Tuesday Crew Chief: Detroit
With the midway point of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series set to be reached this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, five full-timers have separated themselves from the pack of legitimate Astor Cup winners.
Ryan Hunter-Reay has vaulted himself into the picture, following a solid fifth-place performance at the Indianapolis 500, backed-up by two equally significant point grabs in the Detroit Grand Prix, with a jump into the fountain following his first triumph of 2018 on Sunday. The same can be said for Saturday’s first leg champion Scott Dixon, who despite multiple faux-pas to open the new season, has still managed results of sixth or better in all but the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to date.
Although not as impressive when compared to his month of May sweep of the festivities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Team Penske’s Will Power managed a runner-up showing on Sunday to maintain a slim championship cushion on the Iceman, with a potential advantage in hand looking forward to the 600-kilometer test on Saturday night. This, of course, is greatly influenced by whether Chevrolet’s horsepower edge over Honda at the Brickyard, translates to the Lone Star State’s 1.5-mile quad-oval.
A similar edge could also be required if Power’s teammate Josef Newgarden is to retain the No. 1 plate for the 2019 season. After placing no better than ninth in either of last weekend’s double dip in Motown, The Tennessee-resident has fallen nearly 40 points out of the lead in the standings.
The last of the main protagonists in the title fight is Alexander Rossi, who followed a 28-position improvement in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with a third at the twin checkered flags in race one on Saturday. If the NAPA Honda pilot can avoid a back of the lineup grid spot for Texas, the aggression shown at Indy could be maxed out in full as opposed to May’s near miss.
Beyond the “Big Five,” other possible contenders must make a charge in the rest of June to join the conversation. One chauffeur capable of such an assertion is freshman sensation Robert Wickens. A quiet set of top-tens in three consecutive races has allowed the Canadian, to trump his more heralded teammate James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. To date, the role has yet to feature the pressure that has buckled others new to the realm of title chaser. Reaching the climax at the Great American Speedway would go a long ways toward a resumption of the former touring car star’s assault on the Astor Cup, one that went dormant following a sub-par outing in Long Beach this past April.
For the rest of the fleet, Detroit has placed a few notable challengers on life support. An early accident Saturday has thrown a wrench into what was a strong set of early returns for 2017 double Detriot winner Graham Rahal. 13th was the best Sebastien Bourdais has managed in his last three sittings, while Simon Pagenaud continues to fall further behind his Penske pals with Texas on the horizon.
As for the DXC Technology 600 on Saturday night, one championship spoiler who could mess with the apple cart balance is 2018 Indy 500 runner-up Ed Carpenter. Another strong showing in time trials could potentially resurrect the prospects for the owner-driver, who since firing the victory pistols in 2014, has failed to reach the finish line in each of the last three rounds in Dallas-Fort Worth.
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