The one thing consistent in a very inconsistent race is: Texas is going to be wild. The past years have had storylines that should belong on a soap opera. In 2016 the first attempt at the race was rained out, so they tried it again the next day. About 42 laps in there was a big incident with Conor Day and Josef Newgarden that had a caution that lasted from Lap 42 to approximately Lap 71. Annnnd then it rained.
In 2017 well there is a reason we called it the Clusterfuck 600 I rewatched the race the other day, and you can’t quite point to one exact reason why everything went to shit. It was one of those events where everything that could go wrong – did. In 2018 the track didn’t disappoint again, but it decided to take a few rookies out to the woodshed. Specific mention to Matheus Leist who had his car catch on FIRE.
The 2018 INDYCAR DXC Technology 600 continued to show that with the new aero kit, passing could happen. We have seen passing and drivers making moves in every single race that season. This race was no exception before he brushed the wall, Zach Veach was making quite a charge up through the field, challenging his more veteran teammates at times. Graham Rahal may have heard Internet rumblings about his recent five-year extension on his contract and moved up fourteen spots to finish sixth. At the end of the race we saw a real battle for second place between Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud that continued for quite a few laps. Scott Dixon clenched a win in Texas, doing Dixon things to get to the front, and now is third in overall wins with forty-three wins to his name. He’s closing in on Mario Andretti’s fifty-two wins, and quite honestly A.J. Foyt’s sixty-seven wins may be attainable. A lot of people speak of a “slow burn” when discussing Dixon’s season and his march towards championship contention.
This year the series added an additional practice on Thursday evening. It was a practice that would allow the drivers to test an additional tire compound brought by Firestone. It wasn’t to be; Texas weather truncated the practice. Drivers did not have the opportunity to test the tires, nor did they have the opportunity to do race simulations. It was the only night practice scheduled. The first practice had a difference from quickest (Dixon) to slowest (Daly) of 0.8411 seconds.
To provide the drivers some much needed time in practice, INDYCAR extended the practice on Friday afternoon for thirty minutes. It was a very quiet practice both on pit lane, on the track, and in the stands. Seriously, we weren’t sure if people knew there was practice and qualifications when we first pulled into the track! Drivers took to preparing the cars both for race and qualification. Both Will Power and Scott Dixon went for over one-hundred miles. Continuing Rookie hot shot Colton Herta led the practice (222.451 mph), and the slowest car (Leist) trailed him by 0.5977 seconds.
The past few years, the race has been full of memorable moments. This year, I feel both qualifications and the race had an equal amount of memorable moments. The fifth driver to go out, veteran Tony Kanaan (who now ties his boss AJ Foyt for INDYCAR starts at 369, second only to Mario Andretti) smacked the wall. He failed to qualify and would start all the way at the back of the field. With the oval qualifying process, the entrants with the most points go at the end. Entrant, by the way, is not the driver but the car (as I remembered after I had Daly going out after Kimball).
The final five qualifiers were Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi, and finally Josef Newgarden. A heavy-hitter list of qualifiers, especially those last two. They did not qualify as well as they should with Rossi ultimately qualifying eleventh, and Josef Newgarden qualifying in the seventh position.
Some other drivers decided to just throw reason to the wind during their qualifying runs. Sebastian Bourdais put down the quickest lap, but couldn’t find consistency. On the idea of consistency, Marco Andretti had two widely different lap times…grossly different. Ed Carpenter had the paint color changed on the car and he qualified poorly and, spoiler alert, it didn’t end well for him either. Fellow Ed Carpenter Racing driver, Spencer Pigot, had a better qualifying. He was the first driver to hit 219 mph and qualified in sixth position.
Takuma Sato took the pole for this race, with Scott Dixon right behind him. That is a phrase no driver ever wants to hear, especially when Dixon is the defending race champion.
We had an absolutely insane amount of battles up and down the racetrack. The very start of the race saw James Hinchcliffe, Will Power, Charlie Kimball, and Josef Newgarden quickly gaining spots. Just a bit later in the race Colton Herta, Hinchcliffe, and Alexander Rossi put on a show for the first part of the race trading passes back and forth with each other. Good on Colton for showing real skill. He even made a daring pass in the Turn 1 and Turn 2 area where a lot of drivers got caught.
The interesting thing about oval passes is once you get passed, watch out! Sometimes a train of cars will suddenly pass you. This really only happened once in the race at the very end when Simon Pagenaud tumbled from third to sixth. We also had great battles up front for the lead between Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, and Rossi. Those three were absolutely great to watch as drivers would peak out, tuck back in, and then a lap or so later go for it. Of course, we were treated to an absolutely great battle at the end of the race (more about that at the end – don’t worry!).
Poor Zach Veach. He was up riding that higher line when the car just got into that dirtier and unworn part of the track and it got absolutely loose on him. All of the commentators on NBC called it a bull ride, which it was. The car clipped the wall breaking the rear tow link. The car was wild; it fought Veach as he got it down to the lower part of the track before it spun out of his control. At lap 135, he brought out the first full course yellow of the night.
Then during the most entertaining battle of Herta, Hinchcliffe, and Rossi, Hinchcliffe just got up in the high line and stayed too long. That Turn 1/Turn 2 high line never fully got worn in, and while most drivers used it sparingly, Hinchcliffe overstayed his welcome. It truly was unfortunate; he had a good-looking car and a great looking race up to that point. Hopefully, this will not zap any moment with the #5 and the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.
The final crash of the night was the biggest surprise. In what was almost a racing incident, Scott Dixon and Colton Herta got together during a pass and both crashed out. I’ve watched, and rewatched, and listened and relistened to the crash. It really appears Dixon was up on the higher line while Herta attempted to pass him lower. Dixon backed out, well he attempted to back out, and his car got loose and went into Herta. The Stewards took no action, and I do agree with that. It also appears that Herta’s car was also a bit loose at that moment. The better…scarier moment of that crash was Alexander Rossi’s beautiful save. Mere millimeters between Rossi and Herta’s car. Rewatch it once, and realize that he did half of the save with only one hand (DANG).
Strangely, I suppose, half of the cars that retired from the race did so with some type of mechanical issue. Mattheus Leist retired approximately seventy-eight laps into the race due to a handling issue. Leist had been struggling with the car the whole race. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, Leist is very skillful in not holding up traffic if he is struggling with his car. Another silent car issue was Charlie Kimball, they had some internal mechanical issue with the car and brought it behind the wall at Lap 90.
The saddest retirement was that of Zach Veach. Following his earlier crash, the team was able to repair and car and got him back out in just about forty laps. In about twenty-laps later, the car ultimately retired due to handling issues. Sometimes you just want to hug Veach and tell him it’ll be okay…but you know it’s a lie. He has a season and a half left on his contract.
There’s been a lot of complaints that recent races are ‘boring’. After multiple eye rolls, it’s because no one realizes that there can be a lot of passing and battles throughout the race. People want battles at the front of the field. Well, we had a hell of a lot of battles at the front of the field, including the last shoot out between Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi. At the last restart, Newgarden was first, Rossi was second. The two quickly pulled far away from the rest of the pack, and it was ten laps of about eight attempts by Rossi to pass Newgarden. He just didn’t have it. Rossi had pitted earlier then Newgarden and was lower on fuel and on older tires. It seemed the only time the pass was even remotely viable was in the Turn 1/Turn 2 complex and that had not been a good area for Rossi. Newgarden held him off and came away with the win.
Newgarden and Points
Not a whole lot changed with the standings. Following his win, Josef Newgarden is still first with 367 points. Alexander Rossi is still second with 342 points. Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, and Takuma Sato still round out the Top 5, but they have fallen farther behind in points.
This fits nowhere else, but way to go Conor Daly. He was called in to drive this race for Carlin Racing after Max Chilton made the decision to no longer race ovals. Conor went from nineteenth to eleventh. Also good job to Santino Ferrucci for again being the highest finishing rookie on an oval race. Texas scared him, Indy scared him, it’s a healthy fear for a rookie.
You Should Come
Texas is three weeks after the Indianapolis 500. If you’re anything like me, May was an absolute whirlwind of a month. Detroit means a packed weekend of watching racing thanks to the double-header format. Texas is different. Sure, there’s typically a one-off series at the track during race weekend (NASCAR trucks this year), but nothing starts at the track until at least 1:30pm. Time was spent by the pool and sightseeing before lazily gathering everything for time at the track.
A great race capping off a great weekend of both on and off track activity.