Long Beach - Preview

Who will catch the wave of momentum in Round 4?

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Long Beach - Preview
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The NTT IndyCar Series could potentially have its fourth different winner in the first four races of the 2019 season.

Not only is the potential very high for a fourth different winning driver, but a fourth different team as well! This young season is more difficult to predict than the weather these days, with big-hitters like Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing still looking for that first win. All of their drivers are more than capable, but other driver/team combinations have capitalized on their mistakes or miscalculations to seize the coveted trophies.

The iconic streets of Long Beach would be the perfect place to get that first win of the season, and carry the subsequent momentum into the month of May. There are some drivers who desperately need a bounce-back race, after one or more disappointing performances. You would think that the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is a place where experienced drivers can really exploit their track knowledge, but there have been several occasions throughout the long history of the race when a driver achieved their breakthrough win in the series. I'm proud to say that I witnessed the first for Paul Tracy in 1993, Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999, Mike Conway in 2011, and recent race winner Takuma Sato in 2013.

Strategy will be as important as ever, since teams will want to avoid being caught out in the "danger zone." After seeing what happened at COTA, it will be crucial to find that balance between maintaining track position, finding a gap in order to pit, and not losing your whole advantage during a full-course yellow situation. It's almost inevitable that one will appear, as drivers flirt with the limits of adhesion against the urban California backdrop and beautifully incorporated street maze that is Long Beach.

The best passing zones are at Turns 1, 6, and 9, as they all favor the last of the late brakers. It is possible to overtake into the hairpin at Turn 11, but there must be a mutual respect between the combatants. Over the years, we've seen far too many over-ambitious moves that have resulted in a caution period and even temporarily blocked the track.

The weather forecast looks highly favorable for the weekend, but it remains to be seen how much cloud cover there will be. Drivers at the front will want to stretch that first stint, on the option red Firestone tires, as far as possible in order to avoid pitting early and getting stuck in traffic.

There have been seven different winners of the Long Beach GP since 2012, and there are eight drivers in the field who are past winners of the race. Chevrolet has the slight advantage with four wins to Honda's three. In other words, it would take the mystical abilities of Nostradamus to accurately predict who the winner will be on Sunday and which team will be riding that glorious wave of momentum into the sunset.

Here is a suggested lineup for the official Fantasy IndyCar Challenge. I'm currently ranked 1,505 so take this advice with a grain of salt.

Josef Newgarden ($34) - Mr. Consistency is still looking for his first win in Cali. He keeps finding a way to get to the front, even after qualifying poorly (by his lofty standards). I'm not betting against him.

Alexander Rossi ($29) - the defending race winner has looked a bit ordinary lately. There's nothing like coming home to a track you dominated at a year ago in order to get that championship challenge in full swing.

Patricio O'Ward ($18) - the best bargain of the draft, in my humble opinion. The race I don't pick him for will probably be the one that he wins.

Jack Harvey ($19) - he has more top ten finishes than Will Power right now. Just call him Jack the Giant Slayer!

The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach starts at 4:00 pm EST on the NBC Sports Network.

(Check your participating IndyCar Media international broadcasting networks for regional times)

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