Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network) Race Preview

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete

TRACK: Streets of St. Pete (1.8 miles, 14 turn, street course) DISTANCE: 110 Laps – (198 MILES)
WEATHER: RAIN 0% CHANCE SATURDAY 82 and Sunny, SUN 0% CHANCE, Sunny and 82

Favorites

Josef Newgarden

He didn’t used to be good at this race but his victory last year changed the course. In his first seven St. Pete starts, Newgarden had just three top 10 finishes but none of which inside of the top five. Last year, he goes out and leads 60 laps en route to a victory.

Will Power

He’s always starting up front which is good since nine of the last 11 winners of this race have come from a top five starting position. Power, has started no worse than fourth since 2010. But, in that time frame, he has just one victory though. Power, did finish third last year, so you can’t count him out. Also, Power ended 2019 with four top four finishes over his final five starts including two wins and a runner-up in the final four races.

Alexander Rossi

While he started off slow in St. Pete, he’s been quick the last two years. Rossi, finished third in 2018 and fifth last year. Also, he’s been great on another street course in Long Beach in each of the last two years as well.

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Josef Newgarden leads Scott Dixon during last year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete – INDYCAR Media Site

Sleepers

Felix Rosenqvist

The second year driver qualified third, led 31 laps and finished fourth in last year’s race. Rosenqvist, also closed out his Rookie of the Year campaign a season ago with two runner-ups and a fifth place finish in his final five races.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

He has three top five finishes in his last four St. Pete tries and five top seven’s in his No. 28 Honda in his last six tries.

Colton Herta

The young phenom finished eighth in this race last year. Herta, also closed 2019 out with a win to go along with four top 10’s over the final five races of the year.

Santino Ferrucci

Lets see how much Dale Coyne Racing falls off, if at all. They lost their most seasoned driver in Sebastien Bourdais as well as both engineers from last year too. They’re going to lean on Ferrucci who finished ninth in this race last year.

Marco Andretti

He may have finished 13th last year, but Marco has two top 10 finishes in his last three St. Pete starts to go along with four top 10’s over the last five starts on the Florida road course.

Jack Harvey

He started seventh and finished 10th last year. I expect even bigger things out of them now that he has Andretti power.

Be Wary

Scott Dixon

Dixon, does have two podiums in his last three tries including a third place run in 2017 and runner-up last year. That was his fourth runner-up (2006, 2007, 2012, 2019) but that and a third place finish in 2017 are his only podiums. Also, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has failed to lead a lap in 12 of those 15 starts and hasn’t led a lap since 2013. CGR hasn’t had much success in St. Pete anyways with just one victory in the history of this race (2011).

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud is a great fantasy play for this weekend. He’s had six top 10 finishes in eight St. Pete tries to go along with 15 top 10 finishes in 17 tries last year. But, Pagenaud has never won this race before. He does have four top five finishes, two of which being runner-ups (2016, 2017) in his last six starts. He was 13th in 2018 and seventh last year. If that trend continues, he will win on Sunday.

Graham Rahal

While he finished runner-up two years ago, he hasn’t led a lap since his 2008 win and has finished outside of the top 10 in eight of the last nine years in the season opener.

Takuma Sato

He has one top five in his last eight St. Pete starts. Sato, was 12th in 2018 and 19th last year.

Sebastien Bourdais

He’s out with a lot to prove and has won this race in two of the last three years, but both were strategy plays. Foyt, hasn’t had the best strategic races run recently. They haven’t won a race since 2013 too. Bourdais’ wins are his only top fives in nine St. Pete tries too.

Zach Veach

He was 16th in 2018 and 14th last year. He also finished 13th or worse in his final five races of 2019.

Marcus Ericsson

The Swede may be in a Ganassi car but Ganassi has only reached victory lane just once in St. Pete. Ericsson, finished 20th in last year’s race.

Charlie Kimball

The new AJ Foyt Racing driver’s best finish in St. Pete is ninth. He has just two top 10 finishes in nine tries with a combined zero laps led.

Conor Daly

His first race with Ed Carpenter Racing will be a great showing if he can just get a top 10. Daly, has run this race twice for two different teams. He was 13th in 2016 with Dale Coyne Racing and 15th in 2017 with AJ Foyt Racing.

Sage Karam

This is the first time since Brazil in 2013 that DRR has entered a race outside of Indy. They’ve got a pretty good track record in St. Pete but none in this new car. Sage Karam, their driver, has one St. Pete start and finished 19th (2015) in it.

Max Chilton

Not his best track either. Chilton’s run this race four times and finished 16th or worse in all.

Ben Hanley

He made the second round of qualifying in his debut last year but finished 18th. I don’t expect much out of them this weekend.

Eerie Race Weekend

The race will go on as planned this weekend, but it will be under eerie conditions. No race fans are allowed on the premises. The race will be limited to just approved media, series officials, team members and drivers. That’s it.

The stands will be fully empty. The atmosphere will be completely different than ever before. There’s no pomp and circumstance. Why would there? There’s no one to play for in person. This is a made for TV event with limited access from the media to the teams and drivers.

Penske Power

Heading into last year’s season opener in St. Pete, Penske was searching to regain their street course magic. It was their lone spot that they’ve had a weakness. Heading into 2019, Penske had just one victory in their last 10 street course tries. Last year, they won three of the five races on street courses including this very race last March.

Prior to 2016, Team Penske was the most dominant organization at St. Pete though. From 2006 through 2015, Penske had won eight races in an 11 year span. They’ve won four of the last six overall with a race record nine trips to victory lane.

Newgarden Looking To Repeat

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden (No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet) returns to defend not only his victory in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but also the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship, his second in three years.

Last year, Newgarden became the first driver since 2014 to use a victory in St. Petersburg as a springboard to the season title. He is looking to become the first series champion to repeat since Dario Franchitti won three in a row from 2009-11.

To wear both crowns again, the 29-year-old Nashville, Tenn., driver must fend off strong challenges from as many as five former series champions, led by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda), a five-time series champion. Other past champions include four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14 AJ Foyt Chevrolet), 2012 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) of Andretti Autosport, 2014 champion Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet) and 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Chevrolet).

“We have the same goals,” Newgarden said. “We need to try to win the Indianapolis 500 as a team, same thing with the driver’s championship. It will go in that order.”

Also, 12 drivers entered this weekend have won NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, six of whom have more than 10 career victories. Last year, seven drivers representing five teams won races, with 18 drivers posting a top-five finish in a given race.

Big Names Without St. Pete Wins

It’s hard to believe that Scott Dixon hasn’t won at St. Pete before. He’s made 15 starts now on the street circuit but has never celebrated in victory lane.

Dixon, does have two podiums in his last three tries including a third place run in 2017 and runner-up last year. That was his fourth runner-up (2006, 2007, 2012, 2019) but that and a third place finish in 2017 are his only podiums. Also, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has failed to lead a lap in 12 of those 15 starts and hasn’t led a lap since 2013. CGR hasn’t had much success in St. Pete anyways with just one victory in the history of this race (2011).

Ryan Hunter-Reay also hasn’t won either. He does have three top five finishes in his last four St. Pete tries and five top seven’s in his No. 28 Honda in his last six tries.

His teammate Alexander Rossi has only made four starts and even finished third in 2018 and fifth last year, but was 12th and 11th the two seasons before. Andretti as a whole has just two trips to victory lane (2005, 2013).

Simon Pagenaud has eight starts and two runner-ups (2016, 2017) and two fifth place finishes (2014, 2015) but no wins including a 13th place finish and seventh place run in each of the last two years.

Would you take a repeat winner or these four to win on Sunday?

Rookie Class

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES had quite the battle last year among its rookies, with Felix Rosenqvist (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda) and Colton Herta (No. 88 Capstone Honda), finishing sixth and seventh in the championship standings, respectively.

Herta won a pair of races (Circuit of The Americas, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca) and Rosenqvist posted a pair of runner-up finishes (Mid-Ohio, Portland International Raceway) en route to earning Rookie of the Year. They also combined to win four poles.

Santino Ferrucci (No. 18 SealMaster Honda) also was impressive in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, nearly completing every lap during the 17-race season while finishing seventh in the Indianapolis 500 to earn Rookie of the Year and finishing fourth in three other oval-track races. Will this rookie class be just as successful? It very well could be among those running full-season schedules with Oliver Askew (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) (shown here) and Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet) having finished 1-2, respectively, last season in Indy Lights.

Also, keep an eye on Alex Palou (No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda). Last year’s Super Formula Rookie of the Year is the driver Newgarden tabbed as the most likely to win the Rookie of the Year award. “He’s probably got the most experience of everybody,” Newgarden said.

Dixon The New Starts Leader

With Tony Kanaan (No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) set to run a five-race oval schedule in his final season as a primary driver, his all-time INDYCAR record for consecutive starts will officially end at 317 with no start in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The streak began at Portland in 2001 and concludes with the 45-year-old Brazilian’s start in last season’s season’s season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The new active leader for consecutive starts would become Scott Dixon (shown here), who has made 258 in a row heading into Sunday’s race. That current streak by the five-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion also ranks as the second longest in the sport’s history behind Kanaan. Marco Andretti (No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda) has made 234 consecutive starts, which ranks third all time and will become the second-longest active streak behind Dixon.

“Man I haven’t really thought about that. I thought TK was real old, but what does that really say about me now?,” the 39-year-old Dixon said. “Seriously though, I think we all still love seeing TK compete and know what he’s meant to the sport over his long and successful career. It will be weird not having him on the grid this weekend. I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the mark he set … that’s a ways away for sure. TK has been a great ambassador and champion for INDYCAR over the years and I hope to carry on the streak for years to come and maybe that will be with the PNC Bank car in victory lane Sunday.”

Race Distance Back To Original

When the NTT IndyCar Series started going to St. Pete in 2005, the race was a 100 Lap event. The only time between 2005 and 2012 that didn’t go the 100 lap distance was in 2008 when the race was shortened by weather to 83 Laps.

But, in 2013, the race was extended by 10 laps to 110 Laps in duration. This year though, the series and track officials have decided to go back to 100 laps which shortens the race by 10 laps and 18 miles.

Trends

Starting Position Key

Want to win on Sunday, you better be on top of your game on Saturday. Nine of the past 11 Grand Prix of St. Pete winners have been won from the Firestone Fast Six. 11 of the last 14 have been won from a top 10 starting spot.

The weird stat about this though, just once has this race been won from the pole (2007).

Power The Pole King

Will Power has now won eight poles in St. Pete since 2010. Furthermore, Power has qualified on the front row in five straight years and nine of the last 10. His worst qualifying effort since then was a fourth in 2014, a race he coincidentally won.

Few Cautions

Don’t expect more than a couple of cautions on Sunday. We saw only two of them a year ago and in three of the last four. The only exception was eight yellows in 2018.

Who’s The Surprise Rookie Going To Be?

The last two years, a rookie has wowed us in St. Pete. In 2018, Robert Wickens earned the pole in his first ever Indy Car start and led 69 of the 110 laps. Last year, Felix Rosenqvist made his Indy Car debut with a third place starting spot and fourth place finish including leading 31 laps.

Who’s going to be the rookie in 2020?

Rinus VeeKay, Oliver Askew and Alex Palou will battle for Rookie of the Year Honors and made their series debuts on Sunday. But, while he’s not considered a rookie, Pato O’Ward is making his first career start at St. Pete too, so the standout could be any one of these four.

VeeKay, has made six career starts on the 1.8-mile street circuit in the Road to Indy Program, scoring five podiums including three of those being victories. He’s won three of his last four St. Pete starts including race No. 2 of the Indy Lights weekend last March.

Askew, also has made six St. Pete starts through the same ladder system. He was second and first respectively in USF2000 (2017), fifth and sixth in Pro Mazda (2018) and third and 10th in Indy Lights (2018).

O’Ward is probably the most seasoned veteran among all on this track as he’s made eight career starts on it. The Mexican driver won in Pro Mazda in 2016 and Indy Lights in 2018.

Palou, has never seen the track prior to this weekend.

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