What to watch for: IndyCar at Phoenix (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Well, Friday was an interesting day at Phoenix International Raceway. And it’s set up for an interesting race day for tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra) as a result.


Here’s what to watch for from the second round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season:


Thus far it’s been the bulldogs/old guard/pick your superlative for “experienced veterans” that have held the edge at Phoenix, both from testing and in Friday’s practice and qualifying sessions.

The top six drivers on the grid include four of the most experienced drivers in the series, in the form of Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon. Then add Ed Carpenter and you have all of the drivers with previous race experience starting up front. The lone exception is Charlie Kimball, who is gelling well with new engineer Eric Cowdin, and qualified an impressive fourth.

The guys who’ve tended to excel on short ovals – the aforementioned veterans plus others like Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the two top qualified Honda drivers (albeit only in 11th and 12th) – are probably the ones to watch.


It’s the baptism by fire for four drivers in their first IndyCar oval starts – Max Chilton, Alexander Rossi, Luca Filippi and Conor Daly – who will roll off eighth, 14th, 16th and 18th. Chilton’s seemed comfortable; Rossi was downbeat after his qualifying run, even though he did a very good job to get as close to his teammates as he did; Filippi seems keen to learn while Daly has been struggling, and admitted as much.

The goal for all of these four in their first oval starts, simply, is to finish – any result will come as a result of that.


Perhaps the best – or only – hope for Honda is that their cars run better when cooler and it’s darker out. Because in the heat of the day, they haven’t seemed the measure of Chevrolet… which isn’t good. Neither manufacturer wants the near half-and-half split that existed in practice and qualifying yesterday. It could be a long day for the Honda runners.

Chevrolet runners have the top 10 spots on the grid, with only one Chevrolet (Sebastien Bourdais) in the second half of the grid in 15th. The remainder of the field are Honda runners; and they’re also coming into the race after three heavy accidents sustained by Takuma Sato, James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz, all with low downforce rear wing mainplane assemblies on the rear wheel pod.

Optimism came from Hunter-Reay, who noted that after Iowa practice last year there was talk that cars couldn’t pass. But Hunter-Reay, a renowned short oval master, is going to give it his all tonight to ensure he’s making up spots from 12th on the grid.

“It’s really tough to say and the reason I say that, for many years at Iowa, following practice, we couldn’t pass,” he told NBC Sports. “But Iowa… is a two-groove track. I hope there’s tire fall off. It could be semi-processional for a bit.

“We need to run in lapped traffic. We need mix up to happen.”


Drivers were mixed on whether you’ll see a ton of passing at Phoenix. The way to set it up, in all likelihood, is to get a run off Turn 4, get side-by-side into Turn 1 and complete the pass through Turn 2.

I’d expect you may start to see some passing 15 to 20 laps into a stint as tires begin to fall off; that being said, expect stints in the 55 to 60 lap range before pitting and it to be a four-stop race.


How big will the crowd be? Optics matter and as it’s already going to be a tough draw for the series, up against the NCAA Final Four semifinals, Phoenix needs to have the “look” and “feel” of a proper event.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.



Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III