What to watch for: IndyCar at Mid-Ohio (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN & Live Extra)

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SEIZE YOUR OPPORTUNITY

Mid-Ohio’s rolling hills and narrow ribbon means that those with track position are going to be sitting in the catbird’s seat. On-track passing can be at a premium here, and drivers may need to rely more on their pit crews to gain ground.

But while passing is tough, it’s not impossible. A big chance lies in Mid-Ohio’s signature Turn 2, known as the Keyhole, which comes at the end of a long straightaway. Ditto for Turn 4, a right-hand corner that leads into the track’s “rhythm” complex of corners – it’s where Charlie Kimball made his race-winning pass on Simon Pagenaud last year.

TIME’S RUNNING OUT FOR TITLE CONTENDERS

Helio Castroneves and Will Power are first and second in the standings with four races to go, and are separated by just 13 points. Meanwhile, their closest pursuers, Ryan Hunter-Reay (third, -69 points) and Simon Pagenaud (fourth, -71 points), pretty much have zero margin for error at this point. If they’re going to hunt down the Penske duo over these last few races, their big push needs to start today. RHR starts fifth today, while Pagenaud starts ninth.

ON TARGET?

It may be up to Tony Kanaan to keep Chip Ganassi Racing atop the podium at Mid-Ohio, where they’ve been since 2009. Kanaan starts toward the front in third position and has been a threat to win in the last few races. Meanwhile, Ryan Briscoe, Kimball and Scott Dixon are all starting within the last two rows of the grid. Count out a Ganassi driver at your own risk, but these three in particular may need some clever strategy in order to contend late.

SPEAKING OF STRATEGY…

Expect that to play heavily into the outcome of today’s race. Kimball pulled off a three-stopper last season for the win, but there will be plenty that try to make it on two stops. Other variables to keep in mind: 1) As reported by our man on the ground, Tony DiZinno, a lot of the teams will have three sets of Firestone ‘alternate’ reds on hand; and 2) this race has gone caution-free in each of the last two years.

UPSET ALERT

After a well-deserved runner-up at Iowa, Josef Newgarden came down to Earth in the Toronto doubleheader two weeks ago. But the American pilot will start on the front row alongside pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais, and a victory today for Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing would be a popular one in the paddock. Let’s also keep an eye on Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz (starting fourth), who’s picked up three podiums this year and won’t think twice about dueling with his veteran peers.

NHRA: Dodge/Mopar to unveil new Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car today in Denver

Photos/video courtesy Dodge/Mopar
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If you’re a fan of NHRA Funny Car racing and Dodge/Mopar, you may notice something different at this weekend’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver, Colorado.

Two-time (2011 and 2014) NHRA Funny Car champ Matt Hagan – who has won the last two NHRA national events in the last four weeks – will be piloting a newly-designed 2019 Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, a 10,000-horsepower Funny Car that makes its debut today at Dodge/Mopar’s premier NHRA national event.

The new Charger SRT Hellcat succeeds the former Mopar Dodge Charger R/T, which had been in use since 2015.

“We improved on the body design,” Hagan said of the new Charger Hellcat. “It was already a great design, a great body. But now, we’re going to have a little more downforce, a little more traction on these racetracks and it will be a huge performance advantage.”

The new Hellcat includes a number of innovations, including a new front splitter to increase downforce. Just like its predecessor, the R/T, the Hellcat will go head-to-head with Chevrolet’s Camaro in the NHRA Funny Car ranks.

“We will be able to press harder with more downforce on the nose, which translates into huge amounts of downforce on the run,” Hagan said.

According to a media release, the new Hellcat features major design changes in three key areas: the front end, bodysides and burst panel placement:

* “At the front, the shape of the nose has been tweaked and a new splitter (photo), built of carbon fiber and Kevlar like the rest of the Funny Car body, has been added. The splitter substantially mimics the look and shape of the production vehicle’s splitter while generating greater downforce to help plant the Funny Car to the track.

* “Bodyside scallops have been redesigned to more closely identify with the production Hellcat while also enhancing on-track function and performance. The deeper character lines provide greater visual ties to the street version of the Hellcat, while also helping to mitigate the “body burn” common on all Funny Cars due to the close positioning of the exhaust headers.

* “The location of the burst panel on the hood has also been reworked. The panel is now centered over the top of the engine to more efficiently release energy and pressure in the event of engine issues, a common occurrence in race cars that are pushed to the razor’s edge of performance.”

Since the R/T was first introduced into the Don Schumacher Racing corps, it has gone on to 50 wins, 42 runner-up finishes and 40 No. 1 qualifiers in NHRA national events and one NHRA Funny Car World Championship (Ron Capps, 2016).

The new Charger SRT Hellcat, which can exceed 330-plus mph and covers 1,000 feet in under four seconds, is the drag strip version of the supercharged, 707-horsepower production Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, the quickest, fastest and most powerful sedan in the world.

While Hagan will drive the first Hellcat, his other three Dodge-powered DSR teammates – Capps, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. – will soon take delivery of their own versions of the car over the remaining 11 races of the 2018 season.

One day after winning two weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables put the new Hellcat through its paces with several test runs. The results were so strong that it was decided to debut the car at Denver and run all qualifying and elimination rounds with it.

“We made four good, solid runs in testing at Norwalk,” said Hagan. “We put the body through a lot of different things and were really, really pleased with it.

“I really think it’s going to translate over to performance on the race track, and hopefully more win lights in the future.”

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