What to watch for: IndyCar’s Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway

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FORT WORTH – Here’s a look at what to look out for in the ninth round of IndyCar’s 2015 campaign, the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (8:50 p.m. ET, check local listings), the second oval race for the series following the Indianapolis 500 last month.

Texas-style falloff

They all have different terms for it. Ryan Briscoe: “skating around on eggs.” Stefano Coletti: “a roller coaster.” For Tony Kanaan, it’s simply “slippery.”

They’re the ways you can describe racing at 215 mph around the 1.5-mile TMS after your tires begin falling off after just two laps.

“I think it’a going to be pretty difficult,” Graham Rahal said. “I can feel it at the end of my second qualifying sim lap (in practice). I could feel my tires going of already.”

Rahal doesn’t believe anyone will be able to make it a full tire-stint under those conditions.

“We asked for this,” Rahal said. “We wanted this on the road courses and the ovals. It’s more in the driver’s hands and the teams’ to get it right, as compared to being in a pack and getting lucky.”

Rahal said this will lead to “a ton” of passing at track once known for pack racing (the kind of racing track president Eddie Gossage wants to get closer to after a dud in 2014). But don’t to expect the “life or death” moments of years past.

“I think some of the Chevy drivers said they felt like there would be pack racing here again,” Rahal said. “There’s just no chance. It is going to be tough (Saturday).”

Introduction to “No Limits” 101

Stefano Coletti had one thought when he turned his No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet into TMS’ 24-degree Turn 3 for the first time.

“Wow, this is banked.”

That’s the reaction of someone who has raced on only one other oval in his career, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Coletti will be making his first start at TMS Saturday night, starting dead last in the 23-car field.

“Indianapolis and Texas are completely different,” Coletti said after his qualifying attempt Friday. “Here it is pretty hard … it squishes you down like you are going up and down on a ride.”

Sage Karam, who has more extensive oval experience, is also being baptized by the 1.5-mile track, but much further forward in the field in 10th.

“When you go into Turn 3, you start turning in and it’s flat,” Karam said. “Then all of sudden you hit max bank and the thing just wants to rotate on it’s own and it gives you that weird sensation. It kind of caught me by surprise.

“I came in actually, two or three laps into the stint. I’m like, ‘Guys, is that normal to feel like that?’ They’re like, ‘yeah, absolutely.’ You just got to commit to this place.”

A Texas-sized microcosm

Through eight races in 2015, the Verizon IndyCar Series has seen six different teams win with seven drivers. TMS has had its own version of this parity over the last seven years.

In the last nine races in Fort Worth, eight different winners have visited Victory Lane. The only driver to have an encore performance has been Helio Castroneves (2009, ’13).

The top 10 on the starting grid includes six drivers who have yet to fire the six-shooters and wear the cowboy hat that say you won at Texas Motor Speedway.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.