VICS: Firestone 600 Preview

Photo Credit: IndyCar

Since its debut in 1997, the event now known as the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway in the city of Fort Worth has regularly produced the most action packed event on the Verizon IndyCar Series slate outside of the Indianapolis 500. The 1.5 mile quad oval is common place for close finishes, multiple lead changes, and nonstop drama. Although the action has thinned out recently at this venue, the story lines stemming from the Greatest Spectacle in Racing two weeks ago, plus last weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit have created several things to consider looking ahead to the 600 kilometer distance facing the 22-car field on Saturday night.

First off, is whether or not Honda can maintain its new found edge on the high speed ovals, evidenced when Andretti Autosport’s five-car team for Indy managed to witness each of its drivers have a realistic shot at adding their visage to the famed Borg Warner Trophy. In the end, Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Alexander Rossi eventually earned the victory thanks to a clever fuel mileage call by co-owner and race strategist Bryan Herta. Although Rossi claimed the winner’s wreath and the bottle of milk at Indy, the odds at Texas will once again be stacked against him. With that likelihood in play, it could very well be one of his three teammates this weekend at Texas who claims the cowboy hat and the pair of six-shooters to fire into the sky in the winner’s circle on Saturday.

The most likely of those drivers could be Ryan Hunter-Reay, who led the most laps at this year’s Indy 500 with 52, but was eliminated from victory contention when he was caught up in Indy-only teammate Townsend Bell’s error on the pit lane just shy of the 300-mile mark. However, while the 2014 Indy 500 champion has succeeded at the Brickyard, his resume at Texas recently has been questionable. While the driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda finished runner-up to Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves in the 2013 event, RHR has placed 18th or worse in every other Texas race since 2011, including did not finish results in two of his last three appearances.

If not for Rossi’s fuel gamble, another Andretti driver Carlos Munoz could have also kissed the bricks in the 100th Indy 500, instead settling for runner-up honors for the second time in four years. Entering Texas fifth in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, the Colombian is seeking to improve on a sixth-place finish earned in last year’s Firestone 600, his best result of two attempts in the Lone Star State.

Of course, the Chevrolet camp is equally potent with the aforementioned Helio Castroneves looking for his fourth triumph under the lights at Texas on Saturday. Up until his collision with J.R. Hildebrand late in the 100th Indy 500 two weeks ago, the Team Penske veteran was a major challenger for the victory and despite falling back late still managed to post an 11th place finish. Of course, Castroneves also has another reason to find the winner’s circle at Texas on Saturday night. The IndyCar veteran since 2002, has not won a race since the second leg of the Detroit doubleheader in 2014.

On the other hand, if Castroneves is included on the potential winners list, Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing should also be in the mix, despite the fact the Tennessee-native has yet to win a Verizon IndyCar Series race on an oval track. In addition to his third place finish two weeks at the Brickyard, Newgarden has placed second three times on ovals, including twice at the one-mile high banked layout at Iowa Speedway. However, like Ryan Hunter-Reay, Texas has not been friendly to Newgarden. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver has only one top ten finish in four previous tries at the 1.5 mile layout.

And finally, although time may be running out in terms number of the competitive races he has left to give in an IndyCar, Tony Kanaan can also not be overlooked on Saturday night. The 2013 Indy 500 champion finished fourth two weeks ago at Indy and has been a rock solid contender likewise at Texas Motor Speedway. In his 15 IndyCar Series starts at the venue since 2003, TK has one victory and has placed outside the top ten only two times in that time frame. Based on those stats, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver along with his teammate Scott Dixon should each play a role in the final outcome after 600 kilometers.

Although the unpredictability of the racing at Texas means a much larger group of potential winners as opposed to a road or street circuit, whoever does manage to win must not only be able to take advantage on the race track, but also on the pit lane likewise. Two weeks ago at Indy, several issues ruined opportunities for glory. Although there is more room to work at Texas on pit road, anything from a slow tire change, to a bad fuel connection, or speeding on the pit lane could ruin the chances of victory for any of the 22 drivers who will take the green flag on Saturday night.

Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for news updates on the Firestone 600 throughout the weekend.