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Locks, Drops, & Sleepers: Firestone 550

Chris Estrada, Zach Houghton, Paul Dalbey
| Jun 07, 2012

This week, the IZOD IndyCar Series barrels into the triad of ovals that marks the approximate midway point of the season. First up is Texas Motor Speedway for the Firestone 550, where the speeds are high and the on-track action is intense. To help you with your fantasy INDYCAR picks ahead of Saturday evening’s race, our pundits return with another look at this week’s Locks, Drops, and Sleepers.

Chris Estrada, IndyRacingRevolution.com

Lock: Dario Franchitti
After a tough few opening races, it looks like the three-time defending series champion has found a groove with the new DW12, winning the Indianapolis 500 and then rising from mid-pack to claim a strong second at Belle Isle. Franchitti took the first of the Texas twin races last season, and while he was agitated at drawing a bad starting position for the second twin race (which was won by Will Power), he still jumped from 28th to 7th at the finish. Expect him to be strong again.
Drop: Justin Wilson
Wilson comes to Texas after a disappointing finish on Belle Isle and if he wants to get some momentum back, he’ll have to buck his own recent history in the Lone Star State. Since 2009, the Englishman has posted finishes of 15th, 19th, 17th and 21st at the 1.5-mile oval.
Sleeper: Oriol Servia
He’ll never get as many headlines as he deserves, but Servia has once again proven his worth this season. In particular, he has been great in the last two events, coming from the back of the field to post top-5 runs at both Indianapolis and Belle Isle. Texas didn’t provide good results for him last year, but I think his Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team’s alliance with Panther Racing, one of the better oval squads in the series, can pay off for him this time around. Keep an eye on him.

Zachary Houghton, IndyCarAdvocate.com

Lock: Dario Franchitti
Nervous yet, Will Power? After struggling mightily early in the season, Franchitti seems to have truly found his form in the past two races, and is climbing rapidly in the standings. He’s not only won here, he’s shown he can fight through the pack to the front. The track might not be one of Dario’s favorites, but it doesn’t show in the results, he’s also finished in the Top 5 in five out of his nine Texas Motor Speedway races. The Honda engines should be right at home on this speedy track, and Franchitti has to be included in the favorites to get it done this weekend in the Lone Star state.

Drop: Simon Pagenaud
We all know how talented Pags is, but the entry list is simply too deep to risk going with a rookie on a challenging oval such as Texas. That’s not to say Simon won’t do well here, but it’s far from a sure bet. Simply put, there are other drivers with proven records on this track to choose from this week. Plus, you’ll want to save Pags for the road and street courses later in the season, where there’s no question he has the chops to net podiums or even a win.

Sleeper: Tony Kanaan
How impressive are TK’s results at TMS? He’s competed in 12 races, finished 11, won, finished in the Top 3 three other times, and has completed the most laps of any active driver here short of Helio Castroneves (in two fewer races, to boot). It might be a slight push to say the #11 car can outright win this week, but you should feel confident in their ability to finish and make it interesting.

Paul Dalbey, MoreFrontWing.com

Lock: Dario Franchitti
The guy is on a streak, there's no doubt about it.  The resurgent Honda engine has shown great power at the last two events, and Dario has really figured out how to drive the 1.5-mile ovals over the last couple seasons.  They may not be his favorite tracks, but that doesn't keep him from scoring a lot of victories on them.  If the race has long green-flag segments that let the Honda engine really wind up and go, it will be a great advantage to Honda, and nobody harnesses that power with such precision as Franchitti.

Drop: Simon Pagenaud
I know, it kinda hurt me to pick him too.  Unfortunately, this field is so incredibly stout throughout the first 20 positions that the rookie may have a tough time getting up to speed on the lightning fast 1.5-mile oval right away.  His performance on the only other oval so far this year at Indianapolis wasn't exactly stellar (though wasn't what one might consider poor either), and few rookies find great successful quickly at Texas.  This will be a completely different experience for the personable Frenchman that will take a bit more getting-used-to than I think he'll be able to acquire with just an hour or two of pre-race practice.

Sleeper: Marco Andretti
Marco has really come alive on the ovals during the past couple seasons, including a decisive victory at Iowa last year.  A strong run at Indianapolis all month has shown that Marco and his Andretti Autosport team have the new DW12 figured out on ovals, and Marco has the fortitude to drive Texas as it needs to be driven -- right on the edge.  If Marco can maintain his focus here, he could come away as the victor Saturday night.



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