LONG BEACH, Calif – So far this weekend, five drivers have really separated themselves from the pack as favorites for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network). While I can make a strong case for 10-15 drivers that could realistically win on Sunday, I went with five favorites and five sleepers.
Here those are.
Favorites Category –
How can I not start there? He told me a few weeks ago that he was out to take back what was his last year in Long Beach. He should have won. Instead, his engine blew. Now, he’s making up for it. Rossi, has finished worse than sixth just once since last July. He’s ended on the podium both races in 2018 and should have won last weekend in Phoenix. He was third, first and first in practice this weekend and has his No. 27 Honda as a favorite up front. He will roll off on the pole.
Like Rossi, he’s out with a vendetta too. See, Hunter-Reay thought he should have won last year too. He also saw his engine expire. Plus, despite two straight top six finishes to start the season off with, he felt like he should have finished higher in each. This weekend, he’s showing off his speed.
Hunter-Reay was second in each of the first two practice sessions this weekend and fourth in the other. His No. 28 Honda will shine on Sunday. He rolls off seventh.
The former Long Beach winner is out to turn his season around. He can do so too. He was fourth, 10th and fifth respectively in practice and hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in six career Long Beach starts. In fact, Pagenaud has five top five efforts in those races. He starts third.
He too is out to turn his season around. Long Beach is the perfect spot to do so at. Power, had four podium results in his five starts at the Southern California track. While his finishes have tapered off since, I think he can return to form on Sunday. He was seventh, sixth and third respectively in practice. He will start second.
Why not make this an all Penske and Andretti top five. Newgarden, leads the points and coming off of a win last weekend. He was eighth in practice on Friday, but in the top three in both sessions on Saturday. He finished third here last year and ready for his fifth win in the last nine series starts, dating back to last season. He starts sixth.
Sleepers Category –
Can one of the all-time greats be a sleeper? When he’s been this quiet in 2018, he sure can. Dixon, has finished inside the top six in both races this year, but here we are not talking about him. He was fastest in practice on Friday and fifth and eighth respectively since. He’s a past Long Beach winner (2015) and has three straight top four finishes here. He starts fourth.
The defending winner is a sleeper too. He was fifth and seventh in practice on Friday and 21st on Saturday. He has four top 10 finishes in seven Long Beach tries to go along with a top five in both races in 2018. Watch out for Hinch on Sunday. He starts eighth.
Dixon’s CGR teammate could be tough too. He should have had a podium last weekend in Phoenix. He was sixth at Long Beach last year. He won the Indy Lights race in 2016. He was 10th in final practice and will start 13th. Need I say more?
The last AJ Foyt Racing win came here in 2013. Kanaan, has been a top 10 car in every session and race this year. Now, it’s time to capitalize on it. He has two top six finishes in his last three Long Beach starts. He can contend on Sunday. He starts 11th.
Its been a quiet weekend for the Ohio native. Rahal, was 11th, eighth and sixth respectively in the three practice sessions so far this weekend. He qualified in the Firestone Fast Six in fifth. He also finished second in the season opener, another street course in St. Pete. He told me he’s taking every weekend even more serious than ever before. He’s a legit contender.