PREVIEW: Firestone 600 at Texas

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ rather draining run of five races in as many weekends – plus qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on the one non-race weekend – comes to a conclusion with this Saturday evening’s Firestone 600 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Here’s what to look out for in the ninth round of the season, the third of five ovals and the first race in the second half of the 16-race calendar:

2016 Firestone 600 – Talking Points

Domed skids, Round 2

After really not having much of an impact at the Indianapolis 500, how the “infamous” domed skids play at a track with higher banking and will they make cars more difficult to drive figures to be a talking point this weekend. Following the test in May, it was still in the crosshairs.

Rossi’s next oval bow

After the Indianapolis 500 win, Alexander Rossi heads to a track that he’s tested at once and already likes, as part of his oval baptism.

“Texas is my favorite oval that I’ve driven on actually,” Rossi said during this week’s IndyCar teleconference. “We had the one test there at the beginning of May, and it was awesome. I really, really enjoyed it. We did a little bit of a group run towards the end of the day, and it was very interesting for me to kind of be on an oval where there were so many different lines. As you said, it’s very high banked, so it’ll make the racing incredibly exciting, and I’m very much looking forward to Saturday night.”

In terms of what the Indy 500 winner has done for a recent encore on the first oval since, here’s the recent results: Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay 19th in 2014 after retiring, Tony Kanaan was third in 2013 and Dario Franchitti was 14th in 2012. Does it forecast anything for Rossi in the now No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda this weekend? Probably not, but it’s still interesting to note.

Pagenaud vs. the field

With his 80-point lead and at a track where he has a couple top-six results but hasn’t really looked the measure of challenging for a win, Simon Pagenaud has a chance to further establish his title credentials with a strong run on IndyCar’ lone 1.5-mile oval this season. If he doesn’t and slips back in the field, it could open the door for Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and others to make inroads.

The ‘ol tire degradation story, and downforce levels

How much and how fast the Firestone tires fall off over a course of a stint has become a big part of Texas Motor Speedway races the last few years, since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis. Combined with downforce selections, these two items will help tell the tale on Saturday night.

The final word

Hunter-Reay has a good assessment on the challenge of Texas: “Getting a win at Texas Motor Speedway for the DHL Honda is at the top of my list. This track can be very tricky to get the setup just right, so as a four-car team, we’ll all be working together to prepare the best setup we can for race day.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 10
11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, NBCSN (Live)
3:15 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/cumulative time of two laps), NBCSN (6 p.m. ET)
6:45 – 7:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 11
4 p.m. – Systems check
7:06 p.m. – Driver Introductions
7:45 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
7:50 p.m. – Firestone 600 (248 laps/360.84 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

1. Scott Dixon
2. Tony Kanaan
3. Helio Castroneves
4. Juan Pablo Montoya
5. Marco Andretti
6. Carlos Munoz
7. Charlie Kimball
8. Ryan Briscoe
9. James Jakes
10. Gabby Chaves
13. Will Power (Pole)