What to watch for: IndyCar Toronto Race 1 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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STANDING START

It’s finally arrived – the debut of standing starts in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Understandably, some of the drivers are nervous; after all, Toronto usually delivers a steady rate of attrition and that rate could go up considerably if one or more drivers messes this up. In that situation, Graham Rahal (starting 18th) and the rest of the drivers going off from the rear of the field may have nowhere to hide. “Starting in the back, we’re going to be in the midst of all the mess if something happens,” he said on Friday. This could be a race-changer, right off the bat.

GANASSI IN THE GROOVE?

Last week’s podium sweep at Pocono Raceway had to be a major boost for Chip Ganassi Racing, and they look set to continue that momentum in the Toronto doubleheader with Dario Franchitti on pole for today’s race and Scott Dixon (your pole sitter for tomorrow’s Race 2) starting fifth. Franchitti, who finished third last weekend on the “Tricky Triangle,” has a decorated history at Toronto with three victories to his credit at Exhibition Place, while Dixon has collected four Top-5s in six career starts there. And don’t forget about Charlie Kimball, who turned in a strong drive to runner-up last summer in T.O.

MR. POPULAR

Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe is always the crowd favorite when the series heads to Toronto, but he hasn’t gotten the results he’d like on his home course. In 2011, he finished 14th and last year, he had to bow out early due to engine problems. Today, he’ll start unofficially from Row 7, but if he can get through the potentially hazardous standing start, he has the ability to pick his way through the field on a street circuit that’s unforgiving but also features multiple passing opportunities.

BOURDAIS SET FOR BATTLE

Four-time Champ Car champion and former Toronto winner Sebastien Bourdais made a welcome return to the front of the grid for today’s race, and it would appear that he and his No. 7 Dragon Racing Chevrolet team have already benefited from the perspective of new engineer Tom Brown. Time and again throughout his career, the Frenchman has delivered some dazzling efforts on street circuits. Could we see another today? Watch out for him on the standing start, as he has a good bit of experience with those thanks to his previous life in Formula One (Scuderia Toro Rosso, 2008-2009).

Watch this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto online and on your mobile device.

Top Fuel driver Austin Prock earns 2019 NHRA top rookie honors

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Having just completed a promising first year in NHRA Top Fuel competition, Austin Prock is on the road to even greater drag racing success in his career.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Prock was named the winner of the 2019 Auto Club Road to the Future Award during Monday night’s annual NHRA Awards dinner at the Ray Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California.

The Road to the Future Award is NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year, and Prock was among the brightest young stars on the circuit this past season, including winning his first national event at the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle, the 16th race on the 24-race schedule.

What made that first win all the more sweeter is it came at the same event that his boss, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, captured his milestone 150th career win.

One month ago, Prock set a personal best run of 3.688 seconds at 334.40 mph over veteran driver Doug Kalitta in the first round of eliminations at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals three weeks ago in Ennis, Texas (suburban Dallas).

“I am proud of the season this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team put together,” Prock said in a media release. “My guys worked their asses off all season long to give me the opportunity to win the Auto Club Road the Future Award. I couldn’t have done it without them.

“I would have never been here without John Force and Robert Hight (president of John Force Racing). They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and I owe the world to them. I hope I made them proud.”

Prock became only the 10th rookie in the history of the NHRA pro ranks to both win a race in their first season and also go on to win the Road to the Future award. He also was the 13th rookie in the sport’s history to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six race playoffs.

Prock becomes the sixth John Force Racing driver to earn the Road to the Future Award, joining Tony Pedregon (1996), Hight (2005), Ashley Force-Hood (2007), Mike Neff (2008), Courtney Force (2012) and Brittany Force (2013).

Austin Prock is the son of veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock, who tuned Hight to his third career NHRA Funny Car championship this past Sunday.

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