Fontana IndyCar race finds itself in a different place of sorts


There will be a much different vibe for IndyCar drivers in this Saturday’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.

When IndyCar brought ACS back online in 2012 after a six-year absence from the schedule, the high-speed 2-mile Fontana, Calif., track became the de facto season-ending race.

And that’s the way it had been in 2012 (last of 15 races), 2013 (last of 19 races) and 2014 (last of 18 races).

But not 2015.

Instead of going on vacation, drivers will still have five more races after Saturday’s contest at Fontana.

ACS will host just the 11th race of this season’s 16-race schedule. As was the case in the three prior races, Saturday’s race will be a 250-lap event around the fastest track on the circuit.

It will also be the third of six oval track races on the 16-race schedule, meaning that four of this season’s last six events will be on an oval.

Meanwhile, nearly 500 miles to the north, Sonoma Raceway, which ironically enough hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup series this weekend, will host the IndyCar season finale on Aug. 30.

Will Power, who clinched his IndyCar championship in last year’s season-ending race at Fontana, lamented the change in the schedule.

“It’s going to be a bit different going to Auto Club Speedway this year and not having it as the season finale,” Power said. “You know, I’m always going to think back to winning my first Verizon IndyCar Series championship there last year, so it’s always going to have that ‘end of year’ feeling to it.”

While he’s sad to see Fontana no longer be the season-ending race, Power admits the track has been both good and bad for him since it came back on the schedule in 2012.

“For me, Fontana has been a roller coaster of emotions over the last few years,” Power said. “We missed out on the championship there in 2012.

“I came back to score what I consider one of my greatest wins there the next year. And last year we finally closed the deal there to win the title.”

But lamenting won’t change the schedule. Power still understands that even though Fontana is no longer the season-ending race, he still has important business to take care of Saturday.

“I love racing there; I think we all do,” Power said. “It’s amazingly fast, but it’s wide enough where you don’t really feel wheel to wheel.

“It’s just a great place for our cars and I’m excited to go back and try to put the Verizon Chevy in Victory Lane there once again.”

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IndyCar Power Rankings: Alex Palou still first as Newgarden, Ferrucci make Indy 500 jumps

NBC IndyCar power rankings
Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network

The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.

Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..

Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
  2. Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
  3. Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
  4. Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
  5. Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
  6. Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
  7. Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
  8. Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
  9. Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
  10. Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.

Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)


PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship

RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete

RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas

RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top

RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory

RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500