IndyCar | A New Day

Who's feeling good about their chances at COTA?

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IndyCar | A New Day
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Josef Newgarden appeared to be genuinely happy for his Team Penske Chevrolet teammate, Will Power, after the Australian driver claimed his eighth pole position for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. However, you could see the disappointment become more apparent in his post-qualifying interviews. Newgarden was on newer tires, and therefore should have had the advantage, but mistakes on his final run meant that Power snatched the prime position from his grasp.

In the beginning of Round 1 of the NTT IndyCar Series, it looked like Josef's concerns were justified. Even with a slightly faster car, it's notoriously difficult to pass on this challenging street circuit. Race restarts, driver mistakes, or aggressive pit stategies are what can help win the day. Just ask Sebastien Bourdais and his team. As I described in my previous piece, chance has a big part to play in whether or not a team can fully capitalize on their lead position or if others can surge ahead.

What transpired is a poetic expression of the highs and lows of optimism. Bourdais knew that it would be very difficult to catapult through the field as he'd done over the past two years, but he certainly wasn't expecting to be out of contention on (unlucky) lap 13 with a suspected Honda engine failure. This led to a domino effect which cost Power a likely race victory. In anticipation of a full course yellow to retrieve Sebastien's car, Will was called into the pits excruciatingly late and it quickly turned into a battle just to maintain a podium position over the advancing Ganassi drivers.

Saturday belonged to the #12 car, but Sunday's measured drive and aggressive pit call to switch to red Firestone tires while his closest competitors were struggling to get through lapped traffic on the black prime tires helped put the #2 Penske-Chevrolet in the front, where it stayed until the very end!

That's a big part of the spectacle and enjoyment of the IndyCar Series in this new era of American open-wheel racing.

Whether you start from first, second, or last place you have a chance to be victorious. The dark clouds that may have appeared on Saturday, either figuratively or literally, can become a purposeful but distant memory when the sun shines down upon you with rewarding grace.

It doesn't even matter if you have limited experience on a treacherous track like St. Pete, because the final results had three of the series' impressive rookies in the top ten. Felix Rosenqvist once again proved to all those who have seen his previous collection of momentous motorsport achievements that he can adapt quickly and should be a contender throughout his debut season. Colton Herta proved that not only does he have the speed to be a contender, but he has a level of maturity well beyond his years. Some of the greats of the sport would not have reacted so calmly, when they were still teenagers, after such a disappointing qualifying penalty. Santino Ferrucci severely "blotted his copybook" in qualifying by crashing out before he was even able to perform a hot lap. On Sunday, he finished in 9th place, on the lead lap, and convincingly ahead of drivers with far more experience in the series. Although he's not a full-time participant this season, Jack Harvey was competitive throughout the weekend for Meyer Shank Racing w/ Arrow SPM; even going wheel-to-wheel with James Hinchcliffe in an exciting battle.

The series has now arrived at the Circuit of the Americas, for the IndyCar Classic, where some will want to carry their successful momentum from Florida, while others will want to erase the disappointment of a fortnite ago, as they all start a new day in relatively new surroundings.

One driver in particular is Carlin Racing's Patricio O'Ward. Just a few weeks ago, he lost his ride with Harding Steinbrenner Racing and was feverishly searching for a full-time seat with another team at the 11th hour. He may not be scheduled to drive for all 17 rounds, but that could quickly change with an outstanding early-season result at a circuit where most of the field doesn't have much race experience.

Drivers who do have racing experience at COTA, like Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, are expected to perform strongly in qualifying and the race, especially with the tantalizing $100,000 bonus check for the polesitter and race winner of the inaugural event. Check out my "COTA Contenders" piece to see the other potential performers.

One of my all-time favorite songs is the soulful declarative triumph "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone.

It succinctly represents the current state of the NTT IndyCar Series. Whether they finished 4th or 24th in St. Pete, the drivers must be feeling good about their chances to further stamp their authority on the championship standings or climb from the depths. The series leaders are definitely feeling good about the increasing positive attention their product is getting around the world. The fans should be feeling really good, since they don't have to wait a whole month anymore to watch the second round of action. Now, it's at a brand new venue for the series!

Yes, it's certainly a new dawn for IndyCar, and a new day for its competitors to be bold and brave.

The IndyCar Classic at COTA starts Sunday at 1:00 pm EST on the NBC Sports Network.

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

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