The most memorable moments of IndyCar 2014 (so far)

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Every race has that one moment that people remember. Sometimes, it’s good. Sometimes, it isn’t. But it sticks with you.

This year’s Verizon IndyCar Series season is coming to a close on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway (9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra), and while there’s still 500 miles to go, now’s an opportune time to revisit 2014’s most memorable moments – so far.

You’ll notice in the collection of videos below that for the doubleheader weekends at Detroit, Houston, and Toronto, we’ve opted to go with the best moment from the entire weekend itself. Rest assured that this is only meant for the sake of brevity.

And now, away we go…

FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG

Will Power’s season-opening victory at St. Petersburg wasn’t altogether smooth. Coming to a restart with 28 laps to go as the leader, Power appeared to slow down instead of accelerate (skip to 1:55 in the video above).

That caused the field to stack up, and in the process, Jack Hawksworth hit another car from behind before collecting Marco Andretti.

Power held the lead on the subsequent restart with 23 laps left and went on to win. But the earlier incident led to divided opinions among drivers and team owners on whether Power deserved blame for it.

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH

Ryan Hunter-Reay was contending for victory in the streets of Long Beach, but with 25 laps to go, he pretty much threw the afternoon away for himself and several others.

A quick pit stop for Josef Newgarden enabled him to come out with the race lead ahead of Hunter-Reay. But instead of biding his time, Hunter-Reay made a risky passing attempt on Newgarden at Turn 4 – and mayhem ensued.

Not one of the 2012 IndyCar champion’s finer moments.

BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK

Hunter-Reay was able to bounce back from that lowlight with a victory in the next race at Barber Motorsports Park. But the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama may have gone Power’s way, if not for an early error at the track’s “Charlotte’s Web” hairpin at Turn 5.

Power was holding a comfortable lead at Lap 15, when he locked up going into T5 and went into the gravel trap (skip to :18 in the video above). He swiped a tire barrier on his way out, but while he was able to get back on course, he’d lost the lead to Hunter-Reay in the meantime. RHR scored the win, while Power finished fifth.

GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS

A solid crowd and beautiful weather greeted the drivers as they made their way to the grid for the standing start. But pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled (skip to :25 of the video above), causing a mad scramble behind him to get away from his No. 17 KV/AFS Racing Chevrolet.

Unfortunately, both Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin got into Saavedra, spraying debris everywhere along the front-stretch. It wasn’t the only wild crash of the afternoon, which eventually ended with Simon Pagenaud atop the podium.

INDIANAPOLIS 500

Ryan Hunter-Reay vs. Helio Castroneves for racing’s biggest prize. Nothing more needs to be said. Skip to 7:20 for the good stuff.

Honorable mention to Kurt Busch.

CHEVROLET INDY DUAL IN DETROIT

Power won Race 1 of the Detroit doubleheader at Belle Isle Park, but it was his drive in Race 2 that may be equally memorable. On the first lap of that race, Power attempted to get past Newgarden on the inside but instead made contact that led Newgarden into collecting two other drivers.

Race Control tagged Power for avoidable contact. The Twittersphere cheered. And the Aussie was chastened. Actually, no, the last part didn’t occur. If anything, it just seemed to fire him up as Power roared all the way from the back of the field after the penalty to finish second behind Penske teammate Helio Castroneves.

Oh, what the reaction would have been if Power ended up one spot higher…

FIRESTONE 600 AT TEXAS

Ed Carpenter and Power appeared set to have an old-fashioned Texas duel for the win when the two made their final pit stops together with 36 laps left. But Power was hit with a drive-through penalty for speeding (penalties were a recurring theme for him until just recently).

Smooth sailing then for Carpenter, right? Wrong. A caution with less than 10 laps left gave Power the chance to go in for new tires before a restart with two laps to go.

But while Power rocketed to second with the fresh rubber, he ran out of time to catch Carpenter. With that, the IndyCars’ sole owner/driver joined his road and street course racer, Mike Conway, as a 2014 race winner.

SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON

Who had Carlos Huertas as the first of this year’s crop of IndyCar rookies to win a race? Be honest, we don’t like liars here.

The result that no one saw coming went down in the first race of the Houston weekend. Huertas stayed out during a caution with less than half an hour to go in the race, and he eventually took control of the lead. The Colombian was able to hold off Juan Pablo Montoya until another caution came out with four minutes left.

Everything was set for a restart with one lap to go, but Graham Rahal got into the back of Tony Kanaan as the field headed for what would have been the green flag. Race Control waved off the restart, giving the upset win to the previously unheralded Huertas.

POCONO INDYCAR 500

The first 158 laps at Pocono went by under green – and with minimal drama. But that changed following the race’s lone restart.

Under attack from teammate (and eventual race winner) Montoya, Power went to defend his lead and knocked Montoya’s front wing end plate off. Montoya was still able to take the lead shortly afterwards, leaving Power to deal with Castroneves.

But when Castroneves went for an inside pass on Power with 28 laps left, Power tacked to the inside twice and forced Castroneves to back off. Race Control told Power to serve a drive-through penalty for blocking, which helped send him to a 10th-place finish.

IOWA CORN INDY 300

You saw it. Yet you couldn’t quite believe it.

During the final caution of the Iowa Corn Indy 300, both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden rolled the dice, went to the pits, and got new tires ahead of a restart with nine laps to go.

The decision paid off handsomely as the two Americans went through the field like a hungry kid going through an Iowa corn on the cob. And with three laps left, Hunter-Reay caught Tony Kanaan before making the race-winning pass in Turn 1. Newgarden also got past Kanaan in the waning moments for a runner-up.

HONDA INDY TORONTO

Sebastien Bourdais, the four-time king of Champ Car, had not won an American open-wheel race since 2007.

But in the first race of a same-day doubleheader in Toronto, the Frenchman led most of the proceedings from pole before claiming a long-awaited victory for himself and for KV Racing Technology (which had not won themselves since the 2013 Indy 500 with Tony Kanaan).

HONDA INDY 200 AT MID-OHIO

Scott Dixon winning at Mid-Ohio after qualifying 22nd? That couldn’t possibly happen, we thought.

But a brilliant all-around performance that featured stellar driving from the New Zealand native and impeccable strategy from his Chip Ganassi Racing team enabled Dixon to earn one of the greatest victories of his career.

Meanwhile, Newgarden had to see a potential first IndyCar win go by the boards thanks to numerous errors on a Lap 65 pit stop. Those problems led to a devastating drive-through penalty that ruined his race.

But instead of frustration, Newgarden showed remarkable poise. There’s a reason why this guy is a fan favorite.

ABC SUPPLY WISCONSIN 250

Nobody had really taken control of the IndyCar championship when the series visited the Milwaukee Mile with three races left in the season.

But Power finally stepped up, and he made his biggest statement of the year. Despite having to save fuel late, Power was still able to leave second-place Montoya stuck in lapped traffic before taking the checkered flag.

And as a driver that was once pegged as a non-factor on ovals, Power relished the moment: “Yes! Man, I love winning on ovals,” he yelled with delight.

GoPro GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA

Last weekend’s race at Sonoma had been owned lock, stock, and barrel by Power until he lost the race off pit road to Dixon under a caution. Then, after restarting seventh on Lap 40 behind Dixon and a group of drivers that had stayed on track, Power spun in Turn 7.

The incident forced Power to rally for a 10th-place finish after falling back as far as 20th. It was a great recovery for sure, and instead of his points lead over Castroneves shrinking, it increased to the current 51-point margin.

But on the other hand, had Power not spun and went on to win instead of Dixon, would we even have a championship battle to talk about right now?

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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