INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time since 2005, the Verizon IndyCar Series will take to the 1.022-mile Phoenix International Raceway. With it being the first trip back to the Arizona oval in over a decade, only four active drivers racing this weekend has ever competed there.
That will lead to a lot of uncertainty in Saturday night’s race, as the only time most of these drivers have spent at PIR was in the two-day test back in February.
One thing though that I’m fairly certain about, is that Ed Carpenter Racing will have two of the drivers to beat this weekend.
In that test a little over a month ago, both ECR cars were two of the strongest entrants in the field. Josef Newgarden was third, fifth, second and 16th respectively in the four three-hour test sessions, while Ed Carpenter was right there with him, as he was ninth, third, third and ninth respectively in his No. 20 Chevrolet as well.
But, it’s more than that, to why I feel like they will be strong this weekend.
Newgarden is coming off of his best season to date in 2015 as he’s primed to shine in 2016. He wants to show that his struggles in the season opener at St. Pete three weeks ago was an anomaly as he finished 22nd.
Furthermore, the race at Phoenix should be comparable to the one that’s run at Iowa annually and Newgarden has been so strong there over the last few years.
The Nashville native finished runner-up the last two years at Iowa as mix that with a strong Phoenix test in February and you have why in my eyes, one of the favorites to take the checkered flag on Saturday night.
“I’m excited to get back to Phoenix,” said Newgarden this week. “Hopefully we can get back up on the board this time, St. Pete was a bit of a rough start to the year. Those things happen, but the guys have been working really hard leading up to this next race weekend.”
His teammate though, will be up front challenging him for the win this weekend, as Carpenter is hoping to have a stronger start to 2016 than what he had a year ago.
For the third consecutive year, Carpenter is only running on the ovals during the season as the oval specialist didn’t have much luck on those tracks in 2015.
In four of the six starts that Carpenter made last year, he had finishes of 20th or worse.
But, in the two starts that he did strong finishes in, were tracks similar to what we will see this weekend.
Carpenter finished sixth at Iowa and 10th at Milwaukee as he had two top 10’s at those tracks in 2014 as well. With that being said, it’s the same theory for him, like Newgarden, to why I think he will be strong this weekend too, as Carpenter ran well at Iowa the last couple of years and had a strong test at Phoenix earlier this year. I suspect another strong run out of him this weekend.
“I am very excited to be getting back in the car for this weekend’s race at Phoenix,” said Carpenter ahead of this weekend’s race. “It will be my first race since last season and I am chomping at the bit to get back out there. Excitement has been building for this race since it was announced and we are looking for a big weekend with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolets.”
Dating back to his last win at Texas in 2014, Carpenter has six top 10’s in his last 11 starts and that’s including last year’s rough stretch. So, it’s almost a lock to see his No. 20 Chevrolet up front all night on Saturday and gunning for his first win in almost two years.
He’s going to have to go through his teammate though to do so.