Fuel & Tires: Bourdais goes from last to first at St. Pete

 

Terry Renna

I had high hopes for the new pairing of driver Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team going into the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. After the Frenchman's rare error in qualifying Saturday, I figured I'd have to wait until the next race at Long Beach to see if he could be a contender.

I was wrong.

Bourdais started last in the 21-car field for Sunday's season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but thanks to a timely caution and the kind of drive we're accustomed to seeing Bourdais deliver, he gave team owner Dale Coyne an instant return on his investment by winning. Bourdais was uncharacteristically emotional in his post-race interview, which goes to show how important it was to him to deliver for Coyne.

The four-time IndyCar champion (who ruled the Champ Car World Series from 2004-2007) signed with Coyne last October, before it was known publicly that the KV Racing Technology team Bourdais drove for the last three seasons would be closing down. Besides Bourdais, Coyne also acquired engineer Oliver Boisson, who worked with Bourdais during his stint at KV where he won four races. Coyne also picked up engineer Craig Hampson and mechanic Todd Phillips, who were both key in Bourdais' Champ Car title runs with Newman-Haas Racing.

With all of the pieces in place, it looked like the 38-year-old Bourdais would be primed to give Coyne his first multiple-win season. After Sunday, that looks to be all but assured as even Bourdais' teammate, rookie Ed Jones, finished tenth in his first IndyCar race.

This could be a great season for the perennial underdog team that had just four wins in the last 33 seasons. The team's first victory was delivered by the late Justin Wilson at Watkins Glen in 2009.

As for Bourdais, who now has 36 career IndyCar wins, I've been a fan since his rookie year of 2003. I've seen him win twice at the Milwaukee Mile, including his win in 2015 when at one point he had lapped the entire field. It's great to see him come out swinging this season, eight years removed from his unsuccessful Formula One campaign after which many had written him off. He's certainly going to be one to watch this season and could be a dark horse title contender.

Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud finished second Sunday while four-time series champion Scott Dixon came home third.

IndyCar returns Sunday, April 9, with the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

TRUEX DOMINATES LAS VEGAS

Martin Truex Jr. dominated Sunday's Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading 150 of the 267 laps. Truex became the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver to win all three stages of a race, a new format this season. Overshadowing Truex's win, of course, was the post-race melee between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.

Busch approached Logano in Logano's pit following last-lap contact between the two drivers that sent Busch spinning down pit road. After throwing a punch at Logano, Busch was overtaken by what looked like Logano's entire team, and emerged with a bloodied forehead. NASCAR announced Wednesday that there will be no penalties stemming from the confrontation.

As for the race itself, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott rounded out the podium while Brad Keselowski's fifth-place finish puts him in the points lead. Keselowski sits one point ahead of Larson and three points ahead of Elliott.

NASCAR continues its West Coast swing with the Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway at 2 p.m. Sunday.

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