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EMBURY: Coyne Raises Projections Following St. Pete

With one race in the books and sixteen more yet to come, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this past weekend has left varying opinions from most. While some teams and drivers reached or exceeded expectations, some others left a little bit to be desired. So here’s a brief look at the stock tips with the first checkered flag thrown in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

ON THE RISE:

Dale Coyne Racing: As you may recall, I had ranked the Chicago-based runners seventh out of the eight full-time teams on the IndyCar Series circuit this past week. While it was clear that Coyne had committed lots of money and personnel to improve its fortunes in 2017, there have been multiple scenarios of a similar form that have not yielded success. Although one race does not make a season, DCR is on the right track. The addition of Craig Hampson seems to have re-ignited the fire inside Sebastien Bourdais. In a similar manner, the remainder of the new personnel also allowed Ed Jones to be a factor for two-thirds of the race, impressive for a driver’s first ever IndyCar start.

Of course, while the team proved itself on a road course there are questions left unanswered looking ahead to the 101st Indianapolis 500. But for now, let’s put those concerns on hold and honor the big score from round one.

Sebastien Bourdais: The qualifying crash suffered on Saturday could have ruined the Frenchman’s chances in what is essentially his home race. The St. Petersburg, Florida resident took the blow and despite starting 21st on Sunday, managed to step up when opportunity struck with the second full course caution period. Bourdais quickly dispatched of Simon Pagenaud on the restart and never looked back from that point to the end of the race.

While it is still premature to tag him as a title favorite, Bourdais is on the right track to return closest to the form he presented when he dominated the Champ Car World Series over a decade ago.

Ed Jones: Although he was plagued by a slow pit stop, the Dubai-based newcomer played a solid second fiddle to his veteran teammate.and could have claimed a top ten result, if not a top five. As the only rookie of the year candidate, Jones is almost a lock to earn the award. However, it appears it will be taken with a solid resume in 2017.

ON THE FALL:

Chevrolet: Although losing Chip Ganassi Racing from its payroll was hurtful, the fact that Team Penske was the only strong team from the GM giant is a concern. Although its results were hampered by DNFs suffered by both Spencer Pigot and Carlos Munoz, its remaining support staff failed to feature at St. Petersburg. Conor Daly and J.R. Hildebrand each stayed out of trouble on Sunday, but neither were able to make a serious impact in the top half of the running order.

Team Penske: This leads us to the Captain’s crew. Simon Pagenaud was able to salvage his weekend coming from 14th to second; however, a mix of bad luck and lack of pace plagued them overall on Sunday. The full course caution that benefitted Pagenaud, crippled the chances for both Josef Newgarden and Will Power. Although Power recovered to run third late, mechanical problems prevented him from making the finish. Newgarden placed eighth, while Helio Castroneves settled for sixth.

While not a significant drop in performance, this shows that Penske may not dominate the 2017 IndyCar Series season as they achieved a season ago. However, as the familiar favorites, they showed some vulnerability to open the year.

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By Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

A major follower of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Matt has attended six previous Indianapolis 500s and rates Tony Kanaan's long awaited victory in the 2013 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as his favorite memory.

Outside of following auto racing, Matt is an avid fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish athletics program and can often be seen at home games throughout the season or running the audio controls on several ND-related radio programs. A native of Springboro, Ohio, Matt now resides in Mishawaka, Indiana.