Teams mull over tire strategy for St. Pete quals

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Last season on road and street course, IndyCar teams were forced to use only one set of tires in each of the three “knockout” qualifying segments. But this year, the teams have been allowed more leeway in creating strategies.

Each team gets six sets of primary Firestone Firehawks and three sets of alternates for the race weekend, and they must use one set each of sticker primaries and alternates during the race itself. However, with IndyCar now allowing them to use the tires during qualifying as they see fit, that could lead to more chances being taken – and, potentially, a jumbled grid for Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Noon ET, NBC Sports Network).

“By being able to choose at some tracks, ‘Do I use all my new tires in qualifying in an effort to guarantee myself a better position or do I think I’m better off saving new tires for the race?’ is what we’ve opened up by allowing the strategy to become more involved,” INDYCAR vice president of technology Will Phillips told the series’ official website.

Firestone is rolling out a primary tire for St. Pete that’s largely similar to last year’s, while the alternate features a compound with softer tread and more grip than last year in an attempt to create a bigger gap between performance of the two type of tires.

Qualifying begins at 2:05 p.m. ET today, with NBC Sports Network picking up coverage from St. Pete at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.