INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 16: St. Pete Surprises, Texas Picks

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Today’s question: What was the biggest surprise of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and what two drivers are most likely to win Saturday’s Genesys 300 and Sunday’s XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway?

Curt Cavin: I was surprised that Colton Herta whipped the field so convincingly -- winning the pole, leading 97 of the 100 laps and beating Josef Newgarden, the winner of the past two St. Pete races, by 2.5 seconds. Herta is certainly capable of getting hooked up like that, but Andretti Autosport has struggled for results there in recent years. Yes, Alexander Rossi crashed while leading last year’s race, but his third-place finish in 2018 had been the team’s only podium finish over the past four races. As for Texas, count on Scott Dixon to win one of the two races, and he might win both based on the performance he delivered a year ago (leading 157 of the 200 laps). Newgarden is the smart second pick – he won in 2019 and was second last year – but I’m feeling sentimental today so I’m going with Ed Carpenter, the Texas winner in 2014. That was the most recent of Carpenter’s seven career race wins, but he has had several strong runs on the big ovals, finishing fifth at Texas last year.

Zach Horrall: For me, the surprise of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was Jack Harvey. The Brit hadn’t had the best showing in this street-course race, with just one top 10 in three starts (a 10th-place finish in 2019), but he showed up strong, qualifying second and staying near the front all day to finish fourth and score the second-best finish of his career. Now, he’s sixth in points. Looking ahead to Texas, I’m keeping my eye on Tony Kanaan for one of those races as he competes in his first race back at Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 48. TK didn’t have the best showing at Texas driving for Foyt from 2018-20, though he finished 10th last year. But while at Ganassi from 2014-17, he finished sixth, second, third and second. Give me Ed Carpenter for one of those races, as well. Score two for the part-timers this weekend! 

Paul Kelly: The biggest surprise for me at St. Petersburg was that Alex Palou was still atop the NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings after a tough weekend compared to his masterful performance the previous weekend at Barber, qualifying 10th and finishing 17th on the streets of St. Pete. Consistency is the difference between championship winners and championship contenders, and a quiet event should serve as a reminder to all that it’s only Alex’s second year in the series. There’s still plenty to learn, and his natural speed and the title-winning infrastructure of Chip Ganassi Racing should help him figure out the puzzles of this ultra-competitive series quickly. As for consistency, the Texas doubleheader is the weekend that Mr. Consistency, reigning and six-time series champion Scott Dixon, enters the win column for the first time in 2021. I also think a Team Penske driver will enter Victory Lane this weekend for the first time this season, but it may not be the obvious choice. Simon Pagenaud will win on the high banks at TMS, sneakily one of his best tracks. He has no wins at Texas but has produced seven top-six finishes in nine career starts there.

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