Today’s question: Who will win the XPEL 375 this Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway? (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network)
Curt Cavin: Picking winners of NTT INDYCAR SERIES races always feels like a crapshoot, especially on oval tracks with 16 former race winners in the field like there are this weekend at Texas (plus Jimmie Johnson, who won 82 NASCAR Cup Series oval races in his stock car career). This field feels particularly wide open, but I think we’ll see a sense of normalcy when the traditional Texas guns are fired in Victory Lane. I’ve been waiting for Scott Dixon to emerge since last year’s race at this track, and I think he will score his record sixth win there. So, give me Dixon after a close battle with Josef Newgarden with Graham Rahal rounding out the podium.
Zach Horrall: Dare I say Jimmie Johnson? Listen, I understand his road and street course performance hasn’t been ideal, but I truly believe we’re going to see a different Jimmie Johnson this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. He spent 20 years training himself to be an oval racer in NASCAR. Sure, the cars are different and it’s a different style of racing, but that instinctive knowledge and skillset he has on ovals will still shine through. Kurt Busch is a great example of someone who came from NASCAR and adapted to an oval in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES very well (he finished sixth in the 2014 Indy 500 for Andretti Autosport). There’s no reason we shouldn’t expect that and more from a fellow NASCAR driver who achieved even more than Busch. Johnson is one of the best race car drivers in modern times, and he is paired with the best NTT INDYCAR SERIES team over the last two seasons. That’s a duo worth consideration for Victory Lane.
Paul Kelly: It’s time for Pato O’Ward to kick his season into gear after finishing a disappointing 12th in the season opener at St. Petersburg. It’s still very early days in the season, but a second straight sub-par finish could put a significant dent in O’Ward’s 2022 title aspirations with Arrow McLaren SP. But I think he’ll rally Sunday on the 1.5-mile oval and return to Victory Lane at the track where he scored his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory last May. It remains to be seen if drivers will venture into the upper groove of the racing surface at Texas, but if anyone has the fast hands and big attachments to control his car in that danger zone, it’s O’Ward. Helio Castroneves is worth a shout, too. He seems to be highly motivated to set up another month of success at Indy with a strong performance in the first oval race of the season. Remember he’s won at Texas four times during his illustrious NTT INDYCAR SERIES career. Sunday could be the first of his two Drives for Five this season for Meyer Shank Racing.