Fantasy Challenge picks should stay the (street) course

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(Sign up for the INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone or make your driver selections for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach here.)

It was a great race to start the season in St. Petersburg, with Sebastien Bourdais bringing home a win for Dale Coyne Racing. The starting grid and the podium both showed that the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season is wide open. Bourdais came into the season as a sleeper pick, but he may be able to overcome the big teams, at least early and on road/street courses.

Bourdais is in good position for this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as well, but is his team? Coyne cars run competitively but not consistently. They’ll often get a win, but not bunch them together. The Long Beach track is better suited for the safe, consistent drivers and multiple-car teams.

The March 21 open test at Barber Motorsports Park didn’t put that off. The speed was where most expected it to be, with Honda showing its offseason was put to good use. Reports had Honda on par with Chevrolet on the straights for the first time in a while. That puts Chip Ganassi Racing in good position again and Scott Dixon’s solid third-place St. Pete run shows that it might just be a real car vs. car battle this season. Four of the first five finishers in St. Pete were Hondas, with only Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud breaking Chevy into second.

The first two races are very similar. Well-established street courses that reward precision and consistency, not pure horsepower. So what we saw in St. Pete could very well recur in Long Beach. Expect Ganassi and Andretti Autosport to be contenders again, with Penske holding up the bowtie brigade.

On the downside, we saw almost nothing of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports or Ed Carpenter Racing at St. Pete. The smaller budget didn’t hurt Coyne, but if the Chevy is actually at a disadvantage on the street courses, that’s unlikely to change with little development time between races. I think Penske will adjust and show that Chevy is more than competitive.

My picks for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg came home with solid results, especially Bourdais. This time around, it’s not going to be much different. I still think that, even at $34, Pagenaud is nearly a must pick. His consistency has been remarkable and that’s what you’re paying for. I’m also sticking with Josef Newgarden ($25). All the Penskes should run well in Long Beach, but these are the two that offer the best combination of value.

Graham Rahal profiles well heading into this race. He’s able to pass on the tight street circuit, usually avoids big mistakes and likes the competition. The $24 cost is a bit high for him, but fitting him in is a plus. We can do that because there are several good drivers at $17. I like Carlos Munoz, whose new ride for A.J. Foyt gives him a chance to win, just like Takuma Sato did at Long Beach four seasons ago. You could argue that Spencer Pigot, Conor Daly or JR Hildebrand are better, but they all fit at $17.

The four-driver pick for Long Beach? Pagenaud, Newgarden, Rahal and Munoz. It should be an extremely competitive race and a great fantasy matchup. See if you can catch me!

From the fans