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IndyCar: Gaps grow, but few major changes in points over last month

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The last month of the Verizon IndyCar Series season was nothing short of a grind for its teams, crews, and drivers. Six races, Rounds 9-14, took place over four weekends, at Houston (two races), Pocono (500 miles), Iowa (300 laps) and Toronto (two same-day races).

It was a challenge unlike many have faced before given the way some of the weekend schedules shook out.

As it was, none of the six races really shook up the points that much. Some gaps grew between the leaders and the rest of the top 10, but no single driver gained more than two positions in the championship from the end of Texas June 7 to the end of Toronto on Sunday.

Here’s how the points were scored over the last six races. A bold number indicates the driver finished on the podium. Round 11, Pocono, was a double-points race for the 500-miler.

POINTS
# Driver E 9 10 11 12 13 14
2 Montoya C 40 26 102 14 12 11 205
3 Castroneves C 22 13 80 25 41 21 202
10 Kanaan C 17 20 41 38 35 40 191
77 Pagenaud H 16 51 56 19 33 8 183
11 Bourdais C 32 30 29 11 54 22 178
9 Dixon C 11 12 60 34 30 26 173
8 Briscoe C 18 24 64 22 18 19 165
34 Munoz H 35 8 70 18 13 13 157
28 Hunter-Reay H 26 28 24 51 9 16 154
12 Power C 16 19 41 16 22 36 150
27 Hinchcliffe H 33 16 36 28 24 12 149
83 Kimball C 12 32 26 20 26 32 148
25 Andretti H 24 22 44 12 14 24 140
67 Newgarden H 10 10 49 40 10 18 137
7 Aleshin H 7 41 52 9 19 7 135
98 Hawksworth H 28 35 8 15 17 28 131
19 J.Wilson H 21 18 32 17 20 21 129
15 Rahal H 19 14 22 26 28 10 119
18 Huertas H 51 7 20 10 16 15 119
20 Conway C 13 17 15 51 96
17 Saavedra C 15 13 30 13 11 9 91
14 Sato H 9 11 18 8 7 30 83
20 Carpenter C 34 30 64
16 Filippi H 9 15 8 14 46

From that, you can see Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves accumulated the most points; we chronicled Montoya’s rise after his Pocono win. But Montoya’s subsequent Iowa crash, post-race interview and awful Sunday in Toronto have put pause to his projected championship challenge – he’s now more than 100 points back with just four races to go.

Note too that the third member of the Team Penske trio, Will Power, has lost 52 points to Castroneves over the last six races. But he’s only 13 behind overall, thanks to his 39-point gap he had entering this stretch of six races in four weekends.

On that note, here’s how the points have shifted since Texas Motor Speedway, June 7:

POINTS
# Driver  E TMS L6 Total TMS Chg
3 Castroneves C 331 202 533 2 +1
12 Power C 370 150 520 1 -1
28 Hunter-Reay H 310 154 464 3
77 Pagenaud H 279 183 462 4
2 Montoya C 223 205 428 7 +2
9 Dixon C 214 173 387 8 +2
34 Munoz H 227 157 384 6 -1
10 Kanaan C 189 191 380 9 +1
25 Andretti H 235 140 375 5 -4
11 Bourdais C 180 178 358 12 +2
8 Briscoe C 179 165 344 13 +2
27 Hinchcliffe H 181 149 330 11 -1
83 Kimball C 169 148 317 14 +1
19 J.Wilson H 182 129 311 10 -4
7 Aleshin H 163 135 298 15
67 Newgarden H 151 137 288 17 +1
98 Hawksworth H 156 131 287 16 -1
15 Rahal H 147 119 266 19 +1
18 Huertas H 146 119 265 20 +1
14 Sato H 151 83 234 18 -2
17 Saavedra C 138 91 229 21
20 Conway C 122 96 218 22
20 Carpenter C 104 64 168 23
16 Filippi H 46 46

Points position under the “TMS” tab is where the driver sat after TMS, and the change is to the right since. Montoya, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Briscoe have all gained two positions, while Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson have each lost four.

The six doubleheader races are now in the books as well for 2014, with Rounds 6 and 7 at Detroit coming before Houston (Rounds 9 and 10) and Toronto (Rounds 13 and 14).

Unlike a year ago, when Dixon’s run of dominance on those three race weekends helped propel him toward the championship, no one driver stood out. Still, the top five drivers on the doubleheader weekends drove Chevrolets, and you can see for Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the doubleheaders have hurt their title chances:

POINTS
# Driver E 6 7 9 10 13 14
12 Power C 51 41 16 19 22 36 185
3 Castroneves C 34 53 22 13 41 21 184
10 Kanaan C 35 22 17 20 35 40 169
11 Bourdais C 17 10 32 30 54 22 165
83 Kimball C 22 35 12 32 26 32 159
27 Hinchcliffe H 28 32 33 16 24 12 145
77 Pagenaud H 8 28 16 51 33 8 144
98 Hawksworth H 11 17 28 35 17 28 136
9 Dixon C 20 32 11 12 30 26 131
19 J.Wilson H 32 18 21 18 20 21 130
18 Huertas H 24 15 51 7 16 15 128
20 Conway C 9 20 13 17 15 51 125
2 Montoya C 18 17 40 26 12 11 124
15 Rahal H 41 9 19 14 28 10 121
25 Andretti H 21 14 24 22 14 24 119
34 Munoz H 26 24 35 8 13 13 119
7 Aleshin H 14 27 7 41 19 7 115
8 Briscoe C 16 20 18 24 18 19 115
28 Hunter-Reay H 14 11 26 28 9 16 104
14 Sato H 12 14 9 11 7 30 83
17 Saavedra C 16 8 15 13 11 9 72
67 Newgarden H 10 13 10 10 10 18 71
16 Filippi H 9 15 8 14 46

After an off weekend this weekend, three “standard” race weekends – a single full-length race following a single qualifying session with standard points – are on tap at Mid-Ohio, Milwaukee and Sonoma, before the double points season finale at Fontana, which could drastically shake things up.

Rosberg rues Q3 mistakes after missing out on Malaysia pole

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg was left ruing two mistakes during the final part of Formula 1 qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday after missing out on pole position at Sepang.

Rosberg arrived in Malaysia leading the F1 drivers’ championship for the first time since the middle of July following a string of victories in Belgium, Italy and Singapore.

Rosberg led the opening practice session on Friday, but struggled to match the pace of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton through FP2 and FP3 before falling behind once again in qualifying.

An error on his first Q3 lap left Rosberg fifth on the provisional grid before rallying with his second effort to lift himself onto the front row, albeit with another mistake at the final corner to finish four-tenths of a second behind Hamilton.

“Lewis’ lap was very quick so it was always going to be difficult. I would have come close but unfortunately I had a mistake in the last corner,” Rosberg said.

“Something just wasn’t going right there in that last corner, I just couldn’t get the settings right, I was always getting an oversteer moment into there.

“But anyway, second place, we’ll live with that now. As we know from this year, second place does not mean that victory is not possible tomorrow. We’ve seen that so many times. Still very optimistic for tomorrow.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton: Emphatic Malaysia pole lap ‘could have been faster’

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 01:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates qualifying on pole position in parc ferme during qualifying for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 1, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton believes that his emphatic Q3 lap that secured him pole position for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix “could have been faster”.

Hamilton stormed to his fourth Formula 1 pole in Malaysia in the past five years on Saturday at the Sepang International Circuit, recording a fastest lap time of 1:32.850 to beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by four-tenths of a second.

“Just a huge thank you to the team who continue through the whole year to improve,” Hamilton said after the session.

“To come here, this year it’s the best the car has been here, and of course this year the tires are obviously better.

“Great work done coming into this weekend and over the past few weeks with Nico’s wins, but today the car felt fantastic. I really enjoyed the lap.”

The lap was the fastest at Sepang since qualifying for the 2005 race, but when asked about it, Hamilton wryly said it “could have been faster.”

The Briton locked up on his second flying lap towards the end of Q3, forcing him to abort his run early and settle for his first effort in the session.

“Of course I’m very happy and grateful for my lap but you always want to finish the last lap. I think there’s more time there,” Hamilton said, before expressing his wariness over Red Bull and Ferrari’s race pace.

“I think tomorrow, provided the conditions are like this, the track is generally better. It’s a lot smoother and seems to work better with the tires than it has in recent years.

“It will be a close race for sure because I think they had very good long runs, but I think we were looking quite strong also.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton sizzles in Sepang qualifying for Malaysian GP pole

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton stormed to his fourth pole position in five years at the Sepang International Circuit after dominating proceedings in Formula 1 qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton entered the race weekend trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by eight points in the drivers’ championship, having not won a race since the end of July.

After leading the second and third practice sessions, Hamilton made good on this pace in qualifying by topping two of the three stages in an emphatic display.

Hamilton’s display culminated in a lap of 1:32.850, the fastest at Sepang since 2005, to record his seventh pole of the season and fourth in Malaysia.

A mistake on Rosberg’s opening run saw him provisionally qualify fifth before hoisting himself up to P2 on his final lap, four-tenths down on his teammate’s time.

Max Verstappen led Red Bull’s charge in P3 ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, while Sebastian Vettel finished as the fastest Ferrari in fifth. Kimi Raikkonen will start alongside his teammate in sixth place.

Sergio Perez finished seventh for Force India, 0.7 seconds off Raikkonen ahead, with teammate Nico Hulkenberg finishing eighth. Jenson Button was McLaren’s sole representative in Q3 en route to P9 with Williams’ Felipe Massa in P10. Late improvements from Hulkenberg and Button in Q2 denied Valtteri Bottas a place in the top-1o shoot-out, resigning the Finn to 11th on the grid.

Haas continued its streak of getting both cars through to Q2 as Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez qualified 12th and 13th respectively, while Kevin Magnussen led Renault’s charge in 14th ahead of the Toro Rosso pair of Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Sauber failed to repeat is charge to Q2 from Singapore as Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr fell short in Q1, finishing P17 and P18 respectively. Jolyon Palmer’s Saturday struggles continued as a mistake at the re-cambered final corner cost him time, leaving him 19th on the grid, while Manor’s Esteban Ocon outqualified teammate Pascal Wehrlein for the first time, finishing P20.

As expected, Fernando Alonso cut his qualifying session short in a bid to save his tires and car for the race after being handed a grid penalty earlier in the weekend. The Spaniard set a time good enough to finish within the 107% required to qualify before jumping out of his McLaren, ending up P22 in the final classification.

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton quickest in Malaysia FP3 as Verstappen splits the Mercedes

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Lewis Hamilton sent out a warning shot to his rivals ahead of qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon by dominating the final Formula 1 practice session of the weekend at Sepang.

Hamilton arrived in Malaysia trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship for the first time since the middle of July following the German’s trio of victories since the summer break.

Hamilton lagged behind Rosberg in FP1 before pulling ahead in FP2 on Friday afternoon, and extended his advantage in the final hour of practice running on Saturday.

A fastest lap of 1:34.434 was enough to give Hamilton P1 by four-tenths of a second, but it was not Rosberg who finished as the next-best driver.

Instead, a rapid lap late in the session from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen saw him slot into second place, giving his team hope of a challenge to Mercedes through qualifying and Sunday’s race.

Rosberg was left to settle for P3, six-tenths of a second shy of Hamilton’s best lap and just a tenth clear of the Ferrari duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth in the second Red Bull, one second off Hamilton’s itme, while Nico Hulkenberg ended up P7 for Force India ahed of Valtteri Bottas. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10.

With a litany of engine penalties already racked up, Fernando Alonso opted to limit his practice running on Saturday morning and save tires, finishing P22 and some six seconds off the pace. The Spaniard is expecting to watch most of qualifying on TV later today.

For those wishing to do the same, you can watch qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 5am ET on Saturday.