O’Ward, Dixon among the favourites for IndyCar’s XPEL 375 in Texas

After kicking off the season last month on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., the NTT IndyCar Series now heads to Texas for the XPEL 375.

The 1.44-mile oval at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth has seen some intense races over the years and there’s plenty of intrigue heading into the 2022 edition.

Before the XPEL 375 gets underway — watch Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet NOW — here are five storylines to keep an eye on.

Will O’Ward find success again in Texas?

Pato O’Ward was IndyCar’s oval champion last season and finished on the podium in both races during the Texas doubleheader last season. O’Ward, who drives for Arrow McLaren SP, came in third place in the first race and followed that up by capturing his first career IndyCar victory in the second.

The 22-year-old from Mexico also had strong results at the two other oval courses in 2021 coming in fourth at the Indy 500 and second at Gateway. O’Ward didn’t have the best of starts to this season finishing P12 in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but is still one of the favourites to win, according to Sports Interaction, at +650 odds.

How will Jimmie Johnson fare?

Jimmie Johnson has won a record seven times at Texas Motor Speedway … in NASCAR that is. He was so successful at the track that they even renamed victory lane after him.

Johnson, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, will not only race at Texas for the first time in an IndyCar, it’s his first IndyCar oval race, period. The 46-year-old Johnson only drove in street and road races during his rookie season last year but is handling the full course load this season. Johnson hasn’t finished higher than 17th in an IndyCar race, but perhaps he will finally find some luck in Texas.

Could Scott Dixon tie Mario Andretti?

Johnson’s teammate Scott Dixon holds the most IndyCar wins at the track capturing his fifth during the first half of last year’s doubleheader. Altogether the “Iceman” has won three of the past five races at Texas Motor Speedway. 

The 41-year-old New Zealander has 51 race victories and is just one behind the legendary Mario Andretti for second place on the all-time list. Considering Dixon’s track record in Texas, the “Iceman” has a good chance of catching Super Mario. Dixon is the odds-on favourite, according to Sports Interaction, at +450.

Can McLaughlin maintain his hot start to the season?

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin made a statement during St. Pete’s by kicking off the season claiming his first career win from pole position.

What’s in store for the encore performance? The 28-year-old New Zealander found some success in Texas last year earning his first podium with a second-place finish. Penske holds the most IndyCar wins by a team at the track with seven and McLaughlin is in good standing to add another. 

How will DeFrancesco handle his IndyCar oval racing debut?

This will be the first oval race for the rookie class including Toronto’s Devlin DeFrancesco. The 22-year-old Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport driver finished 22nd during his IndyCar maiden voyage in St. Petersburg ahead of Johnson and fellow Canadian Dalton Kellett, who bowed out of St. Pete’s after 67 laps due to mechanical problems.

Kellett, from Stouffville, Ont., looks to improve upon his results from last year’s Texas doubleheader. The 28-year-old A.J. Foyt Enterprises driver finished P18 in the first race and did not complete a single lap in the second as he was caught up in the multi-car collision at the start. Kellett posted his career-best finish in Gateway taking P12, which should give him some confidence heading to another oval.

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