time Team Penske had three top five finishers in a road/street course race since the July 2022 Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race, but it was the first time Penske had three top five finishers in a street course race since the second race of the 2017 Belle Isle doubleheader. 

This St. Petersburg race came after Team Penske had only four top five finishes combined on street courses in 2023 with zero victories. 

After dominating the season opening street race, Team Penske has a chance for an encore performance at Long Beach. Last year, all three Penske cars finished in the top ten, but none finished in the top five as Power was the top driver in sixth. Before last year's race, Team Penske had a podium finisher in eight consecutive Long Beach races. Newgarden had been at the front and led 27 laps before he was forced to save fuel over his final stint, dropping him to ninth, a position ahead of McLaughlin. 

Newgarden won at Long Beach in 2022 with 32 laps led after a methodical race with Álex Palou on in- and out-laps, and then ending with holding off a late charge from Romain Grosjean. 

Since reunification, Penske has only three Long Beach victories. Along with Newgarden's victory two years ago, Will Power won in 2012 and Simon Pagenaud won in 2016.

Prior to last year's race, Newgarden had three consecutive podium finishes at Long Beach. He has eight consecutive top ten finishes in this race. Will Power has five consecutive top ten finishes in the Grand Prix of Long Beach, but he hasn't finished on the podium in this race since he was second in 2018. Since his Long Beach victory in 2012, Power has led only 12 laps over the last ten Long Beach races. In three Long Beach start, McLaughlin has finished 14th, 11th and tenth. McLaughlin has five consecutive top ten finishes in street races dating back to last season.

Only four times in Team Penske's history has it opened a season with consecutive victories. It first did it in 1982 when Rick Mears won at Phoenix and Atlanta. Penske would not do it again until 2010 when it won the first three races. Power won the first two races that year at São Paulo and St. Petersburg while Hélio Castroneves won the third race at Barber Motorsports Park. Two years later, Penske won the first four races. Castroneves won the St. Petersburg season opener and Power followed with three consecutive victories. In 2022, Team Penske opened the season with three consecutive victories. McLaughlin won at St. Petersburg and Newgarden followed it with two consecutive victories. 

Penske Shooting For 300
Team Penske hits milestones on a regular basis, but it could hit a spectacular one this weekend at Long Beach. 

The next pole position will be Team Penske's 300th in IndyCar competition. Josef Newgarden put the team within one of the milestone with his pole position at St. Petersburg, Newgarden's 16th pole position with Team Penske, and it broke a tie with Bobby Unser for fifth all-time amongst Team Penske drivers.

To the surprise of no one, Will Power leads Team Penske drivers with 64 pole positions for the organization, 15 more than Hélio Castroneves in second all-time on 49. Power has won a pole position in each of his first 15 seasons with Penske. Power has had multiple pole positions in 14 of those seasons. Rick Mears is third with 39 pole positions, and then there is a gulf of 21 pole positions between Mears and Danny Sullivan in fourth on 18 with Newgarden on 16.

Bobby Unser (15), Gil de Ferran (14), Paul Tracy (12), Ryan Briscoe (12), Simon Pagenaud (12) and Tom Sneva (10) are the other drivers to reach double figures in pole positions driving for Team Penske. Sneva was the first driver to double figures for Penske.

Emerson Fittipaldi won nine pole positions with Penske while Sam Hornish, Jr. won seven. Scott McLaughlin has won five pole positions in the last two seasons. Al Unser, Jr. and Mark Donohue are tied on four pole positions. Al Unser, Kevin Cogan and Mario Andretti each won two pole positions for the organization. Gary Bettenhausen, Johnny Rutherford and Juan Pablo Montoya were each responsible for one Penske pole position. 

Team Penske's first pole position came at what is now Sonoma Raceway on April 4, 1970 with Mark Donohue. The 100th pole position came 22 years later on August 9, 1992 with Emerson Fittipaldi at Cleveland. The 200th pole position occurred on July 10, 2011 with Will Power at Toronto. Since making its IndyCar debut in 1968, Team Penske has won a pole position in 49 seasons. Newgarden's pole position at St. Petersburg made this 25 consecutive seasons with at least one pole position for Team Penske. The team's record for most pole positions in a single season is nine, which Danny Sullivan set in 1988.

At Long Beach, Team Penske has 13 pole positions. Castroneves won four Long Beach pole positions, including three consecutive from 2015 to 2017. Power won three consecutive pole positions at Long Beach from 2009 to 2011. Sullivan won two Long Beach pole positions. Tracy, de Ferran, Briscoe and Newgarden each have one Long Beach pole position. Newgarden is responsible for Penske's pole position here, coming in 2021. While Penske has 13 pole positions in this race, it has only won one of those races. That would be Castroneves' victory in 2001, where he led every lap. 

Team Penske is 190 pole positions clear of Newman-Haas Racing in second all-time. Chip Ganassi Racing is next amongst active teams with 93 pole positions. The only other active team with more than 50 pole positions is Andretti Global with 54.

Can Ganassi Bounce Back?
After St. Petersburg, many were wondering where Chip Ganassi Racing was after it had won the Florida race the year before.

Álex Palou did end up finishing sixth, but it came after spending most of the race outside the top ten and it felt Palou's top ten finish streak would not stretch into 2024. Instead, a late flourish allowed the Catalan driver to extend his streak to 19 consecutive races. 

Besides Palou, Scott Dixon ran a nondescript race and finished ninth. Kyffin Simpson kept his nose clean and finished 14th, but Linus Lundqvist was taken out from contact with Romain Grosjean, and Marcus Armstrong got in an incident all on his own and was the first retirement of the 2024 season. 

St. Petersburg was the first time Ganassi did not have a podium finisher since the first Iowa race in 2023, ending a six-race streak. It was also Ganassi's first race without a top five finisher since the 2022 Gateway race, ending a 19-race streak.

The good news is Ganassi had a bounce back at The Thermal Challenge held at the Thermal Club last month. Palou smoked the field, leading every lap on his way to victory from pole position in his heat race and leading every lap on his way to victory from pole position in the main event. Armstrong and Lundqvist each made the final race as well. Armstrong was second to Palou in his heat race, and the New Zealander ended up fifth in the final. Lundqvist was fourth in his heat and sixth in the final. 

Dixon will be looking for a break out. Contact with Grosjean in his Thermal Club heat race sent him to the back of the field and effectively kept Dixon from ever getting close to transferring to the main event.

It has been nine years since Chip Ganassi Racing's most recent Long Beach victory. That was with Dixon. He led 44 laps from third starting position to get his so far one and only Long Beach triumph. Ganassi has had a podium finisher in six of the seven Long Beach races since Dixon's victory in 2015, and Ganassi has had at least one top five finisher in every Long Beach race since then. 

In three Long Beach starts, Palou has never finished worse than fifth. He was third in 2022. Armstrong was eighth in this race last year, his first visit to the famed street race. Dixon was taken out of last year's Long Beach race after contact with Patricio O'Ward. It was Dixon's only finish outside the top ten in the entire 2023 season. Prior to that result, Dixon had six top ten finishes in the last seven trips to Long Beach, four of which were podium results. 

This will be the Long Beach debuts for Lundqvist and Simpson. 

Chip Ganassi Racing has had five different drivers win at Long Beach. Along with Dixon, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti are responsible for Ganassi's victories, with Zanardi having won consecutive years in 1997 and 1998.

More Debuts
It might be the second weekend of the season, but that does not mean we do not have some IndyCar debuts... well, we know of at least one, but a second could be on the horizon.

Nolan Siegel will compete in his first official IndyCar race this weekend driving the #51 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Siegel competed in The Thermal Challenge last month at The Thermal Club for Coyne in the #18 Honda. He was seventh in the first heat race, falling one spot short of transferring to the final race.

The California is competing in his second Indy Lights season this year and he won the season opener for the series last month at St. Petersburg. Last year, Siegel won two races and stood on the podium five times as he finished third in the Indy Light championship. After starting the 2023 season with four podium finishes in the first six races, he had only one podium finish in the final eight races. Siegel has also won races in LMP2 competition between IMSA and the Asian Le Mans Series. He won at Petit Le Mans last year driving with George Kurtz and Ben Hanley for CrowdStrike Racing by APR. 

He will become the first driver to start an Indy Lights race and an IndyCar race in the same season since Patricio O'Ward and Colton Herta each made their IndyCar debuts in the 2018 IndyCar season finale at Sonoma. Sonoma occurred after the Indy Lights season had concluded where O'Ward claimed the championship at Portland the week before with Herta finishing second in the championship.

At 19 years, five months and 12 days old, Siegel would be the 16th youngest driver in IndyCar history if he starts on Sunday. If he wins, Siegel would become the third-youngest winner in IndyCar history, and he would be two days younger than Marco Andretti when Andretti won at Sonoma in 2006.

Siegel's debut was scheduled prior to the start of the season. Théo Pourchaire's debut was unexpected, but with David Malukas remaining sidelined with a wrist injury, and Callum Ilott busy competing in the FIA World Endurance Championship, Pourchaire will take over the #6 Chevrolet this weekend.

Pourchaire was the 2023 Formula Two champion with only one victory in the Bahrain feature, but ten podium finishes, 14 top five finishes and 19 points finishes over the 26 races. The Frenchman made 81 starts over four seasons in Formula Two. He won six races, five of which were feature races. He was second in the 2022 championship behind Felipe Drugovich. Pourchaire was second in the 2020 Formula Three championship, three points behind Oscar Piastri and one point ahead of Logan Sargeant. 

While still a Sauber F1 test and reserve driver, Pourchaire is competing full-time this year in the Super Formula championship driving for Team Impul. He was 18th in the Suzuka season opener on March 10. 

At 20 years, eight months and one day old, Pourchaire would become the 28th youngest driver in IndyCar history. If he wins, Pourchaire would become the sixth-youngest winner in IndyCar history, and he would be three days younger than Rinus VeeKay when VeeKay won the 2021 Grand Prix of Indianapolis. 

Long Beach marks the third round of the IMSA season, and this weekend the GTP and GTD class will contest a 100-minute race along Shoreline Drive. Twenty-seven cars are set to compete on Saturday afternoon. 

Through two rounds, the #7 Porsche of Dane Cameron and Felipe Nasr and the #40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura of Louis Delétraz and Jordan Taylor are tied for the GTP championship lead on 706 points. The #7 Porsche went first and third at Daytona and Sebring respectively while the #40 Acura did the inverse, finishing third and first over the first two rounds. 

The #31 Whelen Racing Cadillac of Jack Aitken and Pipo Derani is in third on 600 points while the #01 Cadillac of Sébastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande is on 594 points. 

The BMWs sandwich the #6 Porsche. Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly have the #25 BMW points on 570 points, 25 points ahead of Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy in the #6 Porsche. Philipp Eng and Jesse Krohn are on 531 points in the #24 BMW. 

Rounding out the top ten in the championship are the #10 WTRAndretti Acura of Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor on 525 points, the #5 Proton Competition Porsche, which has Mike Rockenfeller joining Gianmaria Bruni this weekend, is on 514 points, and the #85 JDC-Miller MotorSports Porsche of Tijmen van der Helm and Richard Westbrook on 497 points. 

Jaminet and Tandy are the defending race winners while there have been five different winners in the last four Long Beach races. Prior to Porsche's overall victory last year, General Motors had won seven consecutive Long Beach races between the Corvette GP and the Cadillac DPi. 

Seventeen cars are in the GTD class, including a few one-off entries. 

Winward Racing has won the first two races with the #57 Mercedes-AMG, and it has Russell Ward and Philip Ellis leading the championship on 725 points. Among the teams entered for this weekend, Wright Motorsports is second in points with the #120 Porsche of Adam Adelson and Elliott Skeer 155 points behind the Winward Mercedes-AMG. Conquest Racing finds itself in third on 545 points with the Alberto Costa and Manny Franco. 

VasserSullivan Lexus won last year in GTD Pro at Long Beach, and Lexus will enter two cars in GTD this weekend. Lexus is splitting its normal full-time GTD lineup. Frankie Montecalvo remains in the #12 Lexus while Jack Hawksworth joins Montecalvo. Parker Thompson moves to the #89 Lexus alongside Ben Barnicoat. 

This isn't the only driver change this weekend. Heart of Racing Team has drafted in Spencer Pumpelly to pair with Roman De Angelis in the #27 Aston Martin. Pumpelly steps in for Zacharie Robichon, who has FIA World Endurance Championship responsibilities this weekend at Imola. Stevan McAleer will be in the #66 Gradient Racing Acura alongside Sheena Monk, as McAleer will replace Katherine Legge for the rest of the season. 

There is also a returning entry this weekend. Flying Lizard Racing returns to IMSA competition for the first time since 2016. Flying Lizard has entered the #28 Aston Martin for Andy Lee and Elias Sabo.

Paul Miller Racing has won the last three years in GTD, but PMR is not here as it is competing in the GTD Pro class this season. BMW has won the last two years in the class, but the only BMW entered this year is Turner Motorsport's #96 M4 GT3 with Robby Foley and Patrick Gallagher. 

The IMSA race will take place at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday April 20 with coverage on USA.

Fast Facts
This will be the seventh IndyCar race to take place on April 21 and first since Takuma Sato won at Long Beach in 2013. That remains A.J. Foyt Racing's most recent race victory. 

Only once has the Grand Prix of Long Beach taken place later in the month of April than the 21st. The 1990 Grand Prix of Long Beach was held on April 22. Al Unser, Jr. won it. It was Unser, Jr.'s third consecutive Long Beach victory. 

American drivers have combined to win five consecutive Grand Prix of Long Beach. This is the longest streak of American winners since Americans won the first nine Long Beach races under CART sanctioning.

Prior to this streak, American drivers had only won one of the previous 15 Long Beach races.

Alexander Rossi is the only repeat winner in the last ten Long Beach races.

Team Penske has the most Long Beach victories with seven. Newman/Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Global are all tied with six.

Only twice in the 15 seasons since reunification has the Long Beach winner gone on to win the championship: Dario Franchitti 2009 and Scott Dixon 2015.

The Long Beach winner won the championship in eight of the 12 seasons preceding reunification. 

The Long Beach winner has won the championship in 13 of its 39 seasons on the IndyCar schedule.

Four drivers have had their first career IndyCar victory come at Long Beach: Paul Tracy 1993, Juan Pablo Montoya 1999, Mike Conway 2011 and Takuma Sato 2013.

Only two drivers have won the Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500 in the same season (Al Unser, Jr. 1994, Hélio Castroneves 2001).

The average starting position for a Long Beach winner is 4.256 with a median of second. 

Four of the last five Long Beach races have been won from the front row. Sixteen of the last 19 Long Beach races have been won from one of the first two rows. Seventeen of the last 22 Long Beach races have been won from one of the first two rows.

The pole-sitter has won three of the last five Long Beach races. Prior to this streak, the pole-sitter had not won in the previous ten Long Beach races.

The average number of lead changes in a Long Beach race is 5.0769 with a median of six. 

The last nine Long Beach races have had five lead changes or more. 

The most recent Long Beach race with fewer than four lead changes was 2008, which only had three lead changes. 

The most recent Long Beach race with zero changes was 2001. In the IndyCar-era, only two other Long Beach races have had zero lead changes (1984 and 1987).

The average number of cautions in a Long Beach race is 2.846 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 11.384 with a median of 12. 

Eight of the last 12 Long Beach races have had three cautions or more. Twenty-two of the last 28 Long Beach races have had three cautions or more.

There has never been rain on race day for the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Álex Palou will extend his top ten finish streak to 20 races, and Palou will do it with a victory. Palou's toughest opposition will be a Team Penske driver, but Honda will take majority of the top five finishes, and Honda will have a great command over this race. Felix Rosenqvist will finish at least three spots better than his starting position and he will finish in the top ten. If Théo Pourchaire is in the race, he will be the top finishing rookie. Patricio O'Ward will not take out any cars. Romain Grosjean will not take out any cars. Alexander Rossi will not suffer a suspension failure on the final lap. Sleeper: Jack Harvey.