AVONDALE, Az – The second Verizon IndyCar Series race of the 2018 season is upon us. After a month off, the next round of the year is up. This weekend, the series takes to the ISM Raceway in Phoenix for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix (9:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network).
The storylines for this race are practically all similar in nature. Basically, take whatever you learned/saw from the previous two years and throw them away. This year’s race should be entirely different.
Here are five storylines to watch.
New Car’s Biggest Audition?
It’s no secret, the series debuted the new 2018 car a month ago in St. Pete. But, it was obviously the first time we saw it. The car has been on track since last July. All the tests were to make the racing in 2018 better than what we saw in the years prior. While the car drove rave reviews after the first race in St. Pete, it’s almost fair to say that this race in Phoenix may be its biggest audition.
The new car is supposed to decrease the dirty air in wake and create a lot more passing opportunities. See, the cars predecessor, well it had so much downforce, cars weren’t lifting around the 1.022-mile oval. Mix that with the cars producing so much dirty air behind them, passing was difficult to do.
This car is supposed to fix that.
Phoenix, has been a high speed parade since the series came back in 2016. Will this new car change that?
More Lead Changes?
Because of the old car and how hard it was to pass at Phoenix, the racing up front was a parade. In the two combined races since the series returned, there’s been six total lead changes. In fact, none of those six passes for the lead came on track.
In 2016, the only two lead changes occurred when Helio Castroneves cut a tire early on and his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya got by him when he had to pit. The other happened when Montoya cut a tire and Scott Dixon took the lead because of that. Dixon, would lead the final 155 laps as a result.
Last year, the only lead changes occurred during pit cycles.
Will this new car produce better racing up front this weekend?
We sure hope so.
Does Honda Have The New Preferred Short Oval Package?
See a common theme here? New car. New car. New car. If the cars are better to drive and there’s more lead changes, will Honda finally lead a lap at Phoenix? As you probably noticed in the point above, those were all Chevy drivers at the time. They drove for just two teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske.
Will someone new lead?
Honda was quick in the test back in February and could honestly be the ones to dominate this weekend. In the two day time sessions, they had six of the top nine speeds in Day 1 and five of the top seven in Day 2. In the two night time sessions, they had six of the top nine in Day 1 and four of the top seven in Day 2.
Chevy has led all 500 laps since 2016, I think that changes this weekend.
Will Penske Struggle Again?
Penske led all 250 laps last year in Phoenix and had all four drivers start in the top five of the race. They dominated last year. In 2016, if not for two cut tires, they would have dominated that race too. Now, they return. But, there’s a new car and the February test showed that Honda now has the preferred package.
Plus, at St. Pete, Penske drivers didn’t lead a single lap. They finished 7th (Newgarden), 10th (Power) and 13th (Pagenaud). If Honda really has all that power again, will Penske be shut out of leading a lap through the first two races of the season?
Can Bourdais And Rahal Continue Hot Starts?
Last year in St. Pete, Sebastien Bourdais won the season opener at St. Pete. This year, he did so again. But, last year in Phoenix, while a completely different date, Bourdais was involved in a first lap crash. Graham Rahal finished second last month in St. Pete. Last year in Phoenix, he too was involved in the first lap melee.
Will the top two drivers in the INDYCAR points standings avoid first lap carnage in Phoenix?
They sure hope so. Both were strong in the test back in February and both have a chance with the new Honda power to contend for wins on Saturday night.
Most drivers said that the 2018 champion would be the one who started out of the gates the hottest. Maybe it will be one of these two.