The NTT INDYCAR SERIES heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the second race of the season and the first of five ovals on the 17-race schedule with Sunday’s PPG 375.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns from nearly a month break since Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 5. Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile layout will be the only oval event prior to the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 28. The other oval races are a doubleheader at Iowa Speedway on July 22-23 and at World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug. 27.
The two-day show opens Saturday with NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole qualifying and four practice sessions. Practice sessions will be held at 8 a.m. CT, 12:45 p.m. (split field), 1 p.m. (split field) and 1:30 p.m. CT with the action being highlighted by qualifying at 11:15 a.m. The day’s activities also include the SPEEDYCASH.COM 250 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race beginning at 3:30 p.m.
The race weekend culminates with Sunday’s running of the PPG 375 (11:15 a.m., TV: NBC & Peacock. Radio: SiriusXM, INDYCAR Radio Network, 95.9 The Ranch-local).
Here’s a look at the “Fast Five” storylines for the PPG 375 NTT INDYCAR SERIES race:
1. Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon, who passed Mario Andretti for second on the all-time victory list (53) last season, is looking to gain sole possession of another of the legend’s long-standing career records.
Dixon’s third-place finish in the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., moved him into a tie with Andretti for the most career top-five finishes (193) in INDYCAR history.
Given Dixon’s history of success at Texas Motor Speedway, that record could become just his by the checkered flag of Sunday’s PPG 375. He owns the track records for most INDYCAR wins (5), top-five finishes (14), top-10 finishes (17) and laps led (1,043).
He also has won three of the last six races at TMS, the last coming in 2021, and has finished fifth or better in his last four starts, including fifth last season.
Dixon also is looking to make his 307th consecutive start in the PPG 375 as he pursues Tony Kanaan’s “Ironman” INDYCAR record of 318 starts in a row.
2. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato will be making his season debut with his new organization – Chip Ganassi Racing – in the PPG 375.
Sato, who competed for Dale Coyne Racing with RWR last season, moves over to the No. 11 Honda entry that he shares with rookie Marcus Armstrong. Sato is scheduled to handle the oval events while Armstrong will compete in the road and street course events, which included an 11th-place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg.
Sato owns a pole position (2019) and a best finish of fifth (2011) at Texas Motor Speedway.
3. Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin arrived at the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with no oval racing experience, but the former three-time Australian Supercars champion sure has taken a liking to Texas Motor Speedway since he first set eyes on the challenging high-banked, 1.5-mile oval.
McLaughlin’s first-ever oval start came at TMS in his 2021 rookie campaign, and he quickly impressed with a runner-up finish. He followed that performance with an eighth-place finish in the second race of that doubleheader weekend.
Last season, McLaughlin dominated – leading 186 of the 248 laps – but finished runner-up to teammate Josef Newgarden, who made a dramatic pass in the final turn of the final lap to win by .0669 of a second. The race was the closest of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. He has an average starting position of 8.0, including a best of second last season, and finishing position of 4.0, with podiums in two of the three starts.
4. Texas Motor Speedway was a two-horse race last season as Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing combined to secure the top seven finishing positions in the PPG 375.
Newgarden led Team Penske to three of the top four positions, with McLaughlin finishing second and Will Power fourth. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson grabbed the other podium spot while Dixon, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Palou finished fifth through seventh, respectively.
The race also was an early indicator of Newgarden’s oval success on the season as he won three of the five races. His other wins came at Iowa and WWT Raceway. The other oval winners were Ericsson in the prized Indy 500 and Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward in the second race of the Iowa doubleheader.
Keep an eye on O’Ward, who also finished fourth or better in three of the other four oval races. The highlights were the win at Iowa and runner-up finish in the Indy 500. He also has enjoyed success at TMS, which was the site of his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory in 2021 doubleheader and a pair of podiums in four starts.
5. Andretti Autosport didn’t place any of its four drivers better than 15th in the season opener, but there is plenty of cause for optimism moving forward.
The Honda-powered organization swept the front row with polesitter Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta, and added a third driver in the top five with Kyle Kirkwood qualifying fifth. Herta and Kirkwood were strong in every practice session, finishing among the top four in each and Herta was the fastest in the second practice and warmup. Then chaos arrived on race day.
Herta went out after 49 laps due to a single-car accident. Kirkwood was keeping pace but sustained damage during a multi-car incident on Lap 41 that caused him to go three laps down and finish 15th.
Grosjean was in prime position for his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory before McLaughlin initiated contact with him after coming out of the pits and fighting for the lead. Grosjean’s day ended due to the incident after 71 of the 100 laps and resulted in a disappointing 18th-place finish. He led 31 laps, which was second only to McLaughlin’s 38.
Devlin DeFrancesco, the team’s fourth driver, never had a chance to show what he could do as he was collected in a multi-car incident on the opening lap and forced to retire in 25th.
Texas Motor Speedway’s 2023 events schedule consists of everything from the April 1-2 NTT INDYCAR SERIES/NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series doubleheader and the Sept. 23-24 NASCAR Playoffs weekend, car shows and competitions and the Ducks Unlimited Expo, the four-day Hwy 30 Music Fest and Bandas y Trocas Hispanic concert and truck show, and then wrapping up the year with the family-favorite and speedway tradition Gift of Lights holiday light show.
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