By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The first of two NTT IndyCar Series doubleheaders will unfold this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. It also happens to be half of the four-race oval lineup, which sparks some buzz due to it’s waning quantity of races.
At the same time, oval racing provides tremendous excitement and changes among the 24-car grid.
This weekend will mark the oval debut of Scott McLaughlin, Conor Daly’s return to Carlin, and the return of Brazilians Tony Kanaan and Pietro Fittipaldi.
McLaughlin is excited to experience oval racing for the first time as he’s the only rookie competing in all 17 races. Both Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean are only running the road courses. Therefore, they won’t return in the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis May 15.
“I’m very excited for my first oval experience. Had a lot of fun, a lot of enjoyment testing there not long ago,” said McLaughlin. “Obviously the Indy open test as well. I feel like we’ve got a raceable car. Heading there with the confidence of potentially doing well if I get it all right.
“Of course, I’ve got a lot to learn with the draft and the dirty air, using the weight jacker, all my tools inside the car, something I have to get used to as well. Like I said, thankfully we’ve had those test days. I feel comfortable going into it and can only learn from here.”
On Tuesday, Carlin confirmed Conor Daly will run both races at Texas and Gateway in the No. 59 Chevrolet, primarily driven by Max Chilton. As usual, Chilton will attempt to make the 105th Indianapolis 500 with the team while Daly will pilot a third Ed Carpenter Racing entry.
Daly was responsible of bringing the No. 59 team positive glory after winning last year’s pole for the first Iowa race. Entering Texas, he’s excited to build on some of last year’s success.
“I’m very excited and thankful to be back with Carlin for this weekend,” said Daly. “It’s a package with which we’ve accomplished a lot together in a short amount of time and I’m excited to get back to work with the guys. I appreciate the opportunity and thank Chily (Grahme Chilton) and Trevor (Carlin) for the support and entrusting me with the car once again and also Power Plus! for joining me this weekend.”
After not having Brazilians starting the season, Texas will have two in action with Kanaan making his return with Chip Ganassi Racing. The other being Haas F1 reserved driver Pietro Fittipaldi, who’ll make his IndyCar return after a near three-year absence.
They’ll take over Johnson and Grosjean’s rides respectively, both eager to start their seasons on a positive note.
The 2004 series champion noted Saturday’s race may see some resistance and just playing it easy. Any trouble will result in massive setbacks for Sunday. That’s all on the full-time competitors perspective as Kanaan’s case is simply racing. Ideally, looking for strong results as the No. 48 team sit 22nd in points among the 24 full-time entries.
“Race one is going to dictate a lot of your weekend as far as that. But you can only worry about things you can control. Obviously we’re there to race,” said Kanaan.
“I think you will see some guys maybe taking it a little easier in the first race to be able to just gather some points. The way the championship is right now, I mean, look at — there is 40 points separating P1 to P18. I think you’ll probably see a lot less crashes this year, though, as you’re throwing your championship chances away.
“It will be no different than what we did on those two double-headers we did last year,” Kanaan continued. “You’re going to have to be prepared. I think the teams are more prepared if something like that happens if going to have an advantage, and the teams that are not they’re going to have to tell their drivers to take it easy probably in race one.”
People often forget Fittipaldi had success in short track oval racing, winning the 2011 track championship at Hickory Motor Speedway. A decade later, he’s looking forward being back in IndyCar after regaining his groove during pre-season testing.
“We tested at Texas a couple weeks ago, then Indianapolis after Texas. I was able to get back in the groove,” said Fittipaldi. “The team did a great job in getting me back into the rhythm of racing on ovals. I’m looking forward to it.”
Two days and two rounds to get things right at the fast 1.5-mile oval. Any mistake could certainly damage a driver’s odds for a strong result or even the championship. These two rounds will also cap off a four-race stretch in a span of three weeks before heading to Indianapolis.
By the Numbers
What: Genesys 300 & XPEL 375, NTT IndyCar Series Race Nos. 3 & 4 of 17
Where: Texas Motor Speedway – Fort Worth, Texas (Opened: 1996, first INDYCAR event was 1997)
When: Saturday & Sunday May 1-2, 2021
TV/Radio: NBCSN, 7:00 pm ET (Saturday) & 5:00 pm ET (Sunday) / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211), 7:00 pm ET (Saturday) & 4:30 pm ET (Sunday)
Track Size: 1.5 mile oval
Race Length: 212 laps, 318 miles (Saturday) & 248 laps, 372 miles (Sunday)
Recent Race Winner: Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started second, 157 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Kenny Brack – No. 8 Team Rahal Ford (22.854 seconds, 233.447 mph – April 28, 2001)
From the Driver’s Seat
Conor Daly – No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet
“I had one of my best results (at Texas) last year. The team has done such a great job to continue to get me what I need to compete at the front. Now we have two races at Teas where we can hopefully fight for the podium twice. It would just be fantastic to get that result for the team and reward for their hard work.”
Pietro Fittipaldi – No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda
“It’s a doubleheader, going to be very physical over there. Got to be patient, like Scott said, especially at Texas. There’s a lot to learn as well for me coming into it after being out for two, three years. Yeah, just be patient. It’s a very long race.
“You can run laps on your own good, run fast laps, you could be quick in qualifying, but you go out in the race, it’s going to be hard to get that experience of following in traffic, trying to time passes and stuff. That’s going to be the main thing, trying to gain as much experience with that in Texas, then execute everything that’s in my control and get the best result possible.”
Last Time at Texas
Texas Motor Speedway was the site of last season’s opening round and there was plenty of stories that unfolded. Not just the race itself, but in every session where the mistakes proved devastating. Five of them faced that harsh reality on a hot Saturday afternoon last June.
Rinus VeeKay crashed during practice, as did Takuma Sato in qualifying. VeeKay would have a backup car ready, but not Sato who failed to start the 200-lap event.
However, VeeKay’s inexperience drew ire on boss man Ed Carpenter following a racing accident in Turn 2. The blunder would also take out Alex Palou, eliminating them from the fight. Needless to say, VeeKay is looking for redemption this weekend and put last year behind him for good.
The final set of victims were Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who all had mechanical problems during pre-race. If it wasn’t obvious, drama all around the field before the green flag even dropped.
Due to their issues, the trio failed to put a charge on Scott Dixon, who put on an absolute clinic by leading 157 laps. It kickstarted a three-race winning streak which put him in elite company with AJ Foyt (1964), Al Unser (1971), Paul Tracy (2003) and Sebastien Bourdais (2006).
“I just can’t thank the team. It was such a team effort. We had a couple mistakes at the start and throughout the race, but we recovered. It was awesome,” said Dixon. “Honda, they were huge with the power out there. It was just so fast. Any situation we were in, we could just go for it. Huge thanks to everybody involved. Bummed that the fans aren’t here. We wish everybody was here to celebrate.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, May 1
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice (11:45 am to 1:00 pm – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (4:00 pm to 5:00 pm – Peacock (Live)/NBCSN (6:00 pm))
- NTT IndyCar Series Genesys 300 (7:00 pm – 212 laps, 318 miles – NBCSN)
Sunday, May 2
- NTT IndyCar Series XPEL 375 (4:30pm/5:00pm – 248 laps, 372 miles – SiriusXM/NBCSN)