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IndyCar’s final four races: A stat primer on title contenders

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Since Pocono Raceway (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) has returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar in 2013, there hasn’t been a consistent theme yet.

So far there have been four different winners and four different polesitters, only one of whom has gone onto win:

  • 2013: Win: Scott Dixon (started 17th), Pole: Marco Andretti (finished 10th)
  • 2014: Win/Pole: Juan Pablo Montoya
  • 2015: Win: Ryan Hunter-Reay (started 8th), Pole: Helio Castroneves (finished 16th)
  • 2016: Win: Will Power (started 8th), Pole: Mikhail Aleshin (finished 2nd)

With four races remaining in the 2017 season, there’s seven drivers still within realistic title contention, although the top four hold a distinctly better chance given they’re only covered by 17 points.

Here’s how the top-10 in points sits going into Pocono:

  1. Josef Newgarden, 453
  2. Helio Castroneves, 446
  3. Scott Dixon, 445
  4. Simon Pagenaud, 436
  5. Will Power, 401
  6. Graham Rahal, 395
  7. Takuma Sato, 381
  8. Alexander Rossi, 358
  9. Tony Kanaan, 320
  10. James Hinchcliffe, 316

Of the top seven, who are covered within 72 points, here’s their records at the final four tracks in recent years, since the current chassis was introduced in 2012:

POCONO

  • Newgarden: 2013: Started 15th/Finished 5th, 2014: Started 21st/Finished 8th, 2015: Started 4th/Finished 2nd, 2016: Started 2nd/Finished 4th
  • Castroneves: 2013: Started 6th/Finished 8th, 2014: Started 7th/Finished 2nd, 2015: Started 1st/Finished 16th, 2016: Started 4th/Finished 19th
  • Dixon: 2013: Started 17th/Finished 1st, 2014: Started 15th/Finished 5th, 2015: Started 11th/Finished 9th, 2016: Started 19th/Finished 6th
  • Pagenaud: 2013: Started 8th/Finished 6th, 2014: Started 11th/Finished 6th, 2015: Started 2nd/Finished 7th, 2016: Started 14th/Finished 18th
  • Power: 2013: Started 4th/Finished 4th, 2014: Started 2nd/Finished 10th, 2015: Started 3rd/Finished 4th, 2016: Started 8th/Finished 1st
  • Rahal: 2013: Started 16th/Finished 18th, 2014: Started 14th/Finished 19th, 2015: Started 5th/Finished 20th, 2016: Started 11th/Finished 11th
  • Sato: 2013: Started 7th/Finished 22nd, 2014: Started 4th/Finished 21st, 2015: Started 9th/Finished 6th, 2016: Started 3rd/Finished 22nd

GATEWAY

Only Castroneves and Dixon, among the top-seven in points, have past starts there and it was on the old surface. Castroneves scored his second career IndyCar podium finish there in 1999 driving for Hogan Racing, finishing second to Michael Andretti, and he won the series’ most recent race there in 2003. In five Gateway starts, Castroneves has finished seventh, second, ninth, second and first.

WATKINS GLEN

  • Newgarden: 2016: Started 12th/Finished 2nd
  • Castroneves: 2016: Started 4th/Finished 3rd
  • Dixon: 2016: Started 1st/Finished 1st
  • Pagenaud: 2016: Started 7th/Finished 7th
  • Power: 2016: Started 2nd/Finished 20th
  • Rahal: 2016: Started 20th/Finished 21st
  • Sato: 2016: Started 22nd/Finished 17th

SONOMA

  • Newgarden: 2012: Started 22nd/Finished 23rd, 2013: Started 17th/Finished 24th, 2014: Started 2nd/Finished 6th, 2015: Started 2nd/Finished 21st, 2016: Started 10th/Finished 6th
  • Castroneves: 2012: Started 4th/Finished 6th, 2013: Started 5th/Finished 7th, 2014: Started 6th/Finished 18th, 2015: Started 15th/Finished 15th, 2016: Started 2nd/Finished 7th
  • Dixon: 2012: Started 5th/Finished 13th, 2013: Started 2nd/Finished 15th, 2014: Started 3rd/Finished 1st, 2015: Started 9th/Finished 1st, 2016: Started 7th/Finished 17th
  • Pagenaud: 2012: Started 9th/Finished 7th, 2013: Started 10th/Finished 5th, 2014: Started 15th/Finished 3rd, 2015: Started 4th/Finished 16th, 2016: Started 1st/Finished 1st
  • Power: 2012: Started 1st/Finished 2nd, 2013: Started 3rd/Finished 1st, 2014: Started 1st/Finished 10th, 2015: Started 1st/Finished 7th, 2016: Started 4th/Finished 20th
  • Rahal: 2012: Started 13th/Finished 5th, 2013: Started 8th/Finished 11th, 2014: Started 14th/Finished 20th, 2015: Started 6th/Finished 18th, 2016: Started 5th/Finished 2nd
  • Sato: 2012: Started 26th/Finished 27th, 2013: Started 13th/Finished 23rd, 2014: Started 20th/Finished 4th, 2015: Started 18th/Finished 8th, 2016: Started 15th/Finished 14th

Looking at past results from the last few years, here’s a few things that immediately stick out:

  • Newgarden and Dixon have made something out of nothing at Pocono, turning often poor qualifying results into great race finishes. At a 500-mile race, it’s fair to say qualifying means less here than at any of the other final four races.
  • Pagenaud has been good but not great at Pocono. As a superspeedway win is the only thing missing from his resume – he got his first short oval win earlier this year at Phoenix – it is the last thing he needs to complete the full versatility checklist.
  • Castroneves can rely on the most Gateway experience among the title contenders, plus his dominance in Iowa, to bolster his championship hopes.
  • Power, last year’s Pocono winner, could parlay himself back into title contention with an encore. He got the gap to Pagenaud down to 20 points after his win and Pagenaud’s accident here last year
  • Rahal and Sato have struggled for results at Pocono. At 58 and 72 points back of Newgarden, respectively, another year where they fail to achieve a needed result will likely knock them from the fringes of title contention out of it entirely.
  • As the series gets closer to the final two road course races, it’ll put a premium on qualifying. Within those above stats at Sonoma, only Rahal in 2012, Pagenaud and Sato in 2014 and Sato again in 2015 have delivered a top-10 finish from outside the top-10 on the grid. Newgarden was able to pull off a 12th-to-second run at Watkins Glen last year but expecting an encore would be difficult; he’ll need to qualify better on this occasion.

Starting this weekend, expect some fireworks as the series begins a three-in-a-row stretch of races in as many weekends before a one-week breather, then the Sonoma finale on September 17.

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”