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(Photo: Chris Owens/IndyCar)

NTT IndyCar Series Hits the High Banks of Texas Motor Speedway

The NTT IndyCar Series takes to the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the DXC Technology 600, in what is often one of most intense, action packed events on the calendar.

Characterized by frequent wheel-to-wheel racing–often at speeds over 215 mph–the 1.5 mile tri-oval has been a staple of the series since 1997, and has produced some of the most dramatic moments in IndyCar history.

While the style of racing isn’t quite the same as it was during the heyday of the IRL, the second oval on this year’s circuit never disappoints, and I wouldn’t expect this year to be any different.

Coming off a win during the doubleheader weekend in Detroit, Scott Dixon took control of the championship at Texas last year, leading 119 laps on his way to victory lane.

This year’s story could be much of the same. Dixon is again rolling into Fort Worth on the heels of a win and could cement his status as a contender in his bid to repeat as series champion.

Sitting fourth in the season-long standings, the noted late-season closer could be turning it on just as the year hits its midpoint. If the Kiwi can clinch a stunning sixth championship, look to this weekend as a potential turning point.

How They’ll Line Up

Dixon looks to be one of the favorites again this year, leading the first practice on the speed charts, as well as laying down the fastest no-tow lap during Friday’s afternoon session.

Colton Herta, driving for the struggling Harding Steinbrenner racing, was able to rattle off a startlingly fast lap in the second practice, topping out over 222 mph, a full mph quicker than Takuma Sato, who put his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda P2 with a lap just a tick under 221 mph.

The Ed Carpenter Racing pair of Carpenter and Spencer Pigot ended surprisingly low on the speed charts after Friday’s practice, with the owner-driver’s No. 20 Chevrolet only managing 17th, while Pigot ended the afternoon P15.

Team Penske also looked to be struggling for speed during Thursday and Friday’s practice sessions. Points leader Josef Newgarden was mired back in 13th after the first practice, and just barely cracked the top ten on Friday afternoon. Teammate Simon Pagenaud also found himself mid-pack, ending each practice session in 16th and 13th, respectively. Will Power, however, put the No. 12 Chevrolet in the top five on the speed charts in both sessions.

But when it came to qualifying, it was Sato who proved to be the car to beat heading into Saturday night’s showdown under the lights. The 2017 Indianapolis 500 Champ topped the charts at just over 220 mph, and will lead the field to the green alongside Dixon, who qualified second.

Herta, while not at the blazing fast speeds he ran earlier in the day, put himself P10 during qualifying and will look to use his decent starting position to turn his season back in the right direction.

The Penske pair of Pagenaud and Newgarden righted the ship and will be starting fifth and seventh on the grid tomorrow night. Power, despite being the quickest of the trio in practice, couldn’t translate his early speed to qualifying and will start all the way back in 15th.

Carpenter continued to struggle in qualifying and will start in 13th, while Pigot showed a bit of the speed the team had at Indianapolis, rolling off sixth on the grid.

Friday evening’s qualifying did not go without incident. Tony Kanaan smacked the wall on the exit of turn two. While damage was minimal, the incident prematurely ended his qualifying attempt. The Brazilian will start 22nd, last on the grid. Marco Andretti narrowly avoided becoming the second to make contact with the SAFER Barrier, making a big save during his timed lap in the middle of turns one and two. Despite keeping his No. 98 Dallara off the wall, Andretti will start alongside Kanaan in 21st.

Full DXC Technology 600 Qualifying Results

Who to Watch

With a repeat of last year, Dixon could put himself in the center of the title conversation and become the odds on favorite to leave Weathertech Raceway at Leguna Seca with the 2019 IndyCar Crown. His Chip Ganassi Honda machine has showed speed all weekend, so expect the No. 9 to be at or near the front of the field for most of the evening.

Herta has shown a lot of speed during practice and qualifying this season, but will be looking to snap a streak of poor results. Since his record-breaking victory at Circuit of the Americas, the young American has yet to crack the Top 10, so he’ll be looking for a bit of that Texas magic that made him the youngest ever winner in NTT IndyCar Series history.

Conor Daly will make his second appearance of the year, taking over the No. 59 Carlin Racing entry for Max Chilton, who opted out of the remaining ovals on the schedule. Daly, who is coming off of his best Indianapolis 500 result in six starts, has struggled to find speed so far and will be starting all the way back in 19th when the flag drops. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll be in the seat for the three remaining ovals on the schedule, but a solid performance this weekend could help him make a strong case that he’s the best driver for the job.

Saturday’s polesitter, Sato, has emerged as a dark horse this year, winning earlier this season at Barber Motorsports Park and wracking up multiple podiums for RLL. Never one to shy away from a risky move, Sato’s bravery could make or break him this weekend as he tries to capture his second win of the year.

How to Watch

Saturday’s pre-race coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with the green flag expected to drop at 8:40 p.m. ET. Streaming is available on the NBC Sports app with a cable subscription.

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