The team that tested at Texas Motor Speedway nine days before the start of practice went on to finish P1-2-4. Chip Ganassi Racing, the team that was supposed to test with Team Penske but opted not to come back for the poor-weather make-up outing, rallied to find results that were as good as to be expected considering the depth of knowledge they forfeited to their rivals as its drivers placed P3-5-6-7.
Eventual race winner Josef Newgarden felt so confident about his chances after the test, he and the No. 2 Chevy team cut their participation in Free Practice 1 short after turning just 16 laps.
“For us, it was a matter of trying to get in and out on this session,” he told RACER after climbing from the gorgeous PPG-liveried car. “We were obviously here last week, which the idea was to give us a little better head start, so hopefully that that ends up coming true for the rest of today and tomorrow.”
It not only came true — it also showed how much testing right before the race was a smart and powerful choice that paid off when it mattered.
Penske’s hard launch into the new season is the major story to follow. Of six podium spots available across the two opening seasons, the team took taken four podiums and both wins. Scott McLaughlin, the only driver to stand on the St. Petersburg and Texas podiums, is the other big story of the early season as the New Zealander came within one corner of being the only winner in 2022.
Related to Penske’s rise, CGR has not looked like it was capable of matching Penske at any point over the opening rounds, nor has Andretti Autosport, with the possible exception of Colton Herta in the St. Pete race before his car was mistakenly short-filled, and CGR’s Alex Palou who chased McLaughlin hard in the closing laps of the street race but couldn’t out-run the Kiwi.
It’s been the downsized three-car Team Penske effort and a bunch of rivals who are missing what it takes to keep McLaughlin, Newgarden or Will Power behind them at the checkered flag. How will Penske’s strong start to the year play out in the coming races? If it’s anything like their output in February and March, CGR’s quest for a third consecutive title is in serious jeopardy.
THE RUN THROUGH
We covered plenty of topics in standalone stories after the race, so before we jump into more new topics, here’s the rest of the post-event content from Sunday to digest:
HEY MAN, NICE STATS
Scott McLaughlin led 49 of 100 laps on the way to victory in St. Pete, added 186 of 248 laps at Texas to his tally, which totals 235 of 348 combined laps and 68 percent of all that have been run so far.
And according to IndyCar, there were 461 total passes at Texas with 284 for position. Passes in the single XPEL 375 race more than doubled what last year’s twin Texas races generated with 453 total and 240 for position.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY LOOK AT CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS
We’ve already seen some interesting developments in the championship standings after two of 17 races. It’s too early to make a bunch of grand declarations, but it’s also hard to ignore these items of interest:
• Despite a comparatively quiet start, Alex Palou’s title defense has him holding third, two points behind Will Power. He’s started off both weekends well outside of where he wanted to be and has rallied on both occasions to make meaningful improvements by the checkered flag. That’s the kind of trait that got teammate Scott Dixon to six championships, Dario Franchitti to four, etc.
• Marcus Ericsson is P5 and sure looks like he’s a threat for an oval win this year. The Swede and his race engineer Brad Goldberg are becoming hard to ignore as one of the most effective combinations in the series. Look back to 2019 when Ericsson arrived from F1 with minimal fanfare and had an unremarkable rookie season with Arrow McLaren SP, and that guy is nowhere to be found today.
• Things got a bit messy for Rinus VeeKay with making it to the end of the race on three stops, but nonetheless, he persevered and held onto P10 which had him tied on points with Colton Herta for P7 in the standings.
• Speaking of ties, Jimmie Johnson is equal on points with Romain Grosjean. Who would have predicted that after two races?
• In a similar vein, is there anyone who bet on Pato O’Ward holding P13 entering Long Beach? And his Texas pole-winning AMSP teammate Felix Rosenqvist being down in P19? Oof.
• Respect is due to Takuma Sato and the Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing team for their better-than-expected debut. P14, two spots behind former RLL teammate Graham Rahal, is promising.
• Minus the part where he was collateral damage in Devlin DeFrancesco’s big mistake that also claimed Rahal, Helio Castroneves would be higher up than P18. Meyer Shank Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud is P9.
• With one run to P9 at Texas, Santino Ferrucci holds P20 in the championship ahead of Conor Daly who was dealt a pair of speeding penalties that weren’t of his making on Sunday.
• Kyle Kirkwood’s crash has made life difficult with P24 in the standings.
• Same for Jack Harvey who is P25 following the Texas DNS.
• I didn’t know it was possible for Alexander Rossi to experience a worse start than he had last year where he was P16 after two rounds. With the St. Pete strategy failure and the Texas electrical failure, Rossi’s P27, two points ahead of teammate DeFrancesco whose IndyCar debut has been unkind.
ABOUT THAT BRUTAL DAY FOR ANDRETTI
The cause of Rossi’s early exit is said to be the chafing and severing of the chassis loom wire that connects to the alternator on the No. 27 Honda, and with the alternator working in isolation from the rest of the electrical system, it was unable to charge the battery and keep the engine and the rest of the electronics up and running.
As for Grosjean’s exit which followed Rossi’s retirement, the No. 28’s engine did expire in a definitive manner. The root of the problem was up for debate, but there’s no question as to whether a fresh 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 mill will be going in the car for Long Beach.
CLOSE ONE FOR CALLUM
Juncos Hollinger Racing rookie Callum Ilott posted the latest evidence of why the debate on whether IndyCar should ditch the aeroscreen for a halo is a waste of time.
— Callum Ilott (@callum_ilott) March 20, 2022
On a Texas-related note, I’m not sure the Briton did anything overly spectacular in the race, and that’s not a bad thing. Fellow rookies Kyle Kirkwood and Christian Lundgaard weren’t as fortunate as both tagged the wall. Jimmie Johnson was best among the IndyCar oval rookies in sixth and among the true rookies, David Malukas was tops in P11. Ilott, in his first oval race of any kind, used his smarts and skills to place P16, one spot behind Pato O’Ward.
Ilott and the JHR team also hold P16 in the championship, which is rather impressive.