IndyCar has 500 miles to glory, through speed, dirt, tire fall off and unpredictability

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FONTANA, Calif. – Put off your evening plans and brew the coffee to stay up late for a late night, 500-mile shootout Saturday night from Auto Club Speedway for the MAVTV 500, starting at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Because if you miss the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, you don’t get any live IndyCar racing for at least the next five, and possibly, six, months.

This season’s condensed 18-race schedule started the last weekend in March, and it will end the last weekend in August. Whether that’s a good thing depends on who you talk to in the paddock, or whether you note the year-on-year viewer increase for most TV broadcasts.

As always, the last race of the year offers a bevy of story lines that are usually hard pressed to be matched at other events throughout the year.

Need a primer on what to look for? Here’s some things to note:


For the second time in three years, IndyCar will have a first-time champion. That is a good thing, as it offers IndyCar another shot to promote a new champ after squandering the opportunity for American Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 due to the leadership in-fighting and eventual removal of CEO Randy Bernard that dominated the headlines.

Likely Will Power or Helio Castroneves will deliver Roger Penske his first title in eight years – if either falters, or has some bizarre sequence of events happens, Simon Pagenaud could still steal the title.


The championship battle is always going to be the main storyline, but the double points on offer could provide a significant shakeup in the overall top 10 standings.

From second-placed Castroneves (575) to sixth-placed Juan Pablo Montoya (519), there’s only 56 points that separate those five. So what currently goes Castroneves 575, Pagenaud 545, Ryan Hunter-Reay 534, Scott Dixon 523 and Montoya 519 could be significantly altered after Saturday night.

The rest of the top 10 could change significantly as well. The gap from seventh-placed Tony Kanaan to 11th-placed Ryan Briscoe is only 34 points.

The points breakdown this race: 1-100, 2-80, 3-70, 4-64, 5-60, with 6-10 decreasing by 4 points per position from there down to 40 for 10th, and with 11th through 22nd decreasing by 2 points per position from there down to 16 for 22nd. Four additional bonus points are on offer, one for pole, one for leading one lap and two for leading the most laps.


We wrote about this leading into Milwaukee and the mark still stands – if a new winner emerges this weekend in Fontana, it will be the 11th of this season, and thus tie a record for the most number of different winners in a season.


On ovals this season, the number of DNFs from Indianapolis through Milwaukee are, in order: 9, 5, 4, 7 and 2.

Last year at Fontana alone? There were 16 DNFs in the 25-car field – 6 alone within the last 100 miles.

With engine reliability compromised by the high heat of the race and the radiators getting clogged with debris, it made for a long night for a fair number of drivers. Both Chevrolet and Honda’s respective 2.2L V.6 engines have done well in battle thus far and rarely have issues, but between them, they had five failures in this race year.


Wednesday’s test saw a fair number of cut tires, although it was later fixed by the end of the day. Still, fall off and wear should be an issue. A couple drivers I spoke to Thursday estimated the tires will be very good for the first 10 laps of a stint, decent over the next 30 and “hanging on” in the final 8-10 laps of a stint.

With the Mazda Road to Indy seasons complete, and without the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series also on the weekend schedule, this race is the first oval this year where just Firestone rubber is being laid down. So no Cooper or Goodyear rubber will be ground into the surface this weekend. The Texas and Iowa races had NASCAR on the docket, but no MRTI races.


Those drivers without a contract in hand next year – Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe and more – will no doubt want to showcase themselves to potential suitors Saturday night, and it’s their last chance to do so before the winter.

Josef Newgarden has a contract in hand but still has yet to win his first ever race; Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball are three potential 11th winners of the year; and there’s more still who could use a solid weekend to end 2014 on a high note.

Sainz airlifted to hospital following practice crash

xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Carlos Sainz Jr. has been airlifted to hospital after a big crash during the final free practice session for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday morning.

Under braking at turn 13, Sainz lost the backend of his Toro Rosso car, causing him to hit the left-hand wall before slamming into the TecPro barrier at the end of the run-off area.

The session was immediately red flagged as medical crews tended to Sainz, taking 20 minutes to extricate him from the Toro Rosso car due to how it had pitched under the barrier.

FIA media delegate Matteo Bonciani told reporters: “The driver is conscious and is still in the process of being extricated. When we know something, we will let you know.”

After being extricated from the car, Sainz was taken away on a stretcher before being placed in an ambulance, giving a thumbs up to let fans know that he was okay. He is also reported to have been talking to doctors in the medical centre after the crash.

Sainz has now been airlifted to hospital for further checks, and is set to miss qualifying later today, with Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost telling BBC Sport: “To sit him in the car immediately seems a bit risky, but we will wait and see.”

The damage caused to the TecPro barrier has also caused the planned GP3 race to be cancelled, giving the track workers time to carry out repairs ahead of the F1 qualifying session later today.

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Saturday.

Rosberg tops shortened FP3 in Russia after Sainz crash

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 09:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 9, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg set the pace in final practice for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday morning as the session was called early following a heavy crash for Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz Jr.

With 25 minutes remaining, the session was stopped when Sainz slammed into the wall at turn 13, pitching in under the TecPro barrier at the fastest point of the circuit.

A loss of power on the car meant that Toro Rosso could not make contact with its driver, causing concern as the medical crew was sent to the crash site to tend to Sainz.

Replays showed that Spaniard lost the back-end of his car under braking coming into turn 13, causing him to hit the wall on the left-hand side of the track before travelling down the track and into the wall at the end of the high-speed straight.

After being extricated from the car, Sainz was shown on TV cameras to be moving around on a stretcher, giving a thumbs up before being placed into an ambulance.

“The driver is conscious and is still in the process of being extricated,” FIA media chief Matteo Bonciani told reporters. “When we know something, we will let you know.”

Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost added: “As far as I am informed, he is conscious. He is now with the doctor. I think that he is so far okay.”

With qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix due to start in just two hours’ time, it is unlikely that Sainz will be able to take part in the session, with Tost believing it to be “too risky”.

The amount of damage caused to the barrier could also result in delays across the course of Saturday’s running, with GP3 scheduled to race before the F1 qualifying session. The early sunset in Sochi could also cause problems towards the end of the day.