Today’s question: Scott McLaughlin earned his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory Feb. 27 in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. Who is the leading candidate to join the first-time winners’ club in the XPEL 375 on March 20 at Texas Motor Speedway?
Curt Cavin: My initial thought was that the current crop of non-winners are longshots to win at Texas, but I’d give Jack Harvey reasonable odds given how well he ran well there last year (qualified fifth and third for the two races), and his new Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate, Graham Rahal, also has a strong record at this track, including a victory in 2016, a second-place finish in 2012 and a pair of third-place finishes, including one last year. A more likely first-time winner in the series is Romain Grosjean, who should be extremely competitive in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 10. Andretti Autosport has won the past three races on the SoCal streets (last year with Colton Herta, 2018 and ’19 with Alexander Rossi).
Zach Horrall: Dare I say Jimmie Johnson? I think we’re going to see a different version of the legendary driver on oval races this season. He’s produced competitive times in offseason testing, and he seems to be a lot more comfortable only turning left. He’s even said there are similarities between NASCAR racing lines and INDYCAR racing lines on ovals. That should be a warning sign for the rest of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES field, especially at Texas and Indianapolis. He has seven NASCAR Cup Series wins at Texas (a 20 percent winning percentage) and four on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval (a 22 percent winning percentage). With five oval races on the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule, the numbers say Johnson should win one of those (20 percent). My money is on it happening before June.
Paul Kelly: Remember the opening race of the Texas doubleheader last May, when Scott McLaughlin may have chased down and passed Scott Dixon for a victory in his first oval race if the race was five or 10 laps longer? There’s no reason that can’t happen again, so I’m looking at a long shot with no career oval starts, just like McLaughlin last year – Christian Lundgaard. The Dane was competitive last week during his first oval test at TMS, as preparation in a simulator and setup help from Graham Rahal were big plusses. But this quote from Lundgaard after the test was telling: “I just jumped in the car and drove and didn’t really think much of what could happen or what might happen,” he said. “It was more just driving around and getting up to speed, which in the end actually happened a bit like Indy last year.” Media and fans like to make a big deal about pro race drivers’ first career oval start in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and it is interesting for all and can be daunting for drivers. But sometimes drivers just hop into cars and let their talent and instincts prevail. That just may be enough for the talented Lundgaard to wear a cowboy hat in Texas’ Victory Lane a week from Sunday.