What to watch for: IndyCar at Baltimore (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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WATCH OUT FOR CHICANE-ERY

The temporary chicane on Pratt Street always causes issues over the course of the Baltimore weekend. One could probably guess it is not a very well-liked portion of the two-mile street circuit among those in the IndyCar paddock, but consider the alternative – going straight on and launching over a set of light rail tracks – and you see why it’s there. But cars can easily wind up in the wall while rumbling over the curbs here. We’ll see what kind of impact it has on today’s 75-lap race.

MULTIPLE PASSING ZONES

The neat thing about Baltimore is that there are several good opportunities to make up ground on the track. Turns 1 and 3 are probably the best passing zones on the course, as both of them are hard-braking, right-hand corners that come off of long straightaways. You’ll find a lot of action – and close calls – in these two sections.

DIXON’S REVENGE?

To some, Scott Dixon was royally hosed last weekend with his pit road violation at Sonoma. To others, INDYCAR made the right call. No matter your viewpoint on the matter, expect Dixon – your pole sitter for today’s race – to be raring to go as he tries once again to narrow the gap to Helio Castroneves, who holds a 38-point edge over him. If Dixon can win and melt that deficit down to say, 20-25 points, it’s a good day for him.

STREET FIGHTING SIMON

Last year at Baltimore, the proverbial ‘move of the race’ award went to Simon Pagenaud, who earned a podium finish after pulling off an eye-popping run that saw him go from sixth to the lead on a restart at Lap 37. The Frenchman has already won this year on a street circuit (Detroit, Race 2), and he’ll start toward the front this afternoon. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him factor into the outcome.

IZOD IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Baltimore
STARTING GRID

Row 1
9-Scott Dixon
12-Will Power

Row 2
77-Simon Pagenaud
19-Justin Wilson

Row 3
67-Josef Newgarden
55-Tristan Vautier (rookie)

Row 4
3-Helio Castroneves
1-Ryan Hunter-Reay

Row 5
83-Charlie Kimball
14-Takuma Sato

Row 6
27-James Hinchcliffe
15-Graham Rahal

Row 7
98-Luca Filippi (rookie)
11-Tony Kanaan

Row 8
4-Oriol Servia
25-Marco Andretti

Row 9
78-Simona de Silvestro
20-Ed Carpenter

Row 10
6-Sebastian Saavedra
5-E.J. Viso

Row 11
18-Stefan Wilson (rookie)
7-Sebastien Bourdais

Row 12
*16-James Jakes
*10-Dario Franchitti

Drivers in italics will start on Firestone alternate tires (“reds”).
*Jakes (going over five-engine limit), Franchitti (unapproved engine change) penalized grid spots.

Haas F1 tussling in middle of pack in 2nd season

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) For a second-year Formula One team, Haas F1 should be all smiles.

The only U.S.-based team on the grid has faster cars and has already scored more points this year behind veteran drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen than it did in all of 2016.

Yet it’s that sort of success that can both please and frustrate team principal Guenther Steiner and test the patience of industrialist owner Gene Haas: Despite the better results, Haas hasn’t moved any closer to the front of the team standings as it scraps around the middle of the pack while Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull grab all the glory.

“There are so many people fighting for the crumbs,” Steiner said ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix. “I didn’t expect the competition in the midfield to be so brutal this year.”

Still, it’s better to be in the middle of the scrap than left behind.

“It’s been an up-and-down season,” Magnussen said. “When we’re quick, we’re very quick, but our lows have been perhaps a bit too low.”

For Haas F1, this race weekend is a homecoming of sorts. While the team is based in North Carolina, the Texas race is the only one on the calendar in the U.S., making Haas F1 the home “favorite” with American fans even if it really has no chance of winning.

“It would be nice to put a whole weekend together, have good practices, good weather, not wreck your car… kind of like we did in Japan,” Haas said.

The Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago delivered Haas F1’s best overall performance this year. It was the first time this season both cars finished in the top 10 and put them at seventh in the team standings with 42 points, one place and already 13 points better than their 2016 finish.

While Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are closing in on another team and drivers’ championship, only 24 points separate the team standings from fifth through eighth place. The most exciting battles and daring drives over the final four races could come from the middle of the pack as teams scuffle for points and the season-ending money that comes with them.

“We’re in that tight pack that ebbs and flows from race to race,” Gene Haas said. “It’s a constant dance around each other for position.”

Haas is still getting used to a Formula One reality that only a few teams have a realistic chance of winning each week and others just dream for a shot at a podium finish. He came to Formula One from NASCAR – where he is still a partner in Stewart-Haas Racing – and a track environment where “at any race, every team has a chance to win.”

Haas F1 impressed the rest of the teams just by not finishing on the bottom in its first season in 2016. That only raised expectations the team could fight its way to the front of the second tier this year. This season began with a thud when both Haas cars failed to finish the first race in Australia. That hasn’t happened since and the team has scored in three of the last five races.

Gene Haas figures reliability problems – a failed suspension system recently knocked Magnussen out of a top-10 finish – have cost his team dearly.

“Right now I feel like our drivers are better than our cars,” he said.

Haas got into F1 with an admitted goal of boosting his commercial enterprises as a high-tech tool manufacturer and he says that’s paying off away from the track. The trick is staying long-term in a very expensive sport that sees heavyweight manufacturers like Ferrari and Mercedes sometimes double or triple the budgets of other teams.

Formula One has not been kind to small teams that join the grid only to go bust within a few years. Haas is the first American-owned team in the series in 30 years. Three other teams that tried to start from scratch since 2010 – Caterham, HRT and Manor – all collapsed and went out of business. Haas said he as a five-year plan in F1 to see if he can stay longer.

“If you do the five-year plan and you look at (those) teams from the past, their five-year plan was they went out of business. You want to avoid that one,” Haas said.

Grosjean, who signed with Haas from Lotus, said he expects the team to be on the grid for the long haul.

“He’s the best team owner I’ve ever had,” Grosjean said. “He’s passionate about racing and really loves it to a high extent. We know the gap is big right now, but that’s where the patience is.”