What to watch for: IndyCar at Mid-Ohio (1:30 p.m. ET, CNBC and Live Extra)

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Today’s Verizon IndyCar Series race is one of the most crucial rounds of the season; it’s the 14th of 16 races and the final road course test before the season finale at Sonoma Raceway later this month.

But before the 500-miler at Pocono Raceway and then the Sonoma round to cap off this month of August, here’s what to watch for at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200:

ALL ABOUT THE POINTS

Provided points leader Juan Pablo Montoya can get through Mid-Ohio without his 42-point lead to Graham Rahal getting too dented, he will be in good position with two races remaining to secure his second North American open-wheel championship.

If he stumbles however, it opens the door back to fifth-placed Will Power, 55 back, Montoya’s Team Penske teammate and the reigning series champion.

Rahal (42 back), polesitter Scott Dixon (47), Helio Castroneves (54) and Power (55) are only separated by 13 points and their positions will likely jockey around on Sunday. Montoya should be safe in the lead but the potential to lose maybe 15 to 20 points is possible if he finishes outside the top five.

DIXON DELIVERS AGAIN?

Five “w’s” in eight years makes for a run the rest of the IndyCar field envies, and yet for Dixon, winning is simply business as usual at Mid-Ohio. Yet in his current points position this year, a sixth in nine years would be the most important to keep his title hopes alive. Dixon doesn’t need a win just for extending his great record, but to gain a big points number on points leader Montoya (currently third, 47 points back).

GANASSI LOOKS FOR 7-UP

Yes, 7-Up is part of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which sponsors rival Andretti Autosport. But if Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball or rookie Sage Karam wins Sunday, it will make for an incredible seven-in-a-row run for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams at Mid-Ohio. Dixon (2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014), Kimball (2013) and Dario Franchitti (2010) have banked the last six wins.

HOME COOKING FOR RAHAL?

The career year for Graham Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team rolls into both driver and team’s home race, outside Columbus at the Lexington, Ohio road course, now adorned with an Ohio State replica helmet. They need a good qualifying run because the run of Harry Houdini recover-from-disaster type performances on race day can’t go on forever.

A DOUBLE-DIGIT WINNER?

Earlier this week we ran down the possibilities of potential winners who haven’t already been one of the nine different winners in 2015. There’s a number of good contenders who could be winner No. 10 this season.

WILL’S REBOUND?

How bizarre is this stat – Dixon hasn’t finished in the top five in the last four races, and Will Power hasn’t in the last three. Power needs a boost to what’s been a tough season as defending champion, and Mid-Ohio – oddly a place he’s never won – serves as his last best shot to gain a wealth of points before Montoya heads to the track he won at last year, Pocono.

NEWGARDEN’S REVENGE?

A year ago, Josef Newgarden was destined for his first career win, only to see it all fade away on his final pit stop. Newgarden’s banked a pair of wins this year and looks to become the first driver (of four this year, along with Montoya, Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais) to make it to three wins. Newgarden has also won both Honda-sponsored races in Barber and Toronto driving, ironically, the No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet.

STRATEGERY

Always a gamble with the potential to be done on two stops, Mid-Ohio usually equates to a three-stopper if fuel conservation is no factor (it still usually is). This is arguably the best race of the year for “strategy snobs” and following who pits when is often one of Mid-Ohio’s biggest talking points.

OTHER TIDBITS

Takuma Sato looks for a good finish in his 100th start… Ryan Briscoe makes his first road course start with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports… Luca Filippi and Rodolfo Gonzalez make their first starts since Toronto, and Filippi’s case, his first start since becoming a father… Justin Wilson makes his first start on a permanent road course with Andretti Autosport since the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.