IndyCar Preview: Firestone 550 – Texas Motor Speedway

It is one of the fastest and most competitive tracks on the IZOD Indy Car circuit.

Blazing speed combined with ultra-close finishes make Texas Motor Speedway a fan favorite; and one that can test the limits of car and driver on its 24-degree banking.

Opened in 1997, the 1.5-mile tri-oval has seen eighteen drivers win the twenty-four races held thus far.

The track’s 138,000 seats give fans a close-up view of the action and, being a Speedway Motorsports-owned facility means that track president/promoter Eddie Gossage will give those customers their money’s worth in race day entertainment.

The Firestone 550 (342 miles), to be run on June 8th, is the eighth race on the 2013 IICS schedule. It is the second oval race so far, with Milwaukee, Iowa, Pocono and California coming up later in the season.

Five entered drivers, Tony Kanaan (2004), Helio Castroneves (’04,’06, ’09), Scott Dixon (’08), Ryan Briscoe (’10) and Will Power (’11), have won races at the here; while twenty-one of the twenty-four entered drivers have raced here in the past.

Alex Tagliani has captured the pole in each of the past two events, and his 2012 run at 215.691 mph in the current DW12 Indy Car chassis might seem slow compared with Gil de Ferran’s track record of 222.864 mph set in 2003.

Helio Castroneves set the race-record speed of 185.710 mph during a 300- mile event in 2006.

The track has also been the scene of some close competition as sixteen races have been won by less than one-second, and eight of those saw a winning margin of less than one-tenth of a second.

Justin Wilson won the 2012 event for Dale Coyne Racing and Honda from the seventeenth starting spot, and Honda has captured two of the last three events held here.

The matching of a very competitive race track with an amazingly competitive 2013 Indy Car season should bring an exciting event to Fort Worth this Saturday night.

Chevrolet-powered cars have won four races so far this season while Honda has captured three. Honda won both races at Detroit last week, but Chevrolet saw victory lane at the only oval race so far; the Indianapolis 500.

Still missing from the winning ranks this year are the Chevrolet entries of Penske Racing and the Hondas of Target Chip Ganassi. Smaller teams such as Dale Coyne, KV Racing Technology, AJ Foyt and Schmidt-Hamilton HP have shared victory lane with three-time winners Andretti Autosport.

Given the unpredictable variety of teams and drivers to win so far this year, combined with the past competitive nature of this track means choosing a possible winner could make a Las Vegas gambler tremble.

Here are some other things to look for on Saturday night:
• This will be ABC network television’s first live, prime-time Indy Car event. TV begins coverage at 8:00pm (eastern), while SiriusXM will bring live radio on channel 211.

• Takuma Sato will try to bring AJ Foyt his team’s first oval track win since 2002 (Airton Dare @ Kansas).

• Who will be the next two-time winner this season? James Hinchcliffe is the only one so far.

• Castroneves and Marco Andretti are now tied for the series’ points lead with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Detroit winner Simon Pagenaud in hot pursuit.

• This will be Tony Kanaan’s 204th consecutive series start. His KV team’s co-owner Jimmy Vasser holds the record at 211.Kanaan will drive the Sunoco-“Turbo”- sponsored entry at Texas, Iowa, Pocono and Mid-Ohio.

• Pippa Mann will be in the Dale Coyne’s car #18 for the Texas race. That car has also been driven this season by Ana Beatriz and Detroit winner Mike Conway who does not race on oval tracks.

• Oriol Servia will pilot Panther Racing’s #4 National Guard entry at Texas and at the upcoming Iowa race.

• How things have changed. In the tracks inaugural season of 1997, Arie Luyendyk won the race, followed by Billy Boat and Davey Hamilton. Tony Stewart was the pole winner. Boat won the race in 1998.

• Who will win? I haven’t picked a winner correctly yet this year, but look for a Penske or Ganassi driver (perhaps Scott Dixon) to break through for the team’s first 2013 win.

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