Colton Herta

The first oval-track race of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season is on tap for this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, and with it comes the buildup to the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Twenty-eight car-and-driver combinations will compete in the PPG 375 in Fort Worth for the series’ 36th race on the 1.5-mile oval since it opened in 1997.

SEE: Event Details

Last year’s race produced a last-lap pass, and Josef Newgarden executed it perfectly on fellow Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin coming off the final corner. Newgarden said it was the first last-lap pass of his career.

This year, McLaughlin seeks to earn his first oval-track victory after leading 186 of last year’s 248 laps. McLaughlin has three career series wins, all in 2022 for Roger Penske’s organization.

The race features seven drivers who have gone to victory lane at Texas – Newgarden, Pato O’Ward, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Graham Rahal, Ed Carpenter and Helio Castroneves – and this will be the largest field for a Texas race since 2011.

Three rookies are entered: Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, Agustin Canapino of Juncos Hollinger Racing and Benjamin Pedersen of AJ Foyt Racing.

On-track action begins Saturday at 9 a.m. ET with an hour-long practice followed by NTT P1 Award qualifying at 12:15 p.m., a pair of high-groove practices at 1:45 p.m. and the final practice at 2:30 p.m. Sunday’s race airs at noon on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

A look at five categories featuring key elements to pay attention to this weekend:

Penske, Ganassi Again Lead Charge

The two most accomplished teams in this NTT INDYCAR SERIES field – Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing – are combining to field seven cars this season, and those seven entries finished 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 in last year’s race at Texas.

Team Penske earned its record-extending 11th victory at the track when Newgarden pulled off the outside pass on McLaughlin coming out of Turn 4. Newgarden also won the 2019 race. Teammate Will Power won there in 2011 and 2017, and he is a three-time pole winner. Newgarden has won two poles at the track.

Last year, Newgarden and McLaughlin combined to lead 189 laps, and Power was only a short distance behind, finishing fourth to give the organization another memorable outing.

Team Penske might have stolen the show last year, but Chip Ganassi’s team was a strong and consistent challenger. Marcus Ericsson finished third with Scott Dixon fifth, Jimmie Johnson sixth and Alex Palou seventh. CGR has won six Texas races, with Dixon capturing a track-record five.

Last year’s top-finishing driver not employed by Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing was Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud in eighth.

Piling Up Oval Wins

With last year’s Texas victory among the five wins Newgarden scored last year, he upped his career total to 11 wins on oval tracks, third-most among active drivers. He will be driving the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet this weekend.

Dixon, who ranks second in series history with 53 race wins and drives the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, has won 24 races on oval tracks, with Helio Castroneves, a four-time Texas winner, second with 18. Power, the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, ranks fourth, with nine. Of Power’s most recent 13 wins, six have come on ovals, including the 2017 Texas race and the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Castroneves is in his second season with Meyer Shank Racing, driving the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda.

Sixteen drivers in this weekend’s 28-car field have won INDYCAR SERIES races, with three drivers – Ed Carpenter (No. 33 Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing), Takuma Sato (No. 11 Niterra Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) and Simon Pagenaud (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) – posting three wins each on oval tracks. Graham Rahal (No. 15 Fleet Cost and Care Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Alexander Rossi (No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) and Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) have two oval wins each, with Ericsson’s 2022 Indianapolis 500 victory his only oval race win. Ericsson, who drives the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, finished third in last year’s Texas race.

McLaughlin (No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet), Colton Herta (No. 28 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian), Felix Rosenqvist (No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet), Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing) are the other NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winners in this weekend’s field, and they do not have an oval victory in the series.

Ferrucci’s Impact Intriguing

Keep an eye on Santino Ferrucci, who will make his first oval start with AJ Foyt Racing in the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet. If history is a guide, this could be one of his best races of the season.

In the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Ferrucci has made 14 starts on oval tracks, and he has made most of them count. Nine times he has finished in the top 10, with fourth-place finishes on the superspeedways of Texas Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In addition to finishing fourth at Texas in 2019 with Dale Coyne Racing, he finished ninth at the track last year for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Last year, Ferrucci deftly avoided Devlin DeFrancesco’s spinning car in the three-car incident that eliminated Rahal and Castroneves in Turn 4 of Lap 129.

Texas-Sized Moments

As with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, big trouble lies at every corner at Texas Motor Speedway, and the INDYCAR SERIES experienced one of them first-hand in last year’s race.

DeFrancesco, who now drives the No. 29 Capstone Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, tried to pass Rahal on the inside of Turn 3 with Castroneves to Rahal’s outside, but DeFrancesco went below the white line on the lower part of the 24-degree banking. DeFrancesco and Rahal spun, and Rahal’s car collected Castroneves’ as they all went up the banking and hit the outside wall to end their races.

Herta and Dixon had a similar incident in 2019. Two years prior, Sato dropped left-side wheels in the grass late in the race, lost control and collected Dixon and others. The latter provided Power with his second victory at the track.

Bottom line: Things happen fast at Texas, and they can happen in a big way.

Odds And Ends

  • O’Ward, who scored his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory at Texas in 2021, said he expects to have more than 700 friends and family on hand for Sunday’s race as he calls both San Antonio and Monterrey, Mexico, home. “Texas is the closest I have to a home grand prix,” he said.
  • Jack Harvey (No. 30 PeopleReady Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) wasn’t medically cleared to participate in last year’s race at Texas due to inside wall contact after an incident in Turn 2, but he is ready to roll this week. “It’s still a track that I have a lot of great memories from even if last year didn’t go how we hoped,” he said.
  • Felix Rosenqvist won last year’s NTT P1 Award at Texas, the second pole of his INDYCAR SERIES career. He said it’s the oval where he has felt the strongest, although he finished fourth in last year’s Indianapolis 500. “(It’s) the one I probably enjoy the most,” he said.