Kyffin Simpson

Welcome to America’s National Park of Speed. Or, as Alex Palou called Road America earlier this weekend, “a proper (race) track.”

Debate the characteristics of circuits across the NTT INDYCAR SERIES landscape as you must, but this much is true about Road America: It’s a favorite of the drivers and their fans.

SEE: Starting Lineup/Tire Choice

“(There’s) really fast, high-speed corners (and) slow-speed corners,” Palou said. “It has everything. Good overtaking spots, (it’s) good for strategies. So, yeah, just a proper track.”

Of course, rain is always a traction-changing variable as it was in Saturday’s qualifying session, but the weather figures to be better for Sunday’s XPEL Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network). The forecast anticipates cloudy conditions with temperatures in the mid-60s, which should work well.

This 55-lap race offers another opportunity for the drivers to test the enjoyment of the 14-turn, 4.014-mile permanent road course in the glorious Wisconsin landscape. The layout is fast and flowing, with a track width that invites passing opportunities and encourages aggression.

The circuit was repaved ahead of last year’s race, and the benefits were undeniable. There were 444 passes, 386 for position. Of the latter, 110 were among drivers running in the top 10, 32 running within the top five. Those were all records for the INDYCAR SERIES at Road America (statistics were first tracked in 2016).

“Wow,” Palou said of those numbers after winning the race. “Lots of action.”

Palou will again be one of the favorites to beat in the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and not just because he is the reigning champion of the event. He has won two of the past three races held here, and last year he and his Ganassi crew recovered from a crash in Saturday’s practice to qualify in the third position and then win the race. As a series rookie with Dale Coyne Racing in 2020, he finished third and seventh.

Chip Ganassi’s team was particularly strong in last year’s race, with Palou, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson finishing in the top six.

Sunday, CGR will start two cars among the first three, and they’re not piloted by Palou or Dixon. It will be rookie Linus Lundqvist in the top position in the No. 8 American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, second-year driver Marcus Armstrong in the third in the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Lundqvist’s best qualifying position had been 11th, earned in his first career start last year on the Nashville street race. Rookie Kyffin Simpson joined the team’s fun by also earning his best series starting position. In the No. 4 Journie Rewards Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, he will roll off 12th, besting his best by 11 positions.

Meanwhile, Palou will start seventh, Dixon 10th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

All eyes certainly will be on Colton Herta, who will start second in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Global w/Curb-Agajanian. Like Palou, he had one of the strongest cars in last year’s race, leading 33 laps. Herta might have gone to victory lane if not for the team’s decision to make their final pit stop one lap ahead of the other top contenders, including Palou, and he had to conserve the rest of the way. He finished fifth.

Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Josef Newgarden will start sixth. His crash on the back straight in Saturday’s Firestone Fast Six session required work for the crew of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, and the two-time race winner at Road America will start sixth.

Like Lundqvist and Simpson, Christian Rasmussen is a rookie to note in this race. The driver of the No. 20 Guy Care Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing has experienced significant success at this track. He won races here in all three of the divisions leading to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, including INDY NXT by Firestone. He will start this race from the 16th position.

Yet another rookie knows where victory lane is. Nolan Siegel, who has stepped in for Agustin Canapino in the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, won last year’s INDY NXT by Firestone race. This will be his second start in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and he will roll off from the 21st position.

Expect those with designs of winning to make three pit stops in the race, but as evident by Herta’s race last year, it is important not to make that last stop too soon. Herta made that stop on Lap 40 whereas the other top drivers went to Lap 41. That made a big difference. Last year, the standard was stops on Lap 12, Lap 26 and Lap 41. We’ll see what this race brings.

Rain or shine, this is America’s National Park of Speed. The green flag awaits.