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IndyCar Open Wheel

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.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY PICK BREAKDOWN: St. Petersburg

For several years now, the Verizon IndyCar Series website has offered a fantasy league, similar to those provided by NASCAR and several other sports, allowing fans to compete for cash and prizes. As the first green flag of the season is fast approaching at Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, yours truly has taken a head-first dive right into the fun.      

Like most leagues, there is no fee to enter, all that is required is basic information and a contact number if you are indeed a winner at the end of the year. All finished? Okay, let’s get to the fun stuff.

For each of the 17 races on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, you must pick the four drivers who you believe will achieve the best result when the race is over. However, in this game, there is a catch. You are limited to a budget to only 100 fantasy dollars, and with every driver set at a certain value, which can fluctuate up or down during the season based on performance, you are forced to strategize on which legal quartet of drivers will garner the most points. Now for the St. Pete road course, filling your roster with those pilots that can handle left and right turns swiftly is a good place to start and here’s how I have my current roster setup to tackle the combination of public roads and airport runways.

Based on their performances driving for Team Penske in 2016, the lead driver for my team was going to be either 2016 IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud or 2014 series champion Will Power. With the Frenchman valued at 36 fantasy dollars and the Australian at just 30 for the season opener, I went with the latter to secure a little more room to take on a higher-valued driver. With my second pick, I used 22 dollars on my remaining budget to add Dale Coyne Racing’s newest driver Sebastien Bourdais.

I have to admit, I am intrigued by what a bolstered DCR squad and the multi-time ChampCar World Series title holder can offer in 2017, and at a reduced value, I felt he was worth the risk. The same strategy play was also behind my selection of A.J. Foyt Racing’s Conor Daly. Daly is not known as a strong qualifier on the IndyCar circuit; however, last year he showed that he can play the off-sequence pit strategy exceptionally well, meaning a poor effort in Saturday qualifying could be wiped clean by the finish on Sunday.

With those three drivers taken, I had 30 fantasy dollars left in my 100 dollar maximum budget, enough to add a second Team Penske driver to my team in the form of Josef Newgarden. While joining a top team can be a daunting task for some, the early returns from preseason testing at Sebring seems to indicate that the Tennessee-native is up for the challenge.

Stay tuned to PopularSpeed.com every race weekend, for my team selections and if you are interested in challenging yours truly, join for free now at IndyCar.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.