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NASCAR schedule reveals some potential 2015 IndyCar schedule hints; Texas IndyCar returns

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If you remember the scene in Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance,” that line could well be referring to the assembled media getting the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. this weekend.

It almost certainly isn’t going to be revealed this weekend, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Considering there have been some past open-wheel schedules that have come out in the past with the ubiquitous “TBA” peppered throughout, it makes little to no sense for IndyCar to release a schedule that’s short of complete, or subject to change.

The way it stands now, IndyCar’s 2015 schedule still has many moving parts.

Still, with today’s NASCAR schedule releases, there are some hints about dates that could well be relevant from an IndyCar standpoint. And it’s also key to note which races fall on weekends where you’ll likely be seeing two NASCAR races on NBC or NBCSN, and how that may affect time slots for when IndyCar can slot in on NBCSN.

First off, the NBC Sports Group portion of the NASCAR schedule begins from the first weekend of July, with both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series (under its new title sponsor name) from Daytona. Nationwide is July 4 on NBCSN, and Sprint Cup July 5 on NBC.

If you sync up the current 2014 IndyCar weekends with the NASCAR on NBC weekends from July through the first weekend of September, when Labor Day occurs and the series again plans to end, you’d have seven as-2014 weekends to note: Pocono, Iowa, and Toronto the first weekends of July, Mid-Ohio the first weekend of August, and Milwaukee, Sonoma and Fontana to round out the month of August.

Here’s where the hints occur. Pocono’s Cup dates of June 7 and August 2 leave enough of a gap for IndyCar to return around the same time as this year. The catch is track president Brandon Igdalsky said earlier this year advance ticket sales were down and it would be a challenge for the race to continue on 4th of July weekend. So could this race, in the third year of its three-year contract, fall on the last weekend of June or the second weekend of July? Either’s possible, given some other possible schedule alterations.

Iowa’s NASCAR dates are May 17 and August 1 for Nationwide. May 17 won’t work as that’s Indianapolis 500 qualifying, and August 1 will likely be Mid-Ohio’s date. However, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series date is Friday, June 19… which would imply that if it and IndyCar share the same weekend, as they did this year, IndyCar would race Saturday night, June 20. IndyCar has raced in that date previously and that weekend in June was an off weekend this year, so likely, it seems that this date will shift from its July 12 date this year.

We get to Toronto next, and that’s the Canadian mystery at the moment. Shortly after Toronto, the Globe and Mail reported the possibility of IndyCar moving its race to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, which could make sense. Additionally, it was noted by NBCSN IndyCar insider Robin Miller, in a piece for RACER.com, to have had increased traction in the last couple weeks. The reason Toronto would shift is due to the 2015 Pan-Am Games falling during the race’s traditional July date.

June options are becoming limited with Texas Motor Speedway confirming IndyCar’s return Saturday night June 6, the night after NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, and that possible Iowa date shift back to June. Detroit will again have the weekend after the Indianapolis 500. So Toronto, whose street race was angling for that second weekend-in-June date – especially one which could have made logistical sense the week after Detroit – appears a less likely proposition at that time.

Mid-Ohio’s NASCAR date is August 15, which would all but ensure IndyCar’s race there will again be two weeks ahead of it on August 2, as it was this year.

A likely three-week break would open up with Labor Day moved back to September 7, 2015. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Dave Kallmann has pegged the August 22-23 weekend as the date for Milwaukee IndyFest, which would fall in the middle of an August sports logjam in the state of Wisconsin. The state will be as filled with sporting events as most Wisconsin State Fair goers are with deep fried foods.

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race from Road America is set for Sunday August 9, and the Nationwide weekend at Road America has shifted to a Cup off weekend and the last Saturday of the month, August 29, after occurring on June 21 this year. Add in the aforementioned State Fair and the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. August 10-16 for the craziness.

Sonoma, if it falls the weekend after the projected Milwaukee date, would be August 30. Track president Steve Page told the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin that date is likely this past weekend.

IndyCar at Road America? We wrote about the possibility after the Road America TUDOR Championship weekend this year, and while track president George Bruggenthies has extended the olive branch to IndyCar, it doesn’t appear TUDOR – which would make the most sense with an Indy/TUDOR doubleheader weekend the second half of August – would be keen on the pairing.

It also doesn’t appear IndyCar would race solo at Road America in June, even if it has an off weekend to do so. Why so, you ask? After a run of consecutive days on track and race weekends from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis mid-May through Texas June 6, the crews and teams would need an off weekend that second weekend in June.

Lastly we come to Fontana, to come full circle from where this post began nearly 900 words ago. Frankly, and despite a strong and committed level of promotion from Auto Club Speedway, ISC, and track president Gillian Zucker, INDYCAR has done ACS zero favors in terms of a consistent date for date equity since its return to the calendar after a seven-year absence.

Yeah, it’s been the last date of the season for three years. But that last date has been September 15, 2012, October 19, 2013 and now August 30, 2014 in three consecutive seasons. How can most locals know when the race is if it changes on them three straight years?

This year, Zucker has justifiably spoken out, confirming to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that a Labor Day date – one Miles has held firm the IndyCar Series needs to end by – won’t work for the track. It’s going to be a challenge because the NBCSN race telecast doesn’t start until 9 p.m. ET Saturday night, with the race scheduled to start at 7:20 p.m. local time (10:20 p.m. ET).

So suddenly one of the big things we have to watch this weekend is how Fontana deals with the date, and what could happen about its date changing again for the following season.

Essentially, here’s where we’re at for the IndyCar 2015 schedule.

Confirmed dates, as announced either by the track or series include:

  • March 16-17, Barber open test, March 29, St. Petersburg, April 19, Long Beach, May 9, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 16-17, Indianapolis 500 Qualifying, May 24, Indianapolis 500, May 30-31, Detroit Belle Isle, June 6, Texas Motor Speedway

Likely dates, based on projections and similar weekends as in 2014:

  • June 20, Iowa, August 2, Mid-Ohio, August 23, Milwaukee, August 30, Sonoma

Question marks, where the date or venue could change:

  • Barber (should be either side of Long Beach in April), Houston (currently last weekend in June, not yet confirmed for same date in 2015), Pocono (possible from either last weekend in June through second weekend in July), Toronto (as mentioned above, neither venue nor date is confirmed), Fontana (date TBD; we’ll see how this week shakes out)

Wild cards, either new venues and/or the proposed international races:

  • Canada’s date du jour. Assume the Canadian Grand Prix occurs June 7, and with IndyCar at Texas June 6, that potential Toronto-Montreal date conflict is averted. Either late June or one of the July weekends could work for a CTMP, Mont-Tremblant or other random Canadian venue date. Toronto’s streets could work June 13, potentially, but that seems a likely off weekend.
  • New Orleans is possible for 2015 – Michael Andretti’s group seemed keen on it happening next year during his Milwaukee pre-race media availability.
  • The two locations mooted for the spring international races, likely in February or early March, are Dubai and Brazil. Details on those would need to be forthcoming, but they wouldn’t feature the new-for-2015 aero kits as they’re not delivered to teams until March 1. Of course, we’ve been down the “international race” path before without it actually going anywhere.
  • Road America. As mentioned above, unlikely for 2015, but we can dream, right?

Rosberg keeps cool amid Spa madness to win Belgian GP

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28:  The safety car leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg got his bid for a maiden Formula 1 drivers’ championship back on-track with a controlled victory in a manic Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday.

Rosberg went lights-to-flag from pole position with a dominant display reminiscent of those at the beginning of the season when he won four straight races, yet he faced a number of challenges throughout the race.

Start-line drama and contact, a tire blow out, debris, a safety car period and even a red flag all threatened to spoil Rosberg’s day and bring title rival and teammate Lewis Hamilton back into contention.

After starting 21st thanks to a grid penalty, Hamilton made the most of the frenetic early stages to rise up to third place after his first scheduled pit stop, bringing himself into the mix for a stunning victory.

However, a lack of pace through the middle stint and a slow pit stop meant Hamilton had to settle for third place, which despite being somewhat disappointing for the three-time champion meant he left Spa still leading the drivers’ championship.

Rosberg made a clean getaway from pole to retain the lead on the short run to La Source, leaving echaos to ensue just behind. Max Verstappen tried squeezing past Kimi Raikkonen for second place, only for the two to make contact and run into the path of Sebastian Vettel on the outside. Vettel was sent into a spin while both Verstappen and Raikkonen were left with damage, forcing all three to pit for repairs at the end of the first lap.

Vettel and Verstappen were serviced swiftly, but Raikkonen’s stop featured yet more drama when a small fire broke out underneath his Ferrari. It was quickly extinguished, allowing the Finn to head back out on-track, albeit one lap down.

A Virtual Safety Car period was called moments later when Carlos Sainz Jr. suffered a tire failure, causing damage to his rear wing and leaving debris on the track. Once the mess had been cleared, the race returned to green with Rosberg leading from Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo. Hamilton, meanwhile, had risen to P12 on the medium tire.

The race went under the safety car on lap six after a huge crash for Kevin Magnussen at the top of Raidillion after losing the back-end of the car. Thankfully, the Dane walked away from the crash, albeit with a limp after a severe hit. Renault confirmed soon after that he had been taken to hospital with a minor injury to his ankle for further checks.

Many of the super-soft runners took advantage of the safety car period to dive into the pits, leaving Rosberg to lead from Ricciardo and Hulkenberg, the latter emerging from the pits in P3 ahead of medium-shod Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton now sat P4 and P5.

After three laps under the safety car, race officials took the decision to red flag the race due to the damage caused to the guardrail by the crash. All drivers were sent to the pit lane and able to change tires before the race restarted behind the safety car some 20 minutes later.

The race went back to green on lap 11 with Rosberg leading the pack on the medium tire. Mercedes teammate and title rival Hamilton opted to switch to softs in P5, and with an array of sets still fresh after cutting qualifying short on Saturday, the Briton was in a strong position.

Rosberg quickly set about creating a gap to the chasing pack, immediately moving out of DRS range for the chasing Ricciardo. Hamilton eased past Alonso for P4, leaving just two cars between himself and his teammate.

Further back, Verstappen and Raikkonen once again entered battle while fighting over 14th position. Verstappen forced the Finn off the road at Les Combes before making an aggressive defensive move the next lap, leaving Raikkonen fuming over his radio to the Ferrari pit wall.

Rosberg was able to eke out a lead over Ricciardo in the laps that followed while Hamilton toiled behind Hulkenberg, keeping a close eye on his tires. The Briton eventually battled past into third place on lap 18, but was hungry to catch the leading pair.

Hamilton was not able to make inroads to Rosberg and Ricciardo as he would have liked, though. As his soft tires began to fade, Mercedes took the decision to bring Hamilton in on lap 21 and move him onto another set of soft tires, trying to get the undercut on the cars in front. A slow stop meant Hamilton returned to the track in P9 behind Valtteri Bottas.

The battle behind Hamilton saw Hulkenberg and Perez, running net P4 and P5, enter the pits together on lap 23. A quick stop from the McLaren crew allowed Alonso to get the jump, but Hulkenberg kept his nose in around the outside at pit exit, resulting in contact. Hulkenberg got back past at the end of the Kemmel Straight, ensuring their battle would rage on.

Ricciardo came into the pits at the end of lap 26 to switch to the medium tire, coming out ahead of Hamilton who still had one more stop to make. Rosberg continued to plug away at the head of the field on his mediums, having been given the call by Mercedes to push and move to ‘plan B’.

Rosberg came into the pits one lap after Ricciardo, taking on another set of mediums that would take him to the checkered flag. A lead of 10 seconds may not have been much, but it meant that Rosberg remained in control of a race that had taken many twists and turns.

Hamilton managed to run close behind Ricciardo, but his soft tires began to fade with around 13 laps remaining. Rosberg was able to increase his lead over the chasing drivers, running around one second per lap faster than both Ricciardo and Hamilton.

Mercedes brought Hamilton in at the end of lap 32, bringing the Briton back out behind Hulkenberg and ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Force India. With another set of mediums fitted, Hamilton questioned the decision taken by Mercedes, but soon found his feet to latch onto the back of Hulkenberg ahead. The pass was completed at Les Combes, lifting Hamilton back into a podium position.

At the front, Rosberg looked comfortable. While all about him appeared to lose their heads at Spa, the German had kept his to cross the line over 10 seconds clear and record his sixth win of the season and cut the gap to Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.

Ricciardo was able to follow Rosberg home in second place, increasing Red Bull’s lead over Ferrari in the constructors’ championship with another impressive drive.

Hamilton had hoped to cut the gap to Ricciardo and secure Mercedes a one-two late on, but the medium tire wasn’t quick enough, forcing him to settle for third place at the checkered flag.

Nico Hulkenberg’s wait for his first podium finish in F1 continued as he was left to settle for fourth place ahed of teammate Sergio Perez, capping off a hugely impressive weekend for Force India.

Sebastian Vettel recovered from the first-lap drama to cross the line sixth for Ferrari ahead of Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas, the latter unable to make it through on the final lap despite closing up on the Spaniard.

Kimi Raikkonen’s rollercoaster race culminated in two points for P9, while Felipe Massa picked up his first point since Baku with P10 for Williams.

Verstappen’s home race weekend that held such promise ended without points as he crossed the line a lowly 11th ahead of Haas drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Groseajn. Daniil Kvyat was 14th for Toro Rosso ahead of Jolyon Palmer, while Esteban Ocon was 16th on his F1 debut ahead of Sauber’s Felipe Nasr.

Magnussen taken to hospital with ankle injury after Spa shunt

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Magnussen has been transferred to hospital with an ankle injury after a hefty crash during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Magnussen lost the rear end of his Renault Formula 1 car at the top of the hill after Eau Rouge and Raidillion, slamming into the wall on the right-hand side of the circuit at high speed.

The crash was severe enough to cause Magnussen’s head-rest to break free, leaving much of the car wrecked.

Magnussen did manage to get out of his car unaided, but was limping when walking away from the shunt.

Renault confirmed that Magnussen had been taken to the medical centre with an injury to his left ankle, and has since been transferred to hospital for further check-ups.

Belgian GP red flagged after Magnussen crash

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The Belgian Grand Prix has been red flagged following a frightening crash for Kevin Magnussen that caused significant damage to the barrier at Raidillion.

Magnussen went off at one of the fastest points of the circuit, losing the back-end of his Renault after running through Eau Rouge and Raidillion corners coming uphill.

The crash was so severe that the headrest in Magnussen’s car came loose, leaving his R.S.16 wrecked. Thankfully, the Dane was able to walk away, albeit with a limp.

Three laps after the crash, stewards decided to red flag the race as repairs needed to be completed to the guardrail, forcing all drivers to head to the pit lane.

Once the repairs were completed, stewards gave the call for the race to resume with a 10-minute warning, leaving Rosberg to lead away the pack once again.

Graham Rahal able to ‘tame the beast’ of Texas ghosts with win

FORT WORTH, TX - AUGUST 27: Graham Rahal driver of the #15 Mi-Jack/RLL Honda speaks at a media conference after winning the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on August 27, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
(Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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FORT WORTH – Graham Rahal swears he didn’t give the final 177 laps of the Firestone 600 a single thought between June 12 and Aug. 27.

“I haven’t thought about it at all until this week,” said Rahal, who was now thinking about nothing else after winning said race by .008 seconds over James Hinchcliffe, a Texas Motor Speedway record.

Rahal and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series have been busy since June, competing in –  and actually finishing – five races since the Firestone 600 was postponed 77 days for rain after reaching Lap 71.

After visiting Road America, Iowa Speedway, Toronto, his home track of Mid-Ohio and Pocono, the 1.5-mile track in North Texas finally, surreally, came back around.

“It’s a very strange thing actually,” Rahal said, still wearing the 10-gallon Cowboy hat awarded to race winners by track president Eddie Gossage. “We came down here this morning, and I don’t know, it was just a weird day to kind of get into the groove of it. It was like, we landed so early, we had so much time to kill, then such a short practice, and then we just go racing.”

Due to what transpired over the those five races – not finishing better than fourth after a Road America podium and only leading two laps – Rahal was having very specific thoughts about Saturday night’s race.

“This week I knew, again, because of the year that we’ve had, it was an opportunity,” Rahal said. “I felt like in June we had a great race car, we just didn’t get to see it through and tonight obviously from the front, we went forward, and it was a great night.”

After restarting 12th in a car Rahal described after a brief practice session as a “f—ing rocket,” the No. 15 carved its way through the pack. By the final 25 laps it one of five cars on the lead lap, led by Hinchcliffe.

“I just thought if I could get there, we’d have a good chance, and then we went fighting at the end there,” Rahal said. “I had a lot of front tire degradation. I was having to take the early laps a bit slower to try to save that outside front. You could see Kanaan and (Scott) Dixon even a little bit quicker than me but 15 laps or so into the stint I closed back up because my car, I think, was better on the tires in the long run.”

Then, unlike Hinchcliffe, Rahal’s team decided to pit late for tires under caution. That decision set up an eight-lap sprint that will likely be considered the most thrilling of the season. With three and four-wide racing, it looked like the memorable Indy Racing League races at Texas of a decade ago.

On a night where TMS honored law enforcement, Rahal’s path through the field was oversaw by spotter Steve Turner, a retired police officer from Speedway, Indiana.

“Steve does a great job. But tonight I had to keep my eyes particularly peeled at all times to my mirrors, Rahal said. “I always trust the spotter but I want to make sure in a lot of cases that we gave ourselves a little extra room.”

In the closing laps, Rahal’s thoughts didn’t drift to those old “pack” races. They went to a more recent Texas visit in 2012. That year, Rahal led 27 laps at the climax of the race with Justin Wilson chasing him. With three laps left, Rahal bounced off the wall out of Turn 4, allowing Wilson to pass him and win.

It would be the last IndyCar win for Wilson, who died a year ago last week from injuries sustained at Pocono Raceway.

“You know what I was motivated by a little bit is I kept thinking about Justin there, because a couple years ago we had a great battle here,” Rahal said. “Quite honestly I was picturing him shooting those things off there the last couple of laps, just trying to get it done for ourselves here.”

That failure in 2012 came in the middle of seven winless seasons for the son of Bobby Rahal. Graham Rahal ended that last season with a win in another tense, hotly contested “pack race” at Auto Club Speedway.

“It’s just nice to kind of tame the beast a little bit,” said Rahal, who has made nine starts at Texas, but only finished in the top 10 three times. “This place is a tough place to win … So it feels nice. To not go through this year winless is the biggest pressure I feel off my shoulders. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to get that over because not that it would have been a dry spell like last time, but I don’t want to have to hear the questions again, so it was nice to just get that.”

Even when Rahal got the win, he was afraid he has celebrated too soon. As his car neared the finish line, he raised his right hand in a celebratory fist before quickly dropping it down right as Hinchcliffe was pulling even with him.

“I was like, ‘make sure his roll hoop says two.’ Looked over and I could see it said two, and I knew I had it,” Rahal said. “Those LED panels that IndyCar started using are awesome.”

The win also gave Honda just its second win of 2016, a year after it earned five. After two months of not thinking about a race, Rahal won’t want to stop talking about it.

“It’s special for us to get a win for Honda for sure, and be able to call corporate on Monday and have a good talk,” Rahal said.