Scott Dixon

Today’s question: Who will win the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding this Sunday, March 10? (noon ET, NBC, Peacock, Universo, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Curt Cavin: Everything about me says to pick one of the Andretti Global drivers, as the organization had such a good street circuit program last year. Kyle Kirkwood won two races in one of its cars – he won Long Beach and Nashville – and Marcus Ericsson, who is new to the team, won St. Pete for Chip Ganassi Racing. But I can’t get over the fact Scott McLaughlin has been outstanding on this circuit the past two years and very easily could be the two-time defending champion of the event. Remember last year that he had a memorable Turn 4 tangle with Romain Grosjean in a bid for the lead late. McLaughlin figures to be a beast all season, which is why many people expect him to win the series title. I’m not willing to say he can dethrone Alex Palou – Josef Newgarden is a better pick for that – but I won’t be surprised if McLaughlin is right there going into the season-ending race at Nashville Superspeedway. It starts with St. Pete, and I think he starts strong.

Eric Smith: There’s a host of drivers for whom I could make an argument. However, I’ll stick with the defending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding race winner, Marcus Ericsson. Three of Ericsson’s four career NTT INDYCAR SERIES wins have come on street circuits, like this one. He comes to the 1.8-mile track with four consecutive top-10 finishes there, including last year’s victory. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this race is kind to reigning winners. Three of the last five drivers to win on the streets of St. Petersburg repeated the following season: Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015-16, Sebastien Bourdais in 2017-18 and Josef Newgarden in 2019-20. 2021 race winner Colton Herta was fourth in 2022. Scott McLaughlin, the 2022 race winner, led the most laps (37 of 100) a year ago and was eyeing a return trip to victory lane if not for an incident while battling for the lead with Romain Grosjean with 29 laps remaining. That’s why my eyes are on Ericsson. He inherits that very car that Grosjean started on the pole with and led 31 laps last season. It’s also the same car in which Grosjean qualified and finished fifth in the 2022 race. Andretti Global typically has fast cars in St. Petersburg, and Ericsson benefits on Sunday.

Paul Kelly: You know who has nothing to prove but still probably burns to win this weekend at St. Pete more than any other driver? Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon. And that’s who will win on the 1.8-mile street circuit Sunday afternoon. Dixon hasn’t won a series title since 2020. That’s a lifetime for him, especially considering he won four championships (No. 3 through No. 6) in an eight-season span from 2013-20. Dixon also has seen his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Palou win two of the last three championships. While Dixon is the ultimate team player, I’m sure that fact hasn’t sat well with The Iceman. When Dixon earned his sixth title in 2020, he flew out of the box with three straight wins to open the pandemic-juggled season. Last year, he didn’t triumph until his amazing spin-to-win victory in August in the Gallagher Grand Prix on the IMS road course – the 14th race of a 17-race season. That was the first of his three victories in the final four races of the year, but it was far too late by then to catch Palou. A quick start will put the pressure on Palou to match, so I think Dixon knows nothing will do that quite like a victory Sunday. Sure, naysayers will point to Dixon’s record at St. Pete – he’s never won here in 19 starts. Pretty mind-blowing. But he has finished second four times at St. Pete, with eight straight top-10 results, too. This is the weekend he gets it done.