PREVIEW: Firestone 600 at Texas

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ rather draining run of five races in as many weekends – plus qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on the one non-race weekend – comes to a conclusion with this Saturday evening’s Firestone 600 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Here’s what to look out for in the ninth round of the season, the third of five ovals and the first race in the second half of the 16-race calendar:

2016 Firestone 600 – Talking Points

Domed skids, Round 2

After really not having much of an impact at the Indianapolis 500, how the “infamous” domed skids play at a track with higher banking and will they make cars more difficult to drive figures to be a talking point this weekend. Following the test in May, it was still in the crosshairs.

Rossi’s next oval bow

After the Indianapolis 500 win, Alexander Rossi heads to a track that he’s tested at once and already likes, as part of his oval baptism.

“Texas is my favorite oval that I’ve driven on actually,” Rossi said during this week’s IndyCar teleconference. “We had the one test there at the beginning of May, and it was awesome. I really, really enjoyed it. We did a little bit of a group run towards the end of the day, and it was very interesting for me to kind of be on an oval where there were so many different lines. As you said, it’s very high banked, so it’ll make the racing incredibly exciting, and I’m very much looking forward to Saturday night.”

In terms of what the Indy 500 winner has done for a recent encore on the first oval since, here’s the recent results: Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay 19th in 2014 after retiring, Tony Kanaan was third in 2013 and Dario Franchitti was 14th in 2012. Does it forecast anything for Rossi in the now No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda this weekend? Probably not, but it’s still interesting to note.

Pagenaud vs. the field

With his 80-point lead and at a track where he has a couple top-six results but hasn’t really looked the measure of challenging for a win, Simon Pagenaud has a chance to further establish his title credentials with a strong run on IndyCar’ lone 1.5-mile oval this season. If he doesn’t and slips back in the field, it could open the door for Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and others to make inroads.

The ‘ol tire degradation story, and downforce levels

How much and how fast the Firestone tires fall off over a course of a stint has become a big part of Texas Motor Speedway races the last few years, since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis. Combined with downforce selections, these two items will help tell the tale on Saturday night.

The final word

Hunter-Reay has a good assessment on the challenge of Texas: “Getting a win at Texas Motor Speedway for the DHL Honda is at the top of my list. This track can be very tricky to get the setup just right, so as a four-car team, we’ll all be working together to prepare the best setup we can for race day.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 10
11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, NBCSN (Live)
3:15 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/cumulative time of two laps), NBCSN (6 p.m. ET)
6:45 – 7:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, (Live)

Saturday, June 11
4 p.m. – Systems check
7:06 p.m. – Driver Introductions
7:45 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
7:50 p.m. – Firestone 600 (248 laps/360.84 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

1. Scott Dixon
2. Tony Kanaan
3. Helio Castroneves
4. Juan Pablo Montoya
5. Marco Andretti
6. Carlos Munoz
7. Charlie Kimball
8. Ryan Briscoe
9. James Jakes
10. Gabby Chaves
13. Will Power (Pole)

IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)