A viewer’s guide to the IndyCar 2021 season opener: 5 things to watch starting at Barber


It sounds like the start of an absurd joke, but its punch line is actually a jaw-dropping perspective on the red-hot status of the NTT IndyCar Series.

A seven-time NASCAR Cup champion, a Kiwi wunderkind from Supercars and a Frenchman of Formula One renown will begin their rookie seasons in IndyCar this weekend at a road course just east of an unlikely IndyCar bastion better known as Birmingham, Alabama.

With its 11th IndyCar race, Barber Motorsports Park will debut as a season opener for one of the most highly anticipated and scrutinized campaigns in series history – led by a remarkable freshman class whose accomplishments and experience dwarf many in the field for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC).

ENTRY LISTHere are the 24 drivers racing at Barber Motorsports Park

WEEKEND SCHEDULE: All the on-track activity for Barber

Jimmie Johnson, 45, virtually will be starting over after a Hall of Fame career in NASCAR. Scott McLaughlin, 27, already is considered one of the greatest in Australia’s biggest racing series. Romain Grosjean, who turns 35 Saturday, has F1 podium finishes at Spa, the Nurburgring and Circuit of the Americas.

But they all have been drawn to IndyCar, cementing its reputation for showcasing elite talent demanding versatility across a variety of demanding courses in cars with less competitive disparity than other major racing series.

For some longtime observers (such as IndyCar on NBC analyst Paul Tracy), there are echoes of the allure triggered by reigning F1 champion Nigel Mansell’s 1993 arrival in CART (the feisty Brit won the championship as a rookie and drew fans worldwide to the preeminent single-seater series in North America of that era).

“It’s just being able to have pretty much the same equipment as everybody on the grid and having the possibility of winning the race that is pulling people in,” six-time and defending series champion Scott Dixon said.

“Plus all the other things of the cool tracks we go to — the different disciplines, short ovals, superspeedways. There’s just so many appealing things about our series that I think you’re seeing a lot of people trying to make the switch. With the current formula, the equality between the small team and big team, there is no small team anymore the way the rules play. There’s not much that a big team can outspend anybody on. It’s just not that factor. So it really comes down to now the people that you get to work with in the process of what you do, and then sometimes a bit of luck.

In gunning for a seventh championship, Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon (center) figures to face competition from Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden (right) and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

“The competition, I’ve never seen it so strong. I think when you look at it from a driver standpoint to a team standpoint and the options that you have, it’s pretty packed, man.”

While this year’s rookies bring sterling resumes, it’ll be a shock if they immediately excel in a highly competitive IndyCar field of former winners and series champions.

McLaughlin has shown enough speed to have Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud already predicting a victory in 2021 (and a future title) for the new driver of the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet. Yet the learning curve will be much steeper for Grosjean and especially Johnson, whose No. 48 Dallara-Honda has improved in limited offseason testing but still is about a second off the pace of Dixon and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates.

Romain Grosjean made 179 Formula One starts from 2009-20 (the last five seasons at Haas F1), scoring 10 podiums (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Dixon, 40, will be gunning for a seventh title (that would put him amid a pantheon of racing legends such as Johnson, Petty, Earnhardt, Schumacher and Hamilton) in a stacked field of proven champions (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Pagenaud), established and rising stars (Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta, Graham Rahal), a two-time Indy 500 winner (Takuma Sato) and a complement of young drivers on the verge of their first victory (Pato O’Ward, 2020 rookie of the year Rinus VeeKay, Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson).

“You look at just how deep the field is, and it’s impressive,” Rahal said. “Maybe everybody wants to say the golden era of IndyCar was in the early (to) late ’90s. But I’ve got to be honest: From a talent pool perspective, the golden era is right now. We’re living the golden era. It’s never been better, and I’m not sure it will get better.

“For sure there’s going to be times that guys go out there and they’re going to perform great and we’re going to be like, Oh, yeah, they’re awesome, and then next weekend like us in Gateway, you may just completely suck, and it shouldn’t be a surprise because you cannot miss a step. The depth, every single driver in the series can win. That’s factual. That couldn’t have been said 20 years ago, let alone five years ago. … I think it’s just a very pure form of motorsports right now, and what I mean by that is (there are) no driver aids.”

Said James Hinchcliffe, who rejoins IndyCar as a full-timer with Andretti Autosport: “Every year for the last five years we’ve done interviews at the start of the season and said things like, ‘Man, this is the deepest talent pool we’ve ever had in IndyCar.’ And it’s started to sound like a line, but it’s true. We just keep adding talent the whole way through the field.

“When you look at the fact that those three guys in particular that all come from different disciplines, all have been successful in those disciplines, and whether it was the goal to come here always, IndyCar is where they wanted to be next. For whatever reason they left their old sport, this is where they wanted to be, and I think that speaks volumes for what we’re doing as a series, for the product we have on track, the quality of the racing. I think it’s the biggest endorsement we can get having guys like that come over here.”

New Zealand native Scott McLaughlin joins Team Penske after winning three Supercars championship with a Penske-affiliated team (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

With the addition of a street race in Nashville that has the makings of the series’ next marquee event and some major lineup reshuffling by drivers and teams, IndyCar will have many new looks in 2021.

But for the past 20 years, there remains a constant atop the standings: Dixon, who will open the season at two of the only tracks (Barber and St. Petersburg) that he has yet to conquer (despite a combined 10 runner-up finishes at those courses).

“We always say, ‘Oh, my God, it’s the most competitive year ever,’ ” said Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner and F1 veteran hungry for a first championship after a disappointing 2020. “It’s like, ‘Well, yeah, but so was last year, so was the year before.’ As long as Scott Dixon is here it’s going to be pretty hard to win at the end of the day. So it doesn’t matter if there’s one Scott Dixon or four Scott Dixons, you’ve got to beat Scott Dixon.

“I love the passion that Scotty has for this series. I’ve briefly spoken to Romain about it. He’s already loving it. They all are having the same kind of first impressions that I had in the fact that it’s a hell of a series, and we’re all very fortunate to be able to race here.”

Here are four more things to watch in our IndyCar Viewer’s Guide heading into Sunday’s season opener at Barber Motorsports Park:

–A seven-time champion and the teammate who wants to join him: In making the transition to a much lighter car with wildly foreign braking points and no power steering, Johnson — a married father of two who could have taken his millions and ridden into the sunset — faces the toughest challenge of possibly any newcomer in IndyCar history. But his irrepressible work ethic already has team owner Chip Ganassi believing that a victory is “certainly not impossible. He has the talent. He has the racecraft. I know he can do it.”

During offseason testing, Jimmie Johnson has leaned heavily on teammate Scott Dixon (left) and Ganassi driver coach and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti (right) (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

But realistically, just a top 10 in the first half of the season would be a major accomplishment for Johnson, who will race on 13 street and road courses (where he had only one of his 83 career Cup victories). He has some great sounding boards in four-time champion Dario Franchitti (a Ganassi driver coach) and Dixon, who says Johnson “definitely blows up your phone.

“There’s a lot of text messages going back and forth, and he’s not afraid to ask any question, which is good,” Dixon said. “He’s been a good friend for many years, but to be able to work with him in the same environment has been really cool. He’s a great person, as we all know, great family man, but definitely he’s one of the greatest of all time in that discipline and got some crazy ambition. To take on this task is pretty insane.

“The easiest way to put it is that he’s been doing one sport for 20, 25 years. He kind of basically has to start, try and unlearn all that stuff and then learn a totally new process.”

Though he’s been running IMSA races to adapt to the high-downforce setup, Johnson will be hampered by a lack of track time and experience with varying tire compounds, particularly on street courses such as St. Petersburg and Long Beach. Because IndyCar’s restrictive offseason testing policy allowed him only a half-dozen sessions in his new No. 48, Johnson went as far as running lower-level Formula 3 cars with teenagers to get a handle on the new driving style.

He recently said he is “60 percent” acclimated to IndyCar and predicts “the last 10 to 15 percent is going to be the hardest.

“I’ve made some great strides,” said Johnson, who seems rejuvenated by the buzz surrounding his switch to IndyCar and the ribbing it’s drawn from his NASCAR rivals. “I’m going in the right direction. I’m within a second of my treatments now, which has really been my goal out of the box. But that last little bit, that’s what the elite guys are so good at and chase their whole career. I don’t know if I’ll get to 100 percent with the amount of years that I have to give this a try, but there’s still so many things I haven’t even experienced yet. I’ve never been on a red tire. I’ve just recently had a chance to drive a street circuit tire and understand how much more grip it has versus a traditional road course tire.

“I feel like my best chance, though, is later in the year when we get to Laguna Seca. I’ve been able to test there twice. I will have a large part of a season under my belt, and I think that’s a track that I should be in there racing with the guys. Or I hope to be.”

It would be a tall order if he can keep pace by then with Dixon, who remains as formidable as ever entering his 21st season (and 20th at Ganassi). The 50-time winner in IndyCar has extra motivation after a 2020 title in which he opened with three victories but staggered a little (particularly in road course qualifying) toward the end in fending off Newgarden.

“Last year was tough to lead from start to finish,” he said. “To have the pressure all season long, even though we built up a big buffer at points, it dwindled away pretty quickly, hadn’t really been a part of something like that. So it was an intense year, man.”

It seemed only to raise Dixon’s stature among his peers.

“I admire him,” Newgarden said. “I look at him as a fierce competitor but look up to him in a way and emulate him to certain degree. He’s the person I want to beat. He’s one of the most talented to ever be in IndyCar.”

Said Hinchcliffe: “It’s sort of tough to really put into words and proper context what Scott has accomplished. It’s unreal. We’re going to look back on this in 20 years and be even more impressed. Scott Dixon is on the podium for all-time greats, no doubt about it.”

Scott Dixon won the first three races of the 2020 season on the way to his sixth IndyCar championship (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Rinus VeeKay finished a season-best third at the IMS road course last year (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

–As youthful rivalries develop, who will be the next first-time winner? Though McLaughlin could spoil the party, it seems likely IndyCar’s next first-timer in the victory circle will come from the select under-25 age demographic: VeeKay (who won his first pole position last October at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course), O’Ward (who finished fourth in points with four podiums), Palou (who moves to Ganassi after an impressive rookie campaign at Dale Coyne Racing).

And you could make the case that Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson, 30, will be in the mix for his first win as the F1 veteran enters his third season.

VeeKay, 20, broke a thumb in an Indy 500 testing crash last week, but the supremely confident Dutchman hardly seemed fazed — another indicator of a potential second-year breakthrough that could take Ed Carpenter Racing to new heights.

“I think we can be a front-runner regularly; like we can be one of the favorites every race,” VeeKay said. “Once you’re in that position, I think there will be an opportunity where you can go for that race win where everything goes your way. We just have to make sure we have the pace. I know we’ve got the strategies, and just me being the driver I am that got a podium in Indy. If I just keep doing what I’m doing and have the team keep putting in the work that they did in the off-season, I think we can really run at the front, and yeah, hopefully go for podiums.”

Pato O’Ward shows off a lighter side in preseason testing at Texas (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Palou also seems ready as the Spaniard boldly predicted he will win ahead of countrymen Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jr. (both in new F1 rides).

“I’m in the best opportunity ever,” Palou, 24, said. “I’m with a great team, but I’m with a great group of guys, as well, which makes a difference. The pressure of winning, that’s racing, and you have to win to be able to race another year. That’s been always with me, and it doesn’t change this year.”

With new teammate Felix Rosenqvist (who outdueled him for a victory at Road America last year) at Arrow McLaren SP, O’Ward’s natural speed marks him as a can’t-miss in 2021.

“I feel like last year we left a lot of unfinished business,” O’Ward, 21, said. “We were close to winning four races, and we didn’t get it done. There were tough pills to swallow, and I felt like that left everyone in the team so hungry. I can see it from the off-season, just how much work has been put into the development of trying to make the cars go faster at the speedway and road courses.

“Me as a driver, I truly don’t think I’ve ever been fitter, more ready to try and win. I have lots of faith that we can make some great stuff happen this year.”

Alex Palou moves into the No. 10 Dallara-Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing this season (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

–Teams shuffle lineups and restructure personnel amidst tighter schedules: There are the typical annual driver dominoes, which are highlighted in moves by Palou, Rosenqvist and Hinchcliffe. Sebastien Bourdais also returns full time at AJ Foyt Racing, and Brazilian Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves (Meyer Shank Racing) and Tony Kanaan (racing the No. 48 on ovals for Johnson) are back for partial schedules.

But there were some major yet less noticeable moves made by many teams shoring up their personnel in the offseason. After a mostly miserable season for Andretti (aside from Indy 500 qualifying), the team rededicated itself to its simulation programs and processes for attacking qualifying during race weekends truncated by COVID-19 restrictions. It also took the opportunity for some reshuffling, including pairing Colton Herta (the team’s only winner in 2020) with his father, Bryan, as his strategist.

The reduction in practice time also had Team Penske focused on working more efficiently and arriving with a better plan of attack at the track.

Josef Newgarden finished second in the 2020 points standings, capping the season at St. Petersburg with his fourth victory (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“Last year we struggled a little bit with the shortened sessions,” said Newgarden, who has two championships and a runner-up points finish in four seasons for Penske. “We were not always prepared. And not prepared in that we weren’t doing our job, we just didn’t forecast correctly what we needed some of the time showing up to these tracks. When you don’t do that, you don’t have a lot of time to figure it out. If you don’t have the time, you might not get there on race day.

“I think that is the new challenge with the pandemic: How do we work better in simulation; how do we show up more often with exactly what we need right away? We just know we don’t have the time to fix it across a race weekend. Pretty much how you roll off is going to dictate a lot of how your weekend goes. We’ve been working a tremendous amount figuring out how to be better right off the truck, so we don’t have to play catch-up like we did last year.”

The big teams will have strength in numbers, too, as Ganassi and Penske each expanded back to four cars (matching Andretti Autosport, which dropped a full-time car with Marco Andretti scaling back his schedule). Penske also might benefit from the closure of its IMSA team, reorganizing some talented engineers and team members to the IndyCar side (which seemed to work well for Ganassi after its GTLM cars were shuttered for 2020).

Simon Pagenaud is in the final year of a deal he signed after winning the 2019 Indy 500 (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

–Big names in contract years: It could be a pivotal season for three past series champions. Pagenaud, Power and Hunter-Reay (whose one-year extension with Andretti was announced in January) are entering the final years of deals in coveted rides.

Team owner Roger Penske, who also has NASCAR star Brad Keselowski in a one-year deal, talked last month as if it’s a mere formality to re-sign former Indy 500 winners Pagenaud, 36, and Power, 40.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Penske said of all his impending free agents. “There’s no reason we wouldn’t renew for sure.  I guess it’s just a matter of us sitting down and putting it together, but with everybody not being able to move around you don’t do that over the phone and you don’t do it by Zoom, so we want to do that face-to-face with all of them.”

Will Power has driven for Team Penske since 2009 (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Pagenaud politely demurred when asked about his status.

“At the moment, I don’t see why there would be a need to talk about it,” he said. “The season hasn’t even started. My personal opinion is just go out there and do the best you can, race hard and be in the moment. The contracts will take care of themselves when they do.”

Power, who told NBC Sports last year he never has been better and plans to race well into his 40s, confirmed his contract year last month but added it had no impact. “I so badly want to win,” he said. “Yep, same internal fire burning.”

There could be more pressure on Hunter-Reay, who turned 40 in December and is coming off his fourth winless season in five years. ”My whole career has been that way,” he said. “It’s been, Hey, here is your opportunity. Get in the car, we’ll let you know if you’re going to be in the car the next race. That’s how it always has been for me. That’s why I’ve always had that grab-it-by-the-neck mentality.

“Even when I had a three-year deal, if I had a bad weekend, it was the end of the year. I have to make sure I’m performing next weekend, otherwise somebody with a big smile is getting ready to jump into my seat. It’s just part of my mentality, part of my makeup. That’s how I’ve been operating for 20 years, man.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 IndyCar championship and counts the 2014 Indy 500 among his 18 victories (Chris Owens/IndyCar).


With fierce racing, IndyCar found redemption and rebirth on the streets of downtown Detroit


DETROIT – A lap in the IndyCar Grand Prix had yet to be turned on the streets of Detroit, and race drivers were doing what they sometimes do best – expecting the worst of a new race course.

It was the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, and some of the top drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series, including pole winner Alex Palou, were questioning the nine-turn, 1.645-mile street course in downtown Detroit. Even after he won the pole on Saturday, Palou had said the Indy cars were too big, the race course was too small, too tight and too bumpy for the series to put on a competitive race.

It was Sunday morning, five hours before the race, and the IndyCar morning warmup session just had ended. Penske Corp. president Bud Denker, the Detroit GP chairman, was talking to NBC Sports as the Indy cars were being wheeled back to the paddock following the warmup session.

Instead of his trademark smile and optimism, Denker was determined and stern. As Palou’s No. 10 Honda was being pulled by the team’s tire wagon into the paddock, Denker expressed his feelings.

“I’m really not happy with some of the comments that driver has been making,” Denker said.

Denker’s team had spent the better part of two years envisioning and developing a street course that could create a major racing event without shutting down the Detroit business community.

Jefferson Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the city’s business district, remained open thanks to some creative track design (because the race course crossed Jefferson over a bridge and also couldn’t impede the adjacent tunnel that was an international crossing to Windsor, Canada).

Alex Palou leads into Turn 1 on the start of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

From an event standpoint, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was already electric with a vibe that brought tens of thousands daily to this revitalized urban center known as “Motor City.”

But would the actual race prove to be worthy?

Fast forward to Sunday late afternoon and – wouldn’t you know it – the winner of the race was its most vocal critic leading up to the green flag.

Alex Palou.

It was a chance for Denker and Palou to speak.

“Alex and I actually had a conversation after the race on the way to pit lane,” Denker told NBC Sports. “I congratulated him because he was a worthy champion, did a great job, great win, great run, pole qualifying also.

“His comment to me was, ‘This track proved very worthy.’

“I’ll take that from him.”

The race itself exceeded expectations. It may have been the best street race of the season on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

The racing was fierce, the competition phenomenal, and the restarts brought even the most jaded motorsports observers to their feet.

“Oh yeah, myself included,” Palou admitted to NBC Sports. “The event was amazing. The crowd we had was unbelievable. The energy was great. It was a really great race.”

Palou’s complaints entering the race were from his frustrations in finding a clean lap during qualification sims in practice and the actual qualifications on Saturday.

With 27 cars on a 1.645-mile street circuit, just do the math – it’s hard to get a gap.

But the race course proved to be a much better “race” track than a qualifying layout.

“Yes, 100 percent,” Palou said. “I like to go fast. I like to race. When you have traffic every single lap, you don’t like it that much, but for the race, it was great. It was a great event for the fans, for the teams and for the drivers.

“The energy we had here was amazing.”

The drivers’ worst fears never developed in the race. There were no blocked corners. No red flags. Plenty of passing zones.

Denker and his team could feel vindication and a strong sense of redemption.

“It is ironic,” Denker said of Palou winning the race. “I think a lot of the comments early on was because of the first practice. There was no rubber on the track. A new track for them. A lot of cars going into the runoff and stalling their cars in the runoff, not turning the cars around fast enough. I think a lot of perceptions were created in that first practice.

“Some of our turns look tight. Turn 1 for instance, the apex is 27 feet, much larger than some other tracks where it is tight. The issue going into the race was, are you going to have two cars block the entire track and then you have to go Red Flag.

“We never had that situation today where you had a car block the track, even in the tightest turns. We never had an issue where cars could not get around you.

“The corners were wide enough to support the fact that when you had an issue, cars could get around and continue moving around without having a red flag.”

Will Power enters Turn 3 during the Detroit Grand Prix (USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

It also proved that in an actual competition, the teams and drivers in IndyCar can figure out how to adapt and put on a good race.

“We saw them figure it out in the Indy NXT race on Saturday,” Denker said. “It was a great race. We saw so many IndyCar drivers go off into the runoff on Friday that there were concerns. Many of them were stalling their cars and couldn’t get them spun around.

“That led to, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have caution after caution after caution because we aren’t going to be able to get our cars stopped to make a turn, or slowed down to make a turn, and the runoff will happen continuously.’ “Guess what? We had seven cautions for 32 laps and very few of those were for a stalled car in the runoff. It was for a mistake on the race track made by a driver.

“We proved the thoughts that came out on Friday, we proved them very, very wrong in the race on Sunday.”

Fans watch from the Franklin Garage parking deck near the GM Renaissance Center as safety workers attended to David Malukas after he hit the wall out of Turn 9 during the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

As the president of the Penske Corp., Denker is a man who understands business and decorum. He is one of Roger Penske’s most valued executives, practically his right-hand man.

The impeccably dressed Denker is never rattled, and he backs up his style with substance.

IndyCar racing, however, is a highly competitive game and in the heat of battle, the energy level tends to increase.

That is why Denker was more emphatic than usual once the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix had concluded.

“Eighteen months ago, it was an idea that Michael Montri had after the success of the Nashville Grand Prix and what it did for that city,” Denker said. “The businesses coming together, the community coming together and the city just glowing.

“We came back in August of 2021 and asked if that could ever happen in downtown Detroit and off Belle Isle. We found a great circuit that was worthy of that, that wouldn’t compromise business or the international tunnel in the middle of our race track. That was a dream at the time.

“It’s a cliché, but dreams really came true this weekend. We saw the success of great racing, competitive racing, safe racing and very importantly, fans that we haven’t seen came out in a very diverse way and enjoy this sport.”

It was certainly a major weekend for Detroit as the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was the lead story on seemingly every TV newscast in the city. The business community of the city flourished – something that didn’t happen when the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was held 4 miles up Jefferson at Belle Isle Park from 1992-2022.

“One hundred percent,” Denker agreed. “The fact of the matter is most of the people that come to our race are within a four-county area. Just like Indianapolis, one state for them.

“I think the fact is Belle Isle you came down, you parked in the same parking deck where the sponsors parked that had been there for 13 years, get in a bus, come back, get in their car, they go home.

“Here you had to park somewhere. You had to come downtown. Took the People Mover, the Q Line, all these different places and you came downtown. That was the difference for us.

“Belle Isle in my mind, it’s 50 miles away from Detroit in some respects because we didn’t see the benefit the city would get. We saw the benefit this time because of how busy it was. You saw it. You were staying here at a hotel somewhere and saw it.

“We know we made a big impact on the city. Why? Because the hotels were all filled up. They weren’t filled up when Belle Isle was there.”

Already on its way to have a dramatic economic impact to Detroit, on Sunday, the competitive level of IndyCar was on full display.

“The facts are there were 189 on-track passes at Detroit, 142 of them were for position,” Denker said proudly. “At St. Pete, great race this year, 170 on-track passes versus Detroit’s 189 and 128 for position versus Detroit’s 142.

“Long Beach, great race this year, had the same for position passes as Detroit had. I think we had a pretty good race.”

Although Palou won the race, it was Team Penske’s Will Power that put on the show. He was a master on the restarts, going full throttle into the end of the long straightaway, pulling out from behind Palou and taking the lead by diving to the inside in the turn.

That move worked throughout the race until the final restart, when Palou was able to protect the inside line and make Power go to the outside.

The Team Penske driver (whose race weekend highlight was hanging out with Flavor Flav) was unable to use the high line and then proceeded to get into a street fight with Scott Dixon and others for second place in the closing laps.

“The restarts were great because we have this long straightaway,” Denker said. “We started the restart between coming out of Turn 1. Those that got a good jump, like Will Power did on Alex Palou on the second-to-last restart, could make a good pass. Those that had push-to-passes left later on could make a good pass.

“The fact we had this seven-eighths of a mile straightaway where the restarts were coming into was a great place to start the race versus an area not as long. We had the benefit of having a straightway as long as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and speeds that were just unbelievable going down through this track.

The view down the nearly 1-mile Jefferson Avenue straightaway that separates Turn 2 and Turn 3 (USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“I thought the restarts were great because of the positions Kyle Novak (IndyCar Race Director) and his team made for that.

“The other thing was the dual pit lane. This was really interesting because it hasn’t been done before to have 13 cars pitted on one side and 14 cars pitting on the other side and have six lanes merging to one in 315 feet. How is that going to happen?

“This time, because of the yellows, we never had a situation with 27 cars coming in at the same time. It was sporadic. That issue we thought would happen to create a calamity on pit lane never happened.”

Two of the Arrow McLaren drivers got into their own shoving match on the track with Felix Rosenqvist getting the best of Alexander Rossi for third place.

But none of the Chevrolet drivers were able to catch Palou at the end as the No. 10 Honda took the checkered flag.

“When you have Chevrolet as the backdrop, and them being the key partner and sponsor of this thing, you want to keep them happy,” Denker said. “They also know competition drives this sport. We saw some great action. Will Power made a great move late, some great action there. The competition between the Arrow McLaren cars were unbelievable the last 10 laps. Will Power made a great pass of Alexander Rossi to get position to take over second place. I loved the competition.

“We saw some passes late between Turns 8 and 9 and Turns 1 and 2 that I don’t think anybody thought would happen. This turned into a very, very competitive race track.

“Once this track rubbered up, the drivers said this track was very worthy.

Indy 500 winner Joef Newgarden enters the Turn 3 hairpin during the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (USA Today Sports Images Network).

“It’s a new place. They have to learn new things. There are some bumps in certain corners. Guess what? We’ll fix those things.

“No one got to test here because we couldn’t close the roads down a week ahead of time or a month ahead of time or two days ahead of time. I got some feedback from drivers who did simulation. I ground some track areas they wanted fixed. I put new pavement in Turn 3 to drivers right because of feedback.

“I got no feedback to repaving drivers left. If I had, I would have repaved that, also. It shows that I will make those changes because I made those changes to driver right, but I never got that feedback.

“It goes both ways. Provide me the feedback, I’ll make those changes. But now that we’ve had the race, we have a lot more opportunity to make changes based off of what actually happened.”

There were accolades and plaudits from some of IndyCar’s most accomplished drivers afterwards, including six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon.

“It was wild,” Dixon said. “I had a lot of fun. The car was super difficult. The track was difficult. It had a lot of character. It was interesting but very difficult on the restarts.

“These things aren’t meant to be easy. I had a lot of fun, just frustrated with how my day went and not getting the most out of a really good car.”

From both an event and race standpoint, team owner Dale Coyne believed it was a blockbuster.

“This is a really big event,” Coyne said. “We’ve brought Long Beach to a major city like Detroit. This is the type of event that we should be doing in IndyCar.

“I would rather be in Detroit than in Milwaukee. Events like this one in Detroit are IndyCar’s future. Milwaukee is IndyCar’s past.”

While that comment may not resonate with some of IndyCar’s older fan base who long for the days of The Milwaukee Mile as the first race after the Indianapolis 500, that distinction has belonged to Detroit since it returned to the IndyCar schedule in 2012.

Now that it’s back on the streets of downtown Detroit for the first time since 1991, Denker predicts even bigger events to come for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

“Our city was showcased to the world in ways that people had probably never thought,” Denker said proudly. “The riverfront, you couldn’t tell if you were in San Diego, or even Monaco, these boats that were out there harbored. We couldn’t be more proud of our team.

“We are already planning for next year.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500