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Pruett's Preview: Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway

The Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Texas for its third oval race of the year, and if it’s anything like the 100th Indy 500, strap in and wait for a thrilling run to the checkered flag.

Team Penske’s record at the 1.5-mile banked oval gives us our first hint at which program might be positioned near the front of the pack. With eight wins from 18 tries at Texas Motor Speedway, the Chevy-powered team clearly has history on its side. It also has two drivers on a hot streak entering Saturday night’s Firestone 600 (kilometer) event.

Championship leader Simon Pagenaud has three wins and a strong second on the one-mile Phoenix oval to draw from, and with his big dream of winning something other than a road or street course left to fulfill, the Frenchman would love to come out on top in Texas. His teammate Will Power—a winner on Sunday in Detroit—scored his first oval win at Texas in 2011, and is searching for another big points haul to move closer to Pagenaud in the championship standings.

And then there’s Penske’s Helio Castroneves, the owner of four wins at Texas, whose patience is beginning to wane. Pagenaud, Power, and the fourth member of the team, Juan Montoya, have all visited Victory Lane in 2016, leaving the bubbly Brazilian on the outside looking in. If there’s a track where Helio stands his best chance of breaking into the win column, Texas might be the one.

Even with their dominance so far this year—five wins from eight races tells an interesting tale—there’s no reason to count out Chevy’s Chip Ganassi Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing, Honda’s Indy 500 winners at Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, or some of the smaller outfits that have moved the big teams aside and scored memorable wins.

John Paul Jr. was a surprise winner at Texas in 1998 with the Byrd/Cunningham squad, which also served as his final open-wheel victory. The late Justin Wilson continued the trend in 2012 when he produced a major upset for Dale Coyne Racing in what would be remembered as the big man’s last IndyCar win. Team owner/driver Ed Carpenter, one of the recognized oval aces in the series, also earned his most recent win at Texas in 2014, and has been yearning to add another to his record.

With the unpredictable nature of modern day IndyCar racing, it could easily be a Carpenter, Graham Rahal, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Tony Kanaan, or a dozen other drivers to leave the Lone Star State with a big trophy. Tune in Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN to see how it plays out at 220 mph.

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