OBSERVATIONS: XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway

By: Ashley McCubbin

There is a lot of young budding talent right now in the NTT IndyCar Series, which should have fans excited.

For the second time in four races, a new face graced victory lane with everything coming together for Pato O’Ward. The win wasn’t an accident, either, as the Mexican has shown speed since the drop of the first green flag at Barber Motorsports Park. However, unlike the strategy that plagued him there, or over anxiousness we saw last year, he was able to prevail on Sunday.

The speed in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Honda was there right from the beginning, as evident by O’Ward being able to make passes to gain track position. While he showcased his hand skills with a couple daring moves, his confidence and maturity was on display when riding around behind Scott Dixon around the halfway point, sticking to team strategist Taylor Keil’s plan to save fuel. O’Ward pushed the car enough to keep himself right in Dixon’s mirror, but did not overdrive and abuse the tires or allow anyone behind to close.

Although a caution during pit stops had a chance to mess up his game plan and shake things up, the ability shined through with a tight outside pass on Graham Rahal on the last restart to put himself in position. He then drove Josef Newgarden down, and orchestrated the perfect pass to get by the past series champion, via going high in turn one, followed by going underneath and by in turn three.

As O’Ward has been finding his footing with Arrow McLaren SP, his stock has just continued to rise on a weekly basis, with more great examples of talent showcased behind the wheel. If you are the Mexican driver, there’s no better time to be heading into the Indianapolis 500 with momentum on your side and knowing your team can get it done on the ovals.

Of course, he won’t be without competition, though. If anything, Texas Motor Speedway also proved just how close the entire field still is.

Team Penske may not have been part of the conversation for most of the day, but they were there when it counted. Will Power kept himself within striking distance, while Newgarden utilized the caution during pit stops to take over the top spot. He proved it wasn’t a fluke getting up there, either, with only O’Ward finding a way by. Combined with the Captain placing a car runner-up in each event in 2021, they have not lost their touch.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing knows what it takes to win the 500, as evident by doing so with Takuma Sato on a couple occasions. While Sato was not part of the conversation, Graham Rahal ran inside the top-three both days and at times was just as quick as O’Ward. If his car had not gotten loose at the end, he could have been celebrating instead.

Scott Dixon may not be ripping off wins like he did last season, but he has not lost his touch. The Iceman dominated the first half of the event, fading following the strategy mix-up. He is also the only veteran driver to score a win this year alongside Alex Palou, Colton Herta, and now O’Ward.

Passing was something that was questionable initially heading into the weekend, thanks to only one groove appearing to have formed around the speedway.

In an effort to help improve the side-by-side product for NASCAR, track officials laid down a PJ1 traction compound last fall through the upper groove. The problem, though, is it becomes very slippery for the IndyCars, to where you just barely tough and you are in trouble.

With having learned that through practice and Saturday’s event, there was not much hope towards excitement on Sunday. However, drivers were able to dash those hopes, daring might we add, making a couple tight passes within the groove allotted even if it meant holding onto the wheel a little tighter.

Finding a balance between the pair of series at these tracks will be critical moving forward, as obviously you want to see facilities put on good shows no matter the event occurring.

Initial green flag starts have been a heavy topic of conversation, with incidents having happened on two occasions this year at the very start. Conor Daly, who found himself upside down this time around, believed the series could possibly adjust the rules to ensure this does not become the norm.

But how do you go about doing that? What do you have to put in the rules to stop this from happening? Right now, the leader must maintain a certain pace, but as Rahal commented post-race, each driver is different in that regard.

So, do you mandate a speed that must be kept until they cross the green flag? That may work, or it may not as you will have people trying to time when to go in relation to their competitors in wanting to get the jump. The inability to pass before the flag is meant to stop that, and is there really anything else you can change?

While a tough topic to consider, it is something that certainly needs to be addressed for the drivers, teams, and fans. Imagine waiting all day to watch the event, just to watch your driver wreck on Lap 1 due to these issues. Of course, that’s racing as they say, but doesn’t mean we can’t improve it.

After all, we have greatly changed the safety of the sport over the years, and were once again very thankful for the inclusion of the halo bar in watching Daly’s slide on his roof.

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