Fuel and Tires

All about auto racing with Gazette staffer Dave von Falkenstein.

Fuel & Tires: IndyCar's inaugural New Orleans race, Vettel looking to repeat, Harvick looks to continue streak

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Dave von Falkenstein
April 9, 2015

So, after a racing-free weekend, things will get amped up this weekend with lots of racing action. Here's what's going on.


—The Verizon IndyCar Series hits the track for its second race of the season with the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisana at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisana.

—The 2.75-mile mostly flat road course, located about 20 minutes from downtown New Orleans, has gotten rave reviews from drivers who participated in a practice session earlier this year. It will certainly be interesting to see these cars on a track that looks to offer plenty of passing opportunities.

—As with any first-time event, it's difficult to make a whole lot of predictions. However, I will guarantee you the Penske Racing foursome of Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud will figure in heavily in both qualifying and the race itself. The four teammates took the top four spots in qualifying at the last race in Florida, and if not for Chip Ganassi Racing's Tony Kanaan finishing third, they would have duplicated that feat at the finish of the race.

Sage Karam will run a fourth car for the Ganassi team while Simona de Silvestro will run a fourth car for Andretti Autosport. Both drivers had previously been confirmed for only the season-opener as well as the Indianapolis 500, but will continue on in Louisana.

—As mentioned by Tony DiZinno in his NBC Sports MotorSportsTalk article, Scott Dixon will be running a livery this weekend that won't include Target as a main sponsor. I'm not certain, but this has got to be the first IndyCar race since the late 80s/early 90s without a car having Target as the main sponsor. Thankfully it's only temporary for a company that has been involved in IndyCar for more than 20 years.

—There will be a 24-car field again this week, so besides the aforementioned Penske team, there are some other drivers to watch out for. Sebastien Bourdais, who finished sixth at the last race and was the top non-Penske or Ganassi finisher, will be looking to improve on that. Both Jack Hawksworth and Luca Filippi had great races in St. Petersburg, so look for them to continue making their mark. The perfect result would probably be for either Marco Andretti or Graham Rahal to take the win and get closer to being the great next-generation American drivers that so many fans want (and expect) them to be.

—Coverage of qualifying for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana will air live at 4 p.m. Saturday with race coverage beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, both on NBC Sports Network.


—Formula One returns to Shanghai for the eleventh time to run the Chinese Grand Prix.

—Defending series champion and race winner Lewis Hamilton has won this race three times (2008, 2011, 2014), while Fernando Alonso has won here twice (2005, 2013). In 2006, Michael Schumacher recorded his last victory in Formula One at the track.

Sebastian Vettel, who won two weeks ago in Malaysia and is three points behind Hamilton in the championship standings, won here in 2009.

—Alonso and McLaren-Honda teammate Jenson Button shouldn't hold out much hope of being competitive this weekend. Their combined highest finish in the first two races was eleventh by Button in the season-opening race in Australia. They just don't seem to have the speed, and with China's two giant straightaways, it will be made very apparent that they are sorely lacking.

—Following Vettel's surprise win in Malaysia, I would look for him and his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen (who won here in 2007) to outperform the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Ferrari has won four Chinese Grands Prix (2004, 2006, 2007, 2013) over the course of eleven years.

—April 4 was the 47th anniversary of the death of racer Jim Clark. The Scotsman won his first F1 title in 1963 and won the Indianapolis 500 as well as his second F1 title in 1965, back when Indy brought drivers in from different series all over the world. At the time of his death, Clark had won more F1 races and pole positions than any other driver and had a winning percentage at roughly 35 percent (25 wins in 72 starts over eight seasons). Many think if Clark had not died in a crash during a Formula Two race in Hockenheim, Germany in 1968, he would have records still standing to this day.

—Coverage of qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix will air live at 2 a.m. Saturday while race coverage begins at 12:30 a.m. Sunday, both on NBC Sports Network.


—Sprint Cup action returns after the first of three off weekends during the season for the first Saturday night (points) race of the season. The series hits Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Duck Commander 500.

—Yes, the sponsor of the race is the Robertson family's company featured on A&E's “Duck Dynasty” reality show. This is the first of two races this season at Texas Motor Speedway, with the second race taking place November 8 under a much better name, the AAA Texas 500.

—As with many tracks on the Sprint Cup calendar, Jimmie Johnson holds the win record with four victories, though they have all come in the fall race. Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle all have two wins in the spring race.

—Roush Fenway Racing has the team record for wins with seven in the spring race and two in the fall race. That could bode well for Roush driver and former race winner Biffle, who has finished no higher than tenth in the six races so far this season.

—Janesville native Travis Kvapil is on the entry list as the driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet for Hillman Smith Racing. This car has not attempted any Sprint Cup races yet this season, though the team also runs the No. 40 Chevy for Landon Cassill. Cassill's highest finish this season was 21st at Martinsville. Personally, I just want to see Kvapil make it past qualifying.

—At the risk of sounding like a broken record, watch for points leader Kevin Harvick to continue his hot streak even though he's had a mixed bag at this track. Between both Texas races, Harvick has eleven top-ten finishes in 24 starts at the track with a highest finish of second in last fall's race. The driver right behind Harvick in the points, Joey Logano, won this race last season.

—Coverage of qualifying for the Duck Commander 500 will air live at 5:30 p.m. Friday on Fox Sports 1, with race coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on Fox.


—The Xfinity Series returns after three weeks off with the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday night.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Sam Hornish Jr. are among the Sprint Cup regulars on the entry list for the race.

Kyle Busch, who remains out of action due to injury, has won this race four times (2008, 2009, 2010, 2013).

Ryan Reed remains the only full-time Xfinity driver with a win this season, taking the victory at the season-opening race at Daytona. With the Sprint Cup heavy hitters in this this week's race, I don't expect that to change.

—Coverage of the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 begins with qualifying at 3:30 p.m. and race coverage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, both on Fox Sports 1.

Dave von Falkenstein is a digital content coordinator for The Gazette and an auto racing fan. Follow him on Twitter at @achtungvon or email him at [email protected].

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