After a three month delay due to COVID-19, the NTT IndyCar Series finally gets their turn to get back on track for their 2020 season opener this Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway in what is expected to be a wild race.
In last year’s race, defending champion Josef Newgarden led the last 46 laps en route to victory at the 1.5-mile speedway. It was Newgarden’s first victory at Texas in just eight starts. The 2019 race featured three cautions for 22 laps with 13 lead changes.
While Newgarden was most certainly strong in the late parts of the event, there were other challengers such as Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon, among a few others, who were front runners and traded the lead multiple times with Newgarden.
As last year’s race was the ninth race on the schedule, this year’s race will certainly be different since it will now be the first race on the schedule. Considering this, there will likely be some anxious and in some cases, cautious, drivers when they dive into Turn 1 for the first time in 2020. However, unlike NASCAR where there is no practice or qualifying, IndyCar drivers will be granted at least one practice and qualifying session which should make things somewhat more manageable for the competition Saturday night. Despite that, we won’t know who will have the fastest car until the first practice session on Saturday. However, I’ll try to give you five drivers to keep an eye on during Saturday night’s Genesys 300.
- Simon Pagenaud – Pagenaud has been very close to victory lane at Texas over the last couple of races, ever since he began driving for Team Penske in 2016. Pagenaud has scored two podiums that occurred in two consecutive races in 2017 and 2018. He got his best finish of second in 2018 after leading 26 laps. In the 2019 race, the Penske driver started fifth and finished sixth. Overall, Pagenaud’s average finishing position is 6.1 and he has led a total of 85 laps. After his teammate Newgarden won last year’s race and Pagenaud being close multiple times in the last two years, don’t be surprised to see the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet challenging for the win once again.
- Graham Rahal – Rahal’s statistics have definitely improved over the last few races ever since winning his first elusive victory in 2016, nearly four years ago. Since that victory, he has finished fourth, sixth, and placed on the podium in the ’19 race after finishing third. In 12 starts dating back to his first in 2008, Rahal has one win, 36 laps led, three podiums and he has averaged an 11.3 finishing position. He also was able to lead five laps in the ’19 race as well. Only twice has Rahal failed to finish a race. The last time was in 2011 when he had an issue with the fuel pump. Rahal and the No. 15 RLL team are expected to be strong once again Saturday night.
- Alexander Rossi – Fan favorite Alexander Rossi and the No. 27 NAPA team missed out on a victory in last year’s race by falling short to Newgarden and finishing second. His first few races weren’t all that great with an 11th place finishing position in 2016 and a 22nd place result after a crash took him out in the 2017 event. But since 2018, Rossi and the Andretti team have stepped up their game by getting back to back podiums. In total, he has a 9.5 average finishing position and a best starting position of third back in ’17. It has been well over a year since Rossi visited victory lane (which occurred at Elkhart Lake) and he’ll be hungry for a win.
- Will Power – Continuing on the Team Penske train, Newgarden’s teammate, Will Power has also had his fair share of success at Texas. Since 2008, the Aussie has made 12 starts at the superspeedway and has earned four podiums along with two wins (2011, 2017) and has led 432 laps. Besides having a decent track record, Power also qualified on the pole three consecutive times from 2013-2015. When he scored the ’17 victory, the Penske driver led all but 20 laps to score his second victory at Texas. It’s been a couple of years since Power has had a good race but it’s hard to count him out at a track where Penske has had so much success.
- James Hinchcliffe – This weekend will most likely be one of the most important weekends of James Hinchcliffe’s career when he takes the track Saturday night. After losing his ride at Arrow McLaren, Hinchcliffe is back with his old team Andretti Autosport where he will pilot the No. 29 machine. It’ll almost be a “home sweet home” feel for Hinchcliffe who made two starts with Andretti in 2012 and 2013. In those two races, Hinchcliffe finished fourth and ninth, respectively. His only podium of the race was in 2016 after Hinchcliffe came .008 seconds short of a thrilling finish with competitor Graham Rahal.
Aside from these five drivers who might have a chance at the victory Saturday night, in total, there will be 24 drivers aiming to get the victory. In the field, there will be three rookies who have never raced at Texas Motor Speedway. Those rookies are Oliver Askew, Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay. Askew and Palou are teammates at Arrow McLaren SP, while VeeKay competes with Ed Carpenter Racing.
While there will be three rookies who have never made a start at Texas, there have been at least eight winners of the previous Texas races, who have gone on to win the series championship. Those notable names include Sam Hornish, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, and Josef Newgarden.
Texas has hosted 31 IndyCar races with an impressive list of drivers who have visited victory lane. Those winners are Arie Luyendyk (the first to win in ’97), Billy Boat, John Paul. Jr., Scott Goodyear, Mark Dismore, Scott Sharp, Sam Hornish Jr., Jeff Ward, Al Unser. Jr., Gil de Ferran, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Thomas Scheckter, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Justin Wilson, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal, and Josef Newgarden.
Dixon and Kanaan have made 20 starts. There has never been a driver who has consecutively made every start at Texas.
Out of those winners, at least six have started from the pole including Hornish, de Ferran, Castroneves, Scheckter, Dixon, and Briscoe who all won from the first starting spot. The lowest a winner has ever started from to win was 17th, set by Wilson back in 2012.
O the active drivers, 14 have all led laps in previous races. Dixon leads the way with 517 followed by Power (432), Kanaan, Hinchcliffe, Carpenter, Pagenaud, Andretti, Newgarden, Sato, Hunter-Reay, Rahal, Kimball, Rossi, and Marcus Ericsson.
This weekend will also mark a new era for the NTT IndyCar Series. Once the green flag drops Saturday night, race fans will see the all-new Aeroscreen, which is supposed to increase safety to the driver’s cockpit. The screen is made up of a titanium framework and a windscreen, which is a canopy-like version. It is mandatory for all drivers and teams to use this piece in all IndyCar races moving forward.
Saturday’s event will be a one day show to limit exposure for the teams.
The first and only practice will take place from Noon-2:30 p.m. local time and will be shown live on NBC Sports Gold. Single-car Qualifying is slated for 4 p.m. local time and can be seen on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN.
The Genesys 300 is scheduled to take the green-flag at 7:05 p.m. local time, 8:05 p.m. ET live on NBC with 200 laps scheduled to take place.