LONG BEACH, Calif. – One of IndyCar’s most legendary races is about to go live, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).
Here’s what to watch for from the third round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season:
REDS VS. BLACKS
Consensus is that Firestone’s red alternate tires are the better bet here at Long Beach for a likely two-stop race, although some teams and drivers may try to pit early for a three-stopper to go off sequence and leapfrog the race.
The top eight drivers are starting on the reds with Ryan Hunter-Reay in 11th, Graham Rahal in 17th and Marco Andretti in 21st and last all starting on reds. The other drivers that are starting on the primary blacks may opt to pit early to get off the blacks and onto the reds.
I’m not a strategist, but I think this is likely going to tell the tale. Firestone has a live tire tracker during the race that is pretty solid and I’d recommend using – check the @FirestoneRacing Twitter first.
ABOUT THAT STRATEGY, THOUGH
Two-time Long Beach winner Will Power (2008 and 2012) laments the fact that with the pits closing on yellows and with the race a more likely two-stopper that you occasionally get hosed for being “too good.”
“Well, actually, I think it’d be nice to have 3 stops. If you have a problem you can come back. Leading, 2 stops, it’s simple,” Power told NBC Sports on Friday.
“Of course last year was straightforward and I wasn’t in it. Same with St. Pete. Those are the ones I like a lot.
“The problem is the pits are closed. I think it’s such a travesty. It’s not sport. It’s about luck. I couldn’t imagine how many more I’d won if the pits were left open. It’s something I believe they need to fix. Find a way to leave the pits open… you go to the back if you do a good job.
“It’s confusing for fans. Mid Ohio, the whole field inverted. They flipped around. It’s something they need to look at.”
Things ain’t changing this race, but do watch if Power proves a soothsayer if a yellow comes out at an inopportune time – particularly around a pit stop cycle.
CAN HELIO END HIS DROUGHT?
Helio Castroneves has won eight pole positions since his last race win in the series, Detroit race two in 2014.
He’s got the best pit position at the end of pit out, and he’s hungrier than ever to end that drought.
If his No. 3 AAA Team Penske Chevrolet crew can keep him ahead of Scott Dixon, the defending race winner, on pit stops, he’s got a great chance to end the 29-race dry spell. And it’s been 15 years since he won here the only time, in 2001.
HONDAS TO FIGHT?
James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato are the highest starting Honda runners in seventh and eighth, and Hunter-Reay and Rahal will be fun to watch from 11th and 17th given their pace in the morning warmup.
Most of the Honda drivers I’ve spoken to this weekend have felt comfortable in their car in race pace, but it’s still going to be a challenge for them to overcome the six cars from the Penske and Ganassi camps, with Chevrolets, if things go as normal.
THE COYNE WILD CARDS
Last year Conor Daly made his team debut with Dale Coyne Racing and Francesco Dracone was still in IndyCar in Dale’s second car.
Daly, who’d barely got any seat time before a last-minute call-up, proceeded to deliver the most memorable – and impressive – 17th pace finish in recent memory. Dracone? At least he finished.
Flash forward 12 months and with Luca Filippi and Daly starting 12th and 13th, the pair of Coyne Hondas have been beyond respectable this weekend and may well prove a top spoiler from deeper in the field.
If this race ends up becoming a strategic chess match, look for Dale to pull the ‘ol rabbit out of a hat again to leapfrog one or both drivers up the field – as he did at St. Pete.
Daly enters the race as Honda’s top lap leader thus far this season, with the 15 laps he led at St. Petersburg.
HERE’S YOUR GRID
AND HERE’S SOME PRE-RACE FUNNY FROM T-BELL
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra, with the driver’s start your engine command and race start expected at 4:38 and 4:45 p.m. ET, respectively.