Although the six drivers that made their first starts at Texas have tested at the 1.48 mile oval prior to last weekend, you can never quite simulate what race conditions will be like. Throw in the fact that Texas has been a one groove race track for the last couple of years and you would expect the drivers with lack of experience to drop to the back. Although the results might not show up on the box score, all six drivers showed pace and the ability to battle within the field. This sets us up for one of the most competitive Indy 500 fields in history when we get to the month of May.
Johnson was the highest finishing first timer of the group, coming up a solid 6th place. This was his best result in his IndyCar career and given the expectations that were put on him with his experience in NASCAR at Texas Motor Speedway, this result feels like a podium for the 7 time Cup Champ. The excitement level for his first Indy 500 is through the roof and will continue to bring new eyes to IndyCar.
Malukas impressed all weekend en route to an 11th place finish in his first taste of Texas Motor Speedway. Multiple times over the course of the weekend he saved his car finding the wall. After issues in the first practice, Malukas qualified 19th. He gained 8 spots in the race and led his first career laps in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Illott wrapped up practice one Saturday with the fourth fastest time of the session. Unfortunately, he lost the speed in qualifying resulting in 20th place effort. Staying patient all day, Illott and Juncos-Hollinger Racing led laps on pit stop cycles and landed a 16th place finish one lap down to the leader. The only one car effort in the field has shown plenty of pace in the first two races of the season.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver had a quick car and was battling for a Top 5 spot at points in the race. A bad pit stop late shuffled Lungaard back to a 19th place result after contact ended his race early. On a weekend that saw his teammate crash and miss the race, Lungaard did a solid job of learning what it takes to be inside the top 10 on an oval.
Kirkwood was making things happen on the top line until it bit him on a restart. The talented young driver moved up as far as 7th place passing ten cars on the outside after one restart. Kirkwood really liked the car that A.J. Foyt Racing put underneath him. Look for Kirkwood to be strong when the series hits practice in May for the Indianapolis 500.
It was an exciting and daring weekend for DeFrancesco of Andretti-Steinbrenner Autosport. He flirted with the Top 10 in both practice sessions and was making bold passes early on in the race. DeFrancesco went three wide into turn three, dipped below the yellow line and collected Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves in a three car crash. The gap was open and Devlin went for it, maybe a little too early in the race, but certainly a learning moment for the young Canadian with plenty of talent.
Texas was unkind to all of Andretti Autosport this past weekend including Grosjean who only completed 103 laps before mechanical issues ended his day with a 26th place finish. It was certainly a weekend to forget for the entire team, but Grosjean had Top 10 speed in both practices and qualified 13th. The result left him, the team and IndyCar fans wanting to see more of the popular driver on fast ovals.
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