Fresh engine update issued prior to IndyCar at Fontana, and it’s complicated

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INDYCAR has issued a fresh engine update in advance of this weekend’s season finale, the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

And fair warning in advance: you’ll need a spreadsheet to comprehend how this will all work as it pertains to the five-engine maximum each car is allotted for the season without penalty.

There are 16 of the 25 cars entered that are on their fifth and final allotted engine before exceeding the max.

Those are:

  • Andretti Autosport: Ryan Hunter Reay (No. 1), E.J. Viso (No. 5), Marco Andretti (No. 25), James Hinchcliffe (No. 27)
  • Panther Racing: Oriol Servia (No. 4)
  • Dragon Racing: Sebastian Saavedra (No. 6), Sebastien Bourdais (No. 7)
  • KV Racing Technology: Tony Kanaan (No. 11), Simona de Silvestro (No. 78)
  • Team Penske: Will Power (No. 12)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Justin Wilson (No. 19)
  • Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter (No.. 20)
  • Schmidt Peterson/Hamilton Motorsports: Tristan Vautier (No. 55), Simon Pagenaud (No. 77)
  • Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing: Charlie Kimball (No. 83)

Assuming none of those 16 would need to change engines prior to the start of the race Saturday night, you could figure those would be the top 16 starters in whatever order. Add a 17th to that list too, with Team Penske’s third car, AJ Allmendinger, on only its third engine as a part-time entrant.

However, Saavedra’s change to his fifth came before the fourth engine was mileaged out. That means the Dragon Racing driver will join these five other drivers with guaranteed 10-spot grid penalties looming after their qualifying efforts on Friday:

  • Team Penske: Helio Castroneves (No. 3, sixth engine)
  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon (No. 9, sixth)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises: Takuma Sato (No. 14, sixth)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal (No. 15, seventh)
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Josef Newgarden (No. 67, sixth)

The above five drivers are also ineligible to score manufacturer’s points because they are on their sixth or worse engine. Joining them in this category are the remaining runners we haven’t mentioned thus far:

  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Alex Tagliani (No. 10, eighth)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: James Jakes (No. 16, sixth)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Pippa Mann (No. 18, seventh)

This will basically mean two things. Any of the cars ineligible to score manufacturer points can’t have a win of theirs count toward the Manufacturer’s Championship.

Secondly, this is the single least important qualifying session of the season because you’re going to have a final starting grid drastically different than the qualifying times. A year ago, 14 of the 26 starters took grid penalties for engine changes (Castroneves, Power, Dixon, Rahal, Kimball, Sato, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay, Wilson, Newgarden, Pagenaud, de Silvestro, Tagliani and Wade Cunningham).

So long as the fastest qualifier is someone who doesn’t do an engine change and isn’t ineligible for manufacturer points, it’ll be perfectly understandable… mostly.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.