Today’s question: What was your biggest takeaway from the XPEL 375 last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway?
Curt Cavin: One race at Texas Motor Speedway does not an oval season make, particularly as it relates to the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. But with the one and only pre-Indy oval race in the books, it’s natural to draw some conclusions about what we might see in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And if that is our preview, count me as a Team Penske believer for what would be a record-extending 19th victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Scott McLaughlin is no longer a nice, feel-good story; he is the series points leader and a legitimate threat to win any race. Obviously, Texas winner Josef Newgarden is as good as this sport has on an oval track, and Will Power is capable of winning the “500” again. And with Team Penske comes Chevrolet, which is looking for its first Indy win since 2019. The strength of the team and the manufacturer caught my attention at Texas. Consider them the favorites as we march toward May.
Zach Horrall: I feel as though we have several options to choose from after Texas, but I’m going to spend my time on Scott McLaughlin. This guy is legit. In two races so far, he has led 235 of 348 laps completed – that’s 68 percent – and he was mere moments away from opening the season with back-to-back wins. He’s giving us a lot of reasons to think he’s shaping up for a very Alex Palou-like season, but even better. Palou finished 17th in the second race of the season at St. Petersburg last year, while McLaughlin has finished first and second thus far. Josef Newgarden finished second at Circuit of The Americas after winning the season-opener in 2019, and Scott Dixon won the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course in 2020, the second race of that year. McLaughlin said after he won his first career race that he was striving for a consistent season, and after Texas he conceded that while it hurt he didn’t win, it was a good points day. I wrote after St. Pete that, statistically speaking, you’re allowed one mulligan before the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge to still be a championship contender. So, I’m not ready to say McLaughlin is my pick to win the Astor Cup, and if he has a bad race, I won’t hold it against him. But things are looking good for Scotty Mac right now.
Paul Kelly: Wow. Where to start after a vastly improved show at Texas? Initial thoughts immediately drift to Jimmie Johnson must now be considered a true contender to win the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in Ganassi equipment after his sixth-place finish in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES oval race and to Scott McLaughlin looking like he could be a fixture at or near the top of the standings all season. But for me, the biggest Texas takeaway is simple: How the hell does Santino Ferrucci not have a full-time or at least ovals-only ride in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES? Once again, Santucci proved he is becoming the new Roberto Moreno, the ultimate super-sub of the INDYCAR SERIES. Ferrucci didn’t learn for certain he was going to drive the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing until less than four hours before the green flag dropped, yet he still was the top-finishing RLL driver in the race, placing ninth. Last year in five starts in the series, Ferrucci finished sixth twice, 10th, ninth and 11th. His career results in three starts in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge? Seventh, fourth and sixth. Dennis Reinbold made a wise choice to hire Ferrucci to drive for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 29. But Ferrucci deserves more than one-offs or super-sub jobs.