NTT INDYCAR Series
Phoenix – What We Learned
The Big Picture: The first oval of the 2016 season is the time for the manufacturers to show us their worst. Uh, their best? In qualifying, it was good to be Chevy. In race trim, the differences between cars seemed minimal.
Event: The series returned to Phoenix for the first time since 2005. The sparse attendance indicates that a low head count was probably the reason for the event’s previous demise.
Qualifying: Oval qualifying is usually as exciting as watching grass grow. But this session was actually interesting, with a genuine fight for the pole, which was claimed by Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves.
Race: Not too shabby. Everyone raced fairly clean, but the current aero kits did not allow for much passing. And an oval race without much passing is, well, a bit dull.
Biggest Surprise: Formula1 One refugee Max Chilton held his own with the IndyCar veterans, starting eight and finishing seventh, which was the best rookie finish of the race.
Biggest Disappointment: Lack of on track passing. An oval race without passing is like a Margarita without tequila: what’s the point? Honorable Mention: finishing the race under yellow.
Dixon: The defending series champion capitalized on the Penske problems and took command of the field by lap 96 and didn’t let go.
Castroneves: Penske Problem number one. The polesitter was cruising to a likely race win before a cut right front tire forced an unscheduled pit stop.
Montoya: St. Pete winner JPM’s day was also ruined by a flat right front tire. He was able to continue with the race, finishing ninth, but was never a factor in the rest of the race. Penske Problem number two.
Pagenaud: The second-place finisher at both races so far this year leaves the Valley of the Sun as the points leader!
Hunter-Reay: The poor guy couldn’t buy a break Saturday. He looked to be the car to beat in the race, but pit stop timing kept putting him farther back in the field. Example, after one pit stop, the yellow flag was thrown, not allowing him to reclaim his pre-pit position.
Team of the Weekend: Ganassi. Dixon, Kanaan, Chilton and Mike Hull.
Quote of the Weekend: “Man, the Gs were unbelievable. We were wide open at the end there when it cooled down. So much load! You gotta be a body builder to drive these things. I was watching the laps count down and with 100 laps to go, I was like, I got this and I can finish this race. Very good!” — Will Power, on his fourth-place finish.
Runner-Up Quote of the Week: Helio Castroneves, responding to a question of his car suddenly becoming less drivable and wobbling on lap two of qualifying, “that’s what we call the Brown Zone”.
What We Learned: Even Penske can have a bad day.
Schedule: Surf’s Up! The series goes to Long Beach in two weeks.
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