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INDYCAR Preview – DXC Technology 600

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As hard as it is to believe, the Verizon IndyCar Series is about to enter the second half of the 2018 season. And the back half of 2018 kicks off with the annual visit to the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway for the DXC Technology 600.

Last year’s Texas outing was a demolition derby of sorts. Nine cautions were flown, seven of which were for on-track incidents, and only six cars ended the race without any damage – seventh and eighth place finishers Conor Daly and Max Chilton were running at the end, but suffered damage in a late crash with Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato. Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand were also running at the end, but several laps down after getting caught up in a Lap 152 crash.

Texas always has a habit of being the most frantic and frenetic event of the year, and some are thankful it is the only high-banked 1.5-mile oval remaining on the schedule.

Talking points ahead of Saturday night’s 600-kilometer outing in Texas are below.

High-Speed Oval Gives Chevrolet a Chance to Bounce Back

The 2018 universal aero kits mean that the manufacturer battle between Honda and Chevrolet is entirely down to engine performance. And the race winners for each indicate a pretty even fight – Honda and Chevy have four winners apiece.

However, Honda currently holds a fairly decisive advantage – 103 points to be exact – in the manufacturer’s championship. This is in thanks to races like the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where Honda swept the top six, and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where they had five of the top six, and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, where they also had five of the six (though Chevy driver Josef Newgarden won that day).

Some are of the belief that Honda has a little better torque, and point to last weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit as evidence of that advantage. Hondas swept the top six in Saturday’s Race 1, and had five of the top six in Race 2, with race winners Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay completing a dominant weekend for the Japanese manufacturer.

Yet, Chevy appeared to have a top-end speed advantage at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, evidenced by seven of the top nine qualifiers coming from the Chevy camp, and 150 of the 200 laps were led by Chevy drivers – Will Power and Ed Carpenter also completed a Chevy 1-2.

If such an advantage exists, Texas presents the Chevy teams with a golden opportunity to rebound from Honda’s domination of them in Detroit.

Will Texas Be a Pack Race, or Will Indy-Style Handling Be the Priority?

Last year’s carnage-filled night in Texas was in part a product of a pack race that saw the 22-car field unable to effectively gap each other. Hence, the close quarters caused a number of accidents, and when a crash happened – such as the contact between James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan that sparked the Lap 152 crash – it left drivers with little time to react.

If the Indianapolis 500 was any indication, however, a pack race may not be likely, as handling was paramount that day, especially because of the conditions – the Indy 500 saw a near-record high ambient temperature of 91 degrees.

And Texas figures to be another scorcher, with the predicted highs nearing 100 degrees.

As such, the effect of the aero kits is a complete unknown ahead of the weekend. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal discussed as much, asserting that the package’s performance in Texas may not necessarily have much in common with its performance in Indy.

“I think the new aero kit is going to behave quite differently than it did at Indy, but I also think that when we show up it’s going to be a real work in progress,” Rahal explained. “I’m sure that from an aerodynamic perspective, INDYCAR is going to have to keep doing some work to get it right. If you look at the way the aero package is set up currently, I think that it’s going to be very difficult to run together but I did not test there so I’m not a great judge of that because I haven’t had any laps there yet. But I definitely think it’s going to be a work in progress and the folks at INDYCAR are ready, willing and able to adjust if we need to, to make the show great.”

Between 2012 and 2015, Texas did not produce pack racing, but rather put a premium on mechanical grip and managing tire wear – this was a result of the DW-12 and manufacturer aero kit packages. Though the 2016 and 2017 outings saw pack-racing return, it stands within reason to think that mechanical grip and tire wear will again be the priorities this time around.

Misc.

  • Zachary Claman De Melo returns to the No. 19 Paysafe Honda for Dale Coyne Racing, and this will be his first ever start at Texas Motor Speedway – the Firestone Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship does not run at Texas.
  • Masked by last year’s race of carnage was a dominant performance by Team Penske’s Will Power, who led 180 of 248 laps. Given his recent prowess on ovals, the 2018 Indy 500 winner may enter Texas as the man to beat.
  • Detroit winners Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon look to reverse a recent run of misfortune at Texas. Dixon won in 2015, but has been crashed out in the last two Texas races – in 2016 and 2017. Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, has not finished in the top 10 at Texas since a second-place effort in 2013. Both have the speed to reverse such fortune, and if luck is on their side, they’ll be contenders on Saturday night.

The Final Word…

From defending race winner, Will Power:

“I’m really looking forward to going back to Texas. The team has really been on a roll with a lot of success in the past month and we are ready to keep doing that. The No. 12 Verizon Chevy team brought home a win last year at Texas and we feel strongly that we have another good shot at it. The fans are always a lot of fun there and really seem to enjoy the type of racing we get to do there. I’m really excited to go back there.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, June 8
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. (12:30 to 2:00 p.m. ET): Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. ET): Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/cumulative time of two laps), Live on NBCSN
6:15. – 7:15 p.m. (7:15 to 8:15 p.m. ET): Verizon IndyCar Series final practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 9
7:00p.m. (8:00 p.m. ET) – NBCSN broadcast window begins
7:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m. ET) – DXC Technology 600 (248 laps/357.12 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

1. Will Power
2. Tony Kanaan
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Graham Rahal
5. Gabby Chaves
6. Marco Andretti
7. Conor Daly
8. Max Chilton
9. Scott Dixon
10. Takuma Sato

 

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Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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