IndyCar: Who needs to shine at the pair of hot, humid Houston races?

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This weekend is a pivotal weekend for the Verizon IndyCar Series at the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, for the pair of races on the docket in the hot, humid but potentially rainy weekend.

Who needs to step up this weekend? We look through a few names to watch:

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 DHL Honda

The Indianapolis 500 champion has had a brutal three-race stretch since, including a doubleheader weekend to forget in Detroit and a mechanical issue pop up in Texas that dropped him to a 19th place finish. Hunter-Reay led the points standings by 40 coming out of the ‘500… he now sits 60 points behind new leader Will Power after a net 100-point loss over three races.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 11 Mistic KVSH Racing Chevrolet

A former Houston winner, Bourdais hasn’t yet shown the race-winning form I expected coming into this year. He’s made several mistakes and also been penalized way too frequently. Last year the Toronto doubleheader – the second double-race weekend of the season – was his breakthrough, and ideally Houston fills that role for him this year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 National Guard RLL Honda

His starts on street courses this year read like a bad Bingo line: 21, 23, 9, 14. With Luca Filippi brought in the team’s second car this weekend, Rahal has to improve his qualifying game and nail the form that was so good at Detroit Race 1, where he finished second.

Chip Ganassi Racing – both Target Chevrolets, plus the NTT Data and Novo Nordisk Chevrolets

Yes, both Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball bagged podiums last street race at Detroit, but qualifying across the board for the quartet has been less than desirable. Averaging starting positions this year on road and street courses? It’s 9.1 for Scott Dixon, 11.8 for Ryan Briscoe, 12 for Kanaan and 19.8 for Kimball. Dixon won Race 1 here last year and here’s to hoping that the team’s two-day test at Sebring will have again paid dividends.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda

The opposite of the above drivers, Newgarden’s qualifying’s been great this year but through mostly no fault of his own, his results haven’t been. The talented young American either gets good results or good grid positions – rarely both in the same weekend. Driving what is arguably the sexiest looking car on the grid, in the chrome, blue and red Strike colors, it would be great to see Newgarden back on the podium – or at least in the top five – this weekend.

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