NASCAR Race Weekend Central

What Mattered for IndyCar at St. Petersburg

After finishing 22nd and 23rd last week respectively, Colton Herta and Josef Newgarden managed to get their NTT IndyCar Series championship aspirations going properly at Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by winning and finishing second, respectively.

The biggest difference for the two, however? Bonus points. Herta won the pole position and led the most laps, 97 of 100 to be exact. That’s a perfect bonus points tally of four points, helping vault Herta from 21st to 4th in the championship standings with 62 points, five behind points leader Alex Palou. Meanwhile, Newgarden jumped to 10th in the standings with 47 points.

Speaking of Palou, the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda had a problem near the end of the race and pulled into the pits on the penultimate lap to retire from the race. That 17th-place finish for the Spaniard meant that Will Power and Scott Dixon are now tied for second place in points, just two behind Palou.

See also
Colton Herta Dominates in St. Petersburg; Josef Newgarden Second

While the younger Herta’s performance was very impressive, think about the man on the timing stand: Bryan Herta. His 21-year-old son is out there wheeling an Indy car around the same track he won pole position at back in 2005 (and finished fourth in that race), telling his son different things about managing the race, asking about tires, managing gaps.

And when asked about who was more nervous, him or his son Colton, Bryan had only one thing to say.

“Neither of us.”

The younger Herta won his fourth race in his 34th start. That means that in just over two full seasons in IndyCar, he’s won as many races as his father did in 12 years. However, it’s pretty safe to assume Bryan doesn’t care about that as long as he’s on the pit stand for Colton’s races.

Bryan makes sense to have as a race strategist for Colton. As a former driver, Bryan knows how races can play out from the cockpit and can quickly figure out what the car is doing based on what Colton is saying and in what tone of voice the information is conveyed.

With Bryan’s masterful strategic mind (Go look up the final stints of the 2011 and 2016 Indianapolis 500s on YouTube) and Colton’s raw pace and talent, it’s not a stretch to say that the rest of the IndyCar field should be scared right now.

See also
Jack Harvey Finishes a Strong 4th at St. Petersburg

Sebastien Bourdais has a habit of wheeling the ever-loving hell out of a damaged race car. Truth be told, it’s not like his day was easy to start with.

Bourdais had a radio issue that required immediate attention by his crew on pit road before the start of the race. After getting the issue fixed, Bourdais had to pass the vast majority of the field to get back to his original starting position of fifth. Then the Frenchman had light contact with both Simon Pagenaud and Newgarden at the first corner, damaging the tip of the nose on the No. 14 Chevrolet.

Bourdais fought the rest of the way, finishing 10th with a tire strategy that could not overcome Will Power’s use of red sidewall Firestone tires late in the race. Still, this is the best two-race start to a season for Bourdais since 2017 at Dale Coyne Racing where he won St. Petersburg and finished second at Long Beach.

See also
Will Power Charges to 8th at St. Petersburg

It was a race of mixed fortunes for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Takuma Sato started 15th, had a collision with James Hinchcliffe that flattened one of the Canadian’s tires and ruined his race, made a daring three-wide move to take two more spots a few laps later and ended up finishing sixth.

Meanwhile, Graham Rahal started ninth and was holding his own in the top 10 until Alexander Rossi made his first pit stop on lap 36. Coming out of the pits with tires still not up to temperature, Rossi defended his position against the 2008 St. Petersburg winner.

The two had contact going to turn 4, puncturing Rossi’s right front tire. Unable to steer, Rossi kept moving forward, trapping Rahal on his outside until Rahal was able to select reverse and back out of the difficult situation he was in.

Rahal was mired in 19th place for much of the race but never went a lap down. Eventually, the Ohio native finished 15th, turning his fastest lap of the race on the final lap of the race.

The Rahal squad will be looking for revenge at the next race at Texas Motor Speedway for very different reasons. Rahal had mechanical trouble before last year’s Genesys 300 and exceeding the tire limit caused him to have to make an additional stop and go penalty. Sato, meanwhile, crashed in qualifying after running too high in the groove and getting his right side tires on the part of the track stained by the traction compound laid down to help the NASCAR stock cars race around the high groove at Texas.

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