Who Will Be King of the Beach? [IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach Live Thread]
Saturday came qualifying, and while Ryan Briscoe is the official pole winner, Dario Franchitti will start in the first position. Why is that? Well, it all started last weekend at a test at Sonoma. Chevy driver James Hinchcliffe blew an engine. Pursuant to the new rules, changing an engine before it hits 1850 miles (in a non-race situation) is considered unapproved and results in a 10 spot grid penalty. All week there's been debate in IndyCar fandom on whether its fair to punish a team for a mishap during testing. A few days ago though, Chevy announced that they had found an issue with their engines, and thus changed engines in all 11 of their cars. Thus, every Chevy team is serving the same penalty. Since Dario was the only Honda to make the Firestone Fast Six, he starts first, while erstwhile pole sitter Briscoe will start 11th.
The result of the penalties is an atypical starting grid (if it ever comes out officially). We do now Dario will start first, and joining him on the front row is rookie Josef Newgarden. Newgarden has been very impressive so far in his young career, and is quickly gaining fans for him and his underdog team Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. He has a great sense of humor too. Now if he can only get some sponsorship.
Starting in the 2nd row (we think) are two guys that will be dangerous: Justin Wilson and Simon Pagenaud. Defending race winner Mike Conway is believed to be starting 7th. Meanwhile, the top three Chevys are in positions 11-13: Briscoe, Will Power, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Qualifying showed that the Chevys are stronger than the Hondas right now, and the story of the race will be if the fastest cars can pick their way through the field. We saw Power do it at Barber, coming from staring 9th to win, so it can be done. We'll see if it can happen on this tight street circuit.
It's hard to make a prediction given how strange this weekend has gone, but I'll pick Dario all the same. No matter how you get it, starting first on a street race is huge. This could be the week Dario's championship defense finally takes root.
Coverage starts today at 3:00 Eastern on NBC Sports Network with INDYCAR 36, profiling Graham Rahal. Pre-race starts at 3:30, with green flag at 4:15. Timing and scoring can be found here, and More Front Wing's indispensable Event Summary here. Q it up here throughout the race.