Preview of IndyCar Genesys 300 at Texas
It's a few months delayed, but the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is ready to drop the green flag on the 2020 season.
Saturday's Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway will be the first of 15 races scheduled from June to October, when the season will conclude where it originally planned to start - the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The season was suddenly halted March 13, hours before the first practice session at St. Petersburg, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly three months later, the 24 drivers who will compete in the 200-lap race Saturday night are eager to be unleashed on the high-banked, 1.5-mile oval.
"I'm anxious, but I think I'm most excited," said Marco Andretti about the race, which will air live at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. "It was a long offseason to begin with and then obviously when COVID-19 hit, everybody was just kind of on hold. Really, really excited to get going. I think the world needs more sports, not just us, so it's a good thing to get going."
Six former winners - who account for the last six wins at the track - and three rookies slated to make their series debut are among the drivers who are expected to compete at Texas.
"Well, the positive is that we spent a good amount of time, the series itself, Jay Frye leading the charge, making sure that this screen was vetted as it could be, making sure that it is fully prepared to run through a rigorous INDYCAR event," said two-time and reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden. "Is the Aeroscreen ready for primetime? Absolutely. It's been tested, been run through its paces at many different types of tracks, short ovals, speedways, road and street courses. It is absolutely ready to go."
But most importantly, the Genesys 300 is a chance for the drivers to get back on track and get their 2020 back to a sense of normalcy.
"I think it's a testament to the effort that's been put in by everyone at INDYCAR and Texas Motor Speedway and the state of Texas to allow us to go racing," 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi said. "It's really cool, really exciting. I think the world needs sports, needs entertainment, needs positivity, so, yeah, I'm excited to get there and not only put on a show for people but also get our season started and pick up where we left off at the end of last year."
'5 Things To Look For ...' heading into Genesys 300
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES makes its season debut at Texas Motor Speedway this Saturday, June 6 at 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC, the first INDYCAR race broadcast on network television in prime time since 2013.
The season was halted March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic just before the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season was set to begin in St. Petersburg, Florida. After nearly three months, the wait is over, and open-wheel racing is getting underway in North America.
The 24 drivers entered in Saturday night's event will compete with a condensed schedule. The one-day show will feature a one-hour, 50-minute practice session, with 30 minutes set aside specifically for rookies. That will be followed by a qualifying session where each driver gets one lap to set their time and a race of 200 laps, trimmed from the scheduled 248 laps.
The condensed schedule will force the NTT INDYCAR SERIES stars to adapt to their race cars and the hot racetrack conditions quickly, allowing little room for error, exciting on-track action and many storylines heading into the first of a 14-race NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule in 2020.
Here are "5 Things To Look For..." heading into Saturday's Genesys 300:
New Look, Same Car
This weekend, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will debut the much-anticipated Aeroscreen, a ballistic, canopy-like safety innovation on the cockpit of Indy cars that will enhance driver cockpit protection.
The Aeroscreen was tested extensively in the offseason by NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers at a variety of racetracks, including Barber Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway. INDYCAR has mandated its use by all teams at all track disciplines (ovals, permanent road courses and temporary street circuits).
INDYCAR partnered with Red Bull Advanced Technologies on the Aeroscreen, with the frame produced by Pankl and the ballistic screen produced by PPG. The innovation comes with several different features, including a heating element on the screen to prevent fogging and airflow inlets to cool the driver, among others.
Rookie Year, Veteran Talent
This weekend marks the NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut for two budding open-wheel stars: Oliver Askew of Arrow McLaren SP and Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing.
While Askew, 23, and VeeKay, 19, are newcomers to the top level of open-wheel racing in North America, they are certainly no strangers to success on oval tracks. Both drivers have racked up impressive statistics on various ovals while racing in the Road to Indy ladder series.
Askew has competed in five oval races in his open-wheel career and tallied three wins, one in USF2000 at Iowa Speedway and two in Indy Lights with the Freedom 100 at IMS and at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
VeeKay heads into Texas with less Road to Indy oval wins than Askew, but his consistency is just as impressive. In five oval starts, VeeKay has one win in Indy Pro 2000 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. However, he has four podium finishes in his five oval starts, and he has never finished worse than fourth on an oval in open-wheel competition.
The Streak Continues
When 2004 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Tony Kanaan announced his "TK Last Lap" farewell tour in January, which consisted of the five oval races on the circuit in 2020, it also meant Kanaan's INDYCAR record for most consecutive series starts would stop at 317 starts, which dates back to June 2001 at Portland.
However, due to the delayed start of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kanaan will extend his consecutive race streak to 318 starts since Texas Motor Speedway is an oval.
"Also, a great surprise was with the unfortunate situation, I'm going to get to extend my consecutive starts by one more," Kanaan said. "Hopefully, I'm going to get to start the race first. We can't say that before I get there. It's a pretty cool thing. It was one other thing I was actually ready to retire once they took the green flag in St. Pete."
Following Kanaan on the all-time INDYCAR consecutive starts list are two current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers, Scott Dixon in second (258 consecutive starts) and Marco Andretti in third (234 consecutive starts).
A Helmet for Front-Line Heroes
This weekend, when Graham Rahal hops into his No. 15 Fleet Cost & Care Honda, he will strap on a special helmet honoring the healthcare heroes working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In April, Rahal held a contest that encouraged race fans to submit helmet designs for him to use this year. Rahal chose the top eight designs, and then a fan vote was held to decide the winner. The winning design was created by Cindy Romano, a graphic designer for Fleet Cost & Care, the sponsor of his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
The message on the helmet reads "Everyday Heroes" and is a tribute to Romano's daughter, who is an intensive care unit nurse at the Mayo Clinic. The timeliness of the tribute motivated Rahal to have the helmet designed as quickly as possible to have it at this weekend's race.
When Conor Daly straps into his No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet Saturday night, he also will feature a tribute on his helmet.
#LiveLikeChris will be on Daly's helmet this weekend honoring Daly's friend Chris Beaty, who was killed in a shooting late Saturday night, May 30 in Indianapolis. Beaty was an Indianapolis native and a graduate of Cathedral High School. He was also an offensive lineman at Indiana University from 2000-04.
The #LiveLikeChris message on Daly's helmet encourages race fans to "live like Chris - to love others boldly, to stand up for what's right, to live every day to the fullest."
GENESYS 300 FAST FACTS
Race date: Saturday, June 6
Track: Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile oval
Race distance: 200 laps / 300 miles
Firestone tire allotment: Nine sets primary to be used during practice, qualifying and the race. Rookies and first-time Texas participants will get an extra set.
Twitter: @TXMotorSpeedway @INDYCAR, #Genesys300, #INDYCAR #ADifferentBreed
Event website: TexasMotorSpeedway.com
INDYCAR website: indycar.com
2019 race winner: Josef Newgarden, 1:55:08.8666, 186.084 mph (248 laps/372 miles)
2019 NTT P1 Award winner: Takuma Sato, 47.0738 seconds, 220.250 mph (two laps)
Qualifying records (based on track distance of 1.44 miles)
One lap: Charlie Kimball, 23.2730, 222.747 mph, June 9, 2017
Two laps: Charlie Kimball, 46.5861 seconds, 222.556 mph, June 9, 2017
NBC Sports telecasts: Qualifying, 5 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (live); Race, 8 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (live). Pre-race show begins at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN. Leigh Diffey is the announcer alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider and Kelli Stavast will report from the pits.
Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query is the turn announcer with Nick Yeoman reporting from the pits. The Genesys 300 race airs live on network affiliates, Sirius 211, XM 205, indycar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA. All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practices and qualifying are available on indycar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app, with qualifying also airing on Sirius 211 and XM 205.
NBC Sports Gold live streaming: All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice sessions and qualifying will stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, NBC Sports' direct-to-consumer live streaming product.
At-track schedule (All times local/Central Time):
Noon - 2:30 p.m. - NTT INDYCAR SERIES Practice, NBC Sports Gold
4 p.m. - Genesys 300 Qualifying (Single-car, cumulative time of two laps), NBC Sports Gold (live) and NBCSN (live)
6:30 p.m. - NBCSN pre-race show begins
7 p.m. - Command to start engines
7:05 p.m. - Genesys 300 green flag (200 laps/300 miles), NBC (live)
Since 2012, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has averaged nine different race winners per season, including a record-tying 11 winners in 2014. There were seven different winners in the 17 races of 2019.
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