LONG BEACH, Calif. – The marquee street race event for the Verizon IndyCar Series, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, occurs today (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).
Here’s what to watch for, after you take a ride with polesitter Helio Castroneves on his record-setting qualifying lap on Saturday, courtesy of INDYCAR.
PENSKE PROWESS, AND POWER’S PROGRESSION
With three of the top five spots on the grid, Team Penske has a great chance for its second win of the season after Juan Pablo Montoya scored the win in the season-opener at St. Petersburg.
Points leader Montoya has been driving on fire to start the year, Castroneves has been his usually consistent self and Simon Pagenaud has a good record at Long Beach and looks for his first Penske win this weekend.
But the story to watch more than the three up front will be Will Power, and what he’ll do for his charge through the field. He got caught out in qualifying and will start 18th. It might need to be a strategic masterstroke from Penske president Tim Cindric; it paid dividends here three years ago when Power won after starting 12th.
ANOTHER SURPRISE WINNER?
Mike Conway (2011 and 2014) and Takuma Sato (2013) have been surprise winners on the streets of Long Beach in the last few years.
So who could qualify as a potential surprise today?
Josef Newgarden starts sixth and would be a popular first-time winner; Graham Rahal traditionally runs well at Long Beach and has opened the year strong and will srarr eighth; Sebastian Saavedra has thus far exceeded expectations in his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing and starts 11th; Luca Filippi takes over Conway’s car and will look to win from 14th.
MORE YELLOWS TO COME?
IndyCar chief flagman Paul Blevin is not a name you might know very well, but you certainly have seen him fully in action to kick off the 2015 season.
Through the first two races this year, there have been 11 cautions for 48 laps. In the first two races last year, there were only six for 28 laps.
INDYCAR (sanctioning body) issued an update on aero kits earlier this weekend where the Chevrolet teams would need to remove the “rabbit ears” and Honda teams need to reinforce the rear wheel guards; both parts were an issue at St. Petersburg.
The hope is that the update reduces debris parts flying and the number of yellows. But it still comes down to the drivers.
DALY, SAAVEDRA SEASON DEBUTS
Conor Daly got an ultimate last-minute call-up with Dale Coyne Racing to replace Rocky Moran Jr., who was already replacing Carlos Huertas. Meanwhile Saavedra will make his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing, in place of Sage Karam.
Daly told me on Saturday he was “in at the deep end” – this is his first time in the Honda aero kit version of the car after testing the prior Dallara DW12 chassis with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports earlier this year. But it’s still a great opportunity for him, and a popular one too as he makes his IndyCar street course debut.
Saavedra, in the AFS-backed No. 8 Chevrolet, will look for his second straight Long Beach top-10 finish from 11th on the grid. He finished ninth in this race last year, but hasn’t ended in the top-10 since.