#Firestone550: What to watch for

1. New philosophy.

Flat out is now, well, out.

In an attempt to stop pack racing from breaking out tonight at Texas Motor Speedway, the cars will feature an aerodynamic package with less downforce than in years past. That will place more emphasis on the drivers’ handling capabilities as they’ll be counted on to keep a tougher car in control. Keep an eye on how the drivers deal with this re-think.

2. The draft.

As emphatically shown at the Indianapolis 500, the DW12s create a sizable wake for drivers to use in getting closer to the other cars. The draft may not have as much emphasis here compared to Indy simply because of its own characteristics, but it could still come into play. “Certainly at Indy, you have more time to complete that [draft] pass, but at Indy, we weren’t hanging on like we are here,” said Graham Rahal, who starts third tonight.

3. Will Honda rule again?

Honda’s put their season-opening four-race drubbing at the hands of Chevrolet behind them, winning the last two events at Indianapolis and Detroit (a 1-2-3 finish in Chevy’s backyard). Tonight, Honda starts with all four positions in the first two rows (Alex Tagliani and Dario Franchitti; Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon). Can the Bowtie regain momentum? Will Power of Team Penske, who starts fifth and won the second Texas twin race last season, may be their best shot, but don’t forget about Tony Kanaan (starting seventh), Marco Andretti (eighth), or Oriol Servia (11th).

4. Odds too long? Maybe not.

Ed Carpenter, J.R. Hildebrand, and rookie Josef Newgarden are all starting deep in the field, but they’re far from finished here at Texas. Carpenter is one of the better oval racers in the series, while Hildebrand is with Panther Racing, a five-time winner at TMS in the past with drivers Scott Goodyear (1999, 2000), Sam Hornish Jr. (2001, 2002) and Tomas Scheckter (2005). As for Newgarden, he’s with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, who earned the victory last season at Kentucky Speedway — another 1.5-mile oval — with Carpenter in their cockpit (he now runs his own team as the driver/owner).