St. Petersburg, Fla – Team Penske has dominated the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete the last several years. They’ve won eight of the 12 years the Verizon IndyCar Series has been coming to the 1.8-mile street circuit, including the last three years and four of the last five.
Furthermore, Penske drivers have started 1-2-3-4 the last two years and led 90-percent of the overall laps in those races. But, that looks like it could be changing this year.
Honda’s have been the strongest teams so far this weekend while the Penske reign appears to possibly be ending. Through three practice sessions and three round knockout qualifying, these are the top five drivers I feel we have to watch out for on Sunday.
The “iceman” has 40 career Verizon IndyCar Series victories, fourth most all-time, but none of those 40 wins have come at St. Pete. Dixon, has struggled a bit here for some reason but he does have four top sevens in the last five years including three top five finishes. I think he can cash in on those top fives for a win on Sunday as he has had a strong car this weekend.
In the three practice sessions, Dixon was on top of the speed chart in three of them. The other? He was third overall. Then in qualifying, Dixon was once again strong as he will start his No. 9 Honda seconds.
Dixon has to be the favorite.
Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan has never won at St. Pete either. But, he’s had more success than Dixon has had over the years. Kanaan, has five third place finishes here and seven top fives in the last 11 years. So far this weekend, he looks like another top five threat as the popular Brazilian has been quick in all three practice sessions.
Kanaan, was second, third and ninth respectively in the three practice sessions this weekend. He then backed that speed up with qualifying his No. 10 Honda sixth for Sunday’s race.
I like Kanaan’s odds tomorrow.
It hasn’t been the dominating race weekend at St. Pete that we all thought it would be for Will Power. Entering this weekend he had six poles in the last seven years, and how last year went at St. Pete that saw him crash and then qualify on the pole, and then miss the race due to what we all thought was a concussion then, he’s healthy and ready to pounce.
Instead, he crashed again on Friday, this time not as bad as last year, and he’s been surprisingly a bit off in practice. The Australian was 11th, second and 10th respectively in the three practice sessions this weekend.
But, he showed his strength in qualifying again and won the pole for the seventh time in eight years.
Power, has an average finish of 5.4 at St. Pete and led 74 laps in 2014 and 75 more in 2015. He finished in the top two in each of those races.
I think he will be there in the end tomorrow. Six of his final nine starts in 2016 he finished in the top two. I think he extends that to 7-for-10 tomorrow.
Hinch hasn’t had a top 10 at St. Pete since he won his first career Verizon IndyCar Series race here in 2013. But, he’s had a great car so far this weekend. The Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports driver was lightning quick in the three practice sessions as he was in the top 10 in each of them. Hinchcliffe, was fourth, seventh and second respectively to be exact.
In qualifying, he qualified his No. 5 Honda third, as I expect a strong run out of Hinch on Sunday afternoon in the season opener.
We all wondered what Newgarden would do in better equipment. Nothing against Sarah Fisher or Ed Carpenter, but Team Penske has way more resources for Newgarden to be who everyone thinks he could be. This is year No. 1 for Newgarden with Penske, and so far, he hasn’t disappointed.
Newgarden, was 15th, sixth and seventh in the three practice sessions this weekend and he backed that up with making the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday afternoon.
The Tennessee native has never finished in the top five at St. Pete, but I think that changes on Sunday.