Some IndyCar drivers absolutely love the crazy speed and risks provided by Texas Motor Speedway. It appeared as though Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey, who started 21st and eventually crept up to 16th, will need a few more visits before a love affair is possible.
Never question the heart of Hunter-Reay. Struck twice by the damned cartoon anvil on the opening day of the season, the 2012 IndyCar Series champion did the only thing he’s known since making his Champ Car debut in 2003 and drove his tail off to overcome a one-lap deficit caused by the drive-through penalty. A lot of work was required to finish on the lead lap in eighth position.
RHR’s young teammate Colton Herta had a surprisingly quiet event. With a qualifying run to 14th and a nearly invisible run to seventh by the end of the night, the kid who brought season-long fireworks as a rookie had an inauspicious start as a full-time Andretti Autosport team member. With teammate Zach Veach leading the squad from start to finish, RHR and Rossi hampered from the outset, Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe showing well until they fell back for differing reasons, Herta still ended up being P2 on the Andretti depth chart.
Team Penske fought like hell for most of the race to salvage a second for Josef Newgarden and third for Simon Pagenaud. The brilliance of holding a race with minimal practice was portrayed as the reigning champions couldn’t find the chassis setup to win and the winning CGR team couldn’t find a way to lose. The diverging fortunes gave one team an all-night headache while its closest rival was preparing to celebrate with champagne. Minus the part where the pit crews were overtaxed, count me as a fan of limited pre-race running and the curveballs it throws into the script.
The topic of lapped cars getting in the way has been raised aplenty. As most were running within 105 percent of the leaders’ pace, IndyCar wasn’t going to intervene during green runs, and with the final caution falling within the last 15 laps, the option to re-order the field was not taken in the interest of finishing the race under green.
Carpenter had stealth mode engaged on his way to fifth. Image by Jones/IndyCar
My first Golden Bowling Ball Award of 2020 goes to a rookie who will indeed learn and improve from dropping the ball on his foot before throwing a strike in the lane of fellow rookie Alex Palou. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay suffered from youthful exuberance on Saturday, and if you weren’t a Carpenter fan before the race, his dry funny-serious assessment of the Dutchman’s failures to listen and apply the oval wisdom he offered made for great television. VeeKay took himself out early in practice, did it again early in the race, and gets to live with it until July 4 on the IMS road course. After the bar was set impossibly high by likes of Robert Wickens in 2018 and Herta in 2019, it’s easy to forget how much high-caliber rookies can look completely lost. We worried about Texas being the starting point for IndyCar’s rookies, and of the three, VeeKay clearly struggled, but don’t worry, he’s smart, and fast, and will rebound.
Speaking of rebounding rockets, Felix Rosenqvist was one bad decision away from sealing a Chip Ganassi Racing 1-2 at Texas. Ambition was the Swede’s undoing as he tried the one thing that seemingly nobody wanted to experiment with, and that was attempting a pass on the tractionless black lane in the middle of Turns 1 and 2. Marco Andretti charged around the outside of James Hinchcliffe entering Turn 1, Rosenqvist wanted to follow in his wheel tracks, but the Canadian appeared to get loose and chase his car up the inside lane. Rosenqvist remained committed to the pass, and as the good lane disappeared, he stayed in the throttle and hit the black ice. And I’m not the least bit concerned for him as a result. My hope is that Ganassi does not bark at the Swede or try and pull back on the leash; it was needed last year when he was driving over his head, but Saturday night was just a bad decision, and nothing more. That first win is coming, and with 18 total IndyCar races to his credit, all while learning ovals, consider how good he looked for 190 laps.
Carlin Racing! The only one-car team in the field was fast and steady as Conor Daly gave the team a reason to believe it can be a force on the ovals. How fun was it to watch Daly hunt down his ECR boss towards the end of the race?
The reconstituted Arrow McLaren SP team never factored at Texas, which was a surprise. A poor qualifying for Pato O’Ward (18th) and Oliver Askew (20th) saw both drivers hover towards the bottom of the field, and with the help of penalties and attrition, a steely Askew claimed ninth on his IndyCar debut and O’Ward finished 12th, one lap down.
Piggybacking off the AMSP note, Dale Coyne Racing cannot be pleased with two failures to finish and its drivers leaving Texas in 21st (Santino Ferrucci) and 23rd place (Palou) in points. Similar for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with one in 17th (Rahal) and the other (Takuma Sato) last in 24th after his crash in qualifying resulted in missing the race. Of the four drivers, Palou was an unexpected standout after leading the team – on his IndyCar, and oval racing debut, no less – in qualifying and during the race prior to getting VeeKayO’d.
Fatigue was a likely cause for ongoing mistakes on pit lane. Wheels fell off of multiple cars, others didn’t get all their fuel, wheel nuts jammed, and frankly, I’m surprised more incidents weren’t recorded as some crew members were pushed beyond their limits.
Let’s close on a fun one. Kudos to CGR for the offseason engineering restructuring as Dixon’s championship-winning race engineer Chris Simmons was elevated to an overarching performance-improving position. Along with technical director Julian Robertson, the elevation of Simmons’ big brain had Dixie and Rosie looking unstoppable. New CGR driver Marcus Ericsson was also doing well until he ran out of fuel. And how cool was it for veteran engineer Michael Cannon, new to the team as Dixie’s new race engineer, to win on his debut? Add in Veach matching his career-best finish of fourth, Daly and Carlin kicking ass on the way to sixth, RHR flipping the bird to the cartoon anvil in eighth, Askew coming home two spots behind Herta in ninth, Kimball driving like an animal to earn 11th despite crashing on the final lap, and Palou smiling through adversity and looking unfazed by the task ahead. And if you’re looking for drama, we have the instant championship implications of title contenders Power (13th), Rossi (15th), Rahal (17th), and Rosenqvist (20th) leaving Round 1 in a shortened 14-race season in a serious hole. July can’t get here soon enough.