By Dylan Reynolds, The Open Wheel
My post-race feature for The Open Wheel continues with a collection of random thoughts following the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix
- Newgarden opportunistic to grab win and early championship lead – Josef Newgarden admitted after the race HE didn’t necessarily deserve the win, but his victory at Phoenix showed the mettle of a champion as he worked his way through the field to give himself a chance at the end. He and his team’s call to pit for tires from the lead was a bold strategy but he made it work with this excellent pass on Robert Wickens. Now the defending series champion already has the championship lead two races into the season without showing anything close to his dominant form from the close of last year. That could be a dangerous sign for the rest of the field.
- Wickens stars in oval debut – Robert Wickens arguably should have two legitimate wins in his first two Verizon IndyCar Series races. That’s beyond incredible. Perhaps Wickens’ dominant performance at St. Pete wasn’t an absolute surprise due to a wacky qualifying session and his undoubted talent, but what he did at ISM Raceway over the weekend was spectacular. To qualify P6, run at the front all night long, pass his teammate James Hinchcliffe for the lead, and nearly hold off Newgarden for victory in his short oval debut is a big showing for Wickens and he now has the attention of the entire paddock. It’s not just that he’s fast, but his savvy moves to force Newgarden to pass him on the outside in the final laps were the mark of an oval track veteran that Wickens absolutely is not. I can’t wait to see how his season develops as the ultra-quick Canadian gets even more comfortable in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
- Rossi delivers electric performance – Alexander Rossi single-handedly changed the narrative of what is and isn’t possible under the current configuration at ISM Raceway with an incredible display in the second half of the race on Saturday night. He almost drove through the entire field twice as he both un-lapped himself and reworked himself into position to contend before the last restart. The stats are incredible. Rossi passed 53 cars on the night. Bourdais was second on that list with just 24 passes. Almost half the field made only single digit passes. Rossi showed it is very possible to pass at Phoenix and I hope that’s factored into the decision on whether or not the series will return to ISM Raceway.
- Carlin struggles for pace again – The Carlin duo of Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball has been at or near the bottom of the charts a lot so far this season and there’s no hiding that the Verizon IndyCar Series’ newest team is struggling at the moment. The qualifying efforts of the team so far through two races are P20, P21, P21, and P22. Each driver has finished two or three laps down in each race this season. That’s not at all what you’d expect from a team with the pedigree of Carlin even on their debut at this level. I fully expect them to get better but it’s surprising to see this performance from Carlin and two very experienced drivers through two races.