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Pruett's Preview: Chevrolet Dual in Detroit

The annual move from a long month spent at Indianapolis for the legendary Indy 500 to the next stop on the Verizon IndyCar Series tour sees a weary group of mechanics and drivers begin a busy stretch of racing until a new champion is crowned.

This weekend in Detroit on the newly repaved Belle Isle street circuit is no different, and thanks to a pair of races—the only doubleheader event on the IndyCar calendar in 2015—physical and mental stamina will be pushed to the limit.

Of the major themes heading into Michigan, Indy 500 winner Juan Montoya collected a sizeable $2.4M pay day for his second trip to Victory Lane, and more importantly, he also left the Brickyard with a handy lead in the championship standings.

The Colombian ace holds a 25-point advantage over his Team Penske teammate Will Power, but says he can’t afford to focus on the championship with so many races left to run. 

“You always run for points, but you get points for running smart,” said Montoya. “The best way to get a lot of points is to win races. If you can’t win, finish second, and if you can’t finish second, finish third. If you’re racing to win, and you’re smart about it and get the most you can get each time, the points take care of themselves, so you can’t start worrying about it.”

Power was the most successful driver at Detroit last year, earning a win and a second-place finish in his Verizon-sponsored Chevy, and as Montoya shares, there’s every reason to believe Power will be on the hunt for more wins this weekend.

“We’ve been doing a lot better on all the track this year, and Will’s been strong; all my teammates have been strong,” he added. “I won double points at Indy, but Will finished second. We gained a lot of points on other guys, but he’s still right there. The big thing is now you start getting into things where mistakes make the difference. It’s not so much the guy who does really well, because I think we’ll all do well, but it’s who makes the big mistake and loses a lot of points. 

“You can take yourself out of the championship pretty easy if you’re not careful, and with two races this weekend, you don’t want to give up any ground because you did something dumb to hurt yourself.”

With more than one mile of new paving on the Belle Isle circuit, drivers have better surface conditions at their disposal than in recent years. The front straight and back straight have received a new layer of concrete, and with the added grip, lap times during the first practice session were more than one second faster than last year’s Race 1 pole.

The last note of interest leading into Detroit involves Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Conor Daly, who is filling in for his injured friend and teammate James Hinchcliffe. With Hinch expected to be sidelined for the next few months while he recovers from his crash during pre-race practice at Indianapolis, the SPM team drafted Daly in for Detroit to wheel the No. 5 ARROW Honda.

The second-generation driver impressed during a last-minute opportunity with Dale Coyne Racing at Long Beach, was fast again during preparations for the Indy 500 with SPM, but failed to take the green flag when a mechanical issue parked his No. 43 Smithfield Foods Honda. Stepping in for Hinch this weekend is a perfect chance for Daly to make another statement about deserving a full-time seat in IndyCar, and while he knows his friend will be back in the No. 5 at some point, making his case for more races—and a permanent place alongside Hinch next year—is on the Hoosier’s mind.

“I think until you have a full-time ride, you’re always auditioning. I think it would be great to get through the Detroit weekend cleanly, and you can do that if you don’t take any risks, but I’ll be pushing the whole time—going for maximum attack,” Daly said. “The team doesn’t want me taking it easy; they want results, and that’s what I’m going for. Obviously, there’s a seat to fill until Hinch is back, and that leaves the majority of the races open.” 

“I’m only in the car for Detroit, and that’s for a reason,” Daly continued. “I need to show the team I can be relied on for the rest of the season, to get them the results the need, and if I can do that, and we can build some continuity, there’s nothing I’d like more. I’m just happy to have this opportunity with the team and to show them what I can do. This chance really means a lot to me, and now it’s up to me to convince the team that I’m the guy to have in the car. I have to do everything perfect, and it’s a tough position to be in, but I’m ready for the challenge.”

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