Alex Palou

“Hello, Palou.”

That’s essentially been the celebratory call as Alex Palou has won 10 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races and a pair of season championships, and it might be the appropriate words today.

SEE: Starting Lineup/Tire Choice

Think Palou, the pole sitter for today’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, isn’t the driver to beat today? Just look at how he’s fared in three previous races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The Spaniard finished second in 2021, first in 2022 and third last year, although he dominated the latter in a race that was of no consequence to his second series title in three years. He entered the 95-lap race with arms wrapped around the Astor Challenge Cup, the first driver to win the season title early since Sebastien Bourdais in 2007.

Last year, Palou led 51 laps and would have won the race in just about any other circumstance than the one that day delivered. That race was messy from the start, with a handful of drivers popping out of line coming to the green flag and six of them dumped in the gravel trap at Turn 2. All told, there were eight caution periods for a combined 35 laps, and all normal strategies were out the window.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden made a whopping 10 pit stops! Five of the top six finishing drivers made four or more stops, including Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon, who timed things right to swipe what should have been Palou’s victory.

Palou ran the race in the traditional manner, making just two stops.

What will today bring? Calm or chaos?

This much we know: The weather on the Monterey Peninsula will do its part. While coastal temperatures will be in the low 60s, the hill where the 11-turn, 2.238-mile natural terrain road course sits typically is about 8 to 10 degrees warmer, particularly in the late afternoon when this race will see its initial green flag.

This will be the closest thing East Coast fans have seen to a night race this season, as television and radio broadcasts begin at 6 p.m. ET, with the official start of the race a half-hour later. The action will be on USA Network, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

In addition to Palou, any number of drivers are eager for this one. Andretti Global’s Kyle Kirkwood (No. 27 AutoNation Honda) is one of many with his best starting position of the season. Kirkwood starts on the front row. Teammate Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) lines up third and is the only driver in the field with as much success as Palou at this track. Herta has won two of the four races held here since the series returned in 2019.

Meyer Shank Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) starts fourth while his new teammate, David Malukas, starts 12th in the No. 66 AutoNation/Arctic Wolf Honda. Malukas, who is making his season debut, and that left wrist he injured in a mountain bike accident in February will be in an interesting watch.

Don’t sleep on Alexander Rossi, who has his best starting position since last year’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He finished fifth that day; that’s where he starts this race in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Agustin Canapino (No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) also has his best starting spot this year – it’s the best of his two-year career, as well – in 13th.

Deeper in the field is 19-year-old rookie Nolan Siegel, who is making his first start in Arrow McLaren’s No. 6 Chevrolet. He rolls off 23rd in this 27-car field.

Tire strategy is always a difference-maker when the field is this tight, but two days of running haven’t created a separator between the primaries and the alternates – hard running will have to decide that. (Or, check out the 30-minute warmup practice at 3 p.m. ET on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.)

Meantime, it’s all Palou for now in the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He is good at any track and exceptional at this one. Starting him in the top spot puts everyone else in peril. After all, he has led 118 of the past 190 laps at this track. That’s a staggering 62.1 percent, and he won the 2022 race by more than 30 seconds.

Yeah, it could again be “Hello, Palou.” Or, if he dominates again, it could be “Goodbye, Alex.”