As NASCAR heads into its third points race of 2023 in Las Vegas, two more series are joining this weekend. Formula 1 kicks off the season in Bahrain and the first round of the 2023 NTT IndyCar series is at St. Petersburg, Fla.
For us race fans on Pacific Standard time, Formula 1 is first out of the gate Saturday morning with qualifying on ESPN2. Next up is IndyCar qualifying on Peacock at 9 a.m. followed by NASCAR Cup practice and qualifying at 10:30 on FS1. The Xfinity series’ Alsco Uniforms 300 will air at 1:30 p.m., also on FS1.
On Sunday, ESPN will broadcast the Formula 1 Bahrain Gulf Air Grand Prix at 7 a.m. followed by the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on NBC at 9 a.m. And FOX will air the NASCAR Cup Pennzoil 400 at noon.
Based on last week’s testing at Bahrain, Red Bull appears to have carried momentum from 2022 into the new season. Ferrari and Mercedes are still their primary rivals, with the rest of the field contending for fourth through 20th. But teams don’t necessarily show all their cards in testing, so we could see some surprises.
Pirelli has brought all-new tire compounds for this season, and that’s another variable teams will have to manage. Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, and Haas showed speed in testing, while McLaren struggled with mechanical issues. Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Alfa Romeo have kept their driver lineups intact from 2022. For 2023 Oscar Piastri will team with Lando Norris at McLaren, Fernando Alonso replaces Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin, Nico Hulkenberg joins Kevin Magnussen at Haas, Pierre Gasly moves to Alpine from Alpha Tauri where Nyck De Vries takes his old seat, and American driver Logan Sargeant joins Alex Albon at Williams.
A field of 27 IndyCars will take the green flag at St Petersburg, 13 powered by Chevrolet and 14 by Honda. Team Penske has won 11 of the previous 19 races at the venue, with Penske driver Scott McLaughlin the defending race winner. Andretti Autosport has three wins in the books, Dale Coyne Racing two, and Chip Ganassi Racing surprisingly only one win, in 2011.
Ganassi and Andretti are fielding four cars each, with Penske, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, and Arrow McLaren three apiece. Meyer-Shank, Ed Carpenter, Coyne, A.J. Foyt, and Juncos Hollinger are all two-car teams.
Kyle Busch is coming off his first win with Richard Childress Racing and is racing at his home track this weekend. He last won there in 2009. More recent Las Vegas winners are Joey Logano with victories in 2022, 2020, and 2019. Brad Keselowski also has three Las Vegas wins, most recently in 2018, and Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick have two apiece. Alex Bowman won last spring while Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson split the 2021 races.
The oddsmakers have a tight grouping at the front of the field with Busch the favorite 5-1 and last week’s favorite Larson 7-1. Ross Chastain’s opening odds are 8-1, Logano is at 9-1, and Hamlin 10-1. Truex and Christopher Bell share 11-1 odds, good buddies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are 12-1, and William Byron sits at 14-1. Chris Buescher, who ran strongly at both Daytona and Fontana, is my long-shot pick at 80-1.
From my perspective I find it interesting that in the past dozen or so years the IndyCar fields have grown from 17-18 cars to the 27 in today’s race while at the same time NASCAR has declined from having a regular 43 car field to the 36 entries we see most weekends. For the sake of the sport, I’d like to see IndyCar continue to grow and NASCAR to halt and perhaps reverse the decline.