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.

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski