Five things to watch for in Detroit Grand Prix

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The NTT IndyCar Series spent the month of May in Indianapolis preparing for and running the 103rd Indy 500. Now, without a moment’s rest, they head to Belle Isle Park in Detroit for Round 7 & 8 of the schedule.

With the 500 as the only oval race so far this year, drivers and teams have been able to concentrate on their street and road course setups. Last week, Simon Pagenaud completed his sweep of Indy – following an IndyCar Grand Prix victory with a dramatic 500 win. That made him the first driver to score two victories this season. There is still a unique winners’ streak in play, however, since a different driver has won each of the twisty track races in 2019.

Will Detroit provide two more winners, or will we start to see one of the drivers begin to establish dominance? That is one of the questions yet to be answered this week. 

  1. Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a streak killer. Pagenaud’s back-to-back wins ended the string of consecutive unique winners, while the rain-plagued Grand Prix snapped a perfect record of top-5s this season for Josef Newgarden and top-10s for Alexander Rossi. Stretching into last year, Newgarden had a top-10 streak of 12 consecutive; Rossi had 11 straight top-10s. Both drivers finished in the top-5 in the 500 to potentially restart their streaks.
  2. Since the IndyCar Series began running a double-header at Belle Isle, Graham Rahal is the only driver to sweep the event – winning the Saturday race from the pole and the Sunday race from third. Sebastien Bourdais won two consecutive by taking the victory in Race 2 of 2015 and Race 1 of 2016.
  3. Starting position is critical at Belle Isle. Eight of 15 races have been won from the front two rows, while only three have been won from further back than 10th. Carlos Munoz won the Saturday 2015 race from furthest back in 20th. And yet, the polesitter has won the race only twice (Rahal in 2017 and Scott Dixon in 2012).
  4. Likewise, starting positive has been extremely important this year: Five of six races have been won from the first two rows. Track position is critical on street courses, so that trend is likely to continue. Pagenaud’s win from eighth in the IndyCar Grand Prix is the worst track position anyone has overcome this year and that race was affected by wet conditions.
  5. Going for three. Since IndyCar has sanctioned the race, no one has scored three victories at Belle Isle yet. Four drivers have a chance to be the first. Along with Bourdais and Rahal, Dixon won in 2012 and 2018, and Will Power won in 2014 and 2016. In addition, Pagenaud has an opportunity to be the first driver to reach three wins in 2019. Helio Castroneves has two CART-sanctioned wins (2000/2001) and added an IndyCar win in 2014.

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)