What to Watch For: IndyCar’s Firestone 600 at Texas

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FORT WORTH – The Verizon IndyCar Series is in the Lone Star State for its ninth race of the season, the Firestone 600 (kilometers) at Texas Motor Speedway.

The 248-lap race is set to go green at 8:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Here are the interesting storylines entering the race at “No Limits, Texas.”

GREEN TRACK

The Forth Worth area received a healthy dose of showers Saturday afternoon, which washed away two days worth of rubber put down on the track by both IndyCar and the Camping World Truck Series.

This should have an interesting impact on tire wear early in the race, which was one of the theme’s of last year’s race at the 1.5-mile race.

Scott Dixon, who won last year’s race in a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing, said “there’s so many things” to take into account with tire degradation.

“It could be balance. It could be you missed the stop on the COP by a little bit so it’s pushing a little bit, or understeer,” Dixon said Friday. “Breathing the throttle a little bit definitely helps throughout the race if you’re getting into a situation where you can utilize that. Also the lane usage. The low lane is definitely quicker, but it also chews up the tires pretty quick.

“I think throughout the race you see people running second, third lane. That’s for a reason, to try to help the longevity of the speed that you run.”

Josef Newgarden, who finished third in the last oval race at Indianapolis, will start fifth Saturday night in his second best start at Texas after beginning second in 2014. His best finish was eighth in 2013.

“Texas is always tough,” Negarden said. “It’s tough with the transitions in the banking. It’s two to three-wide on the restarts, a lot of the racing is two to three-wide, so you got to have a car that can go multiple lanes, you gotta have a car that takes care of the tires.”

One driver who could take advantage of the tire wear here is Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi. A Formula One driver in 2015, Rossi’s co-owner Bryan Herta believes Rossi’s experience with the tire wear in that series could benefit him Saturday night.

“The pace at the start of a tire run towards the end of a tire run is a huge difference,” Herta said. “That means you really got to take care of the car. I think that’s what he’s more used to in Formula One, the tires they run there, they degrade a lot over the course of a run. I think this seems familiar to him in that way. Even though it’s on an oval, if that make sense. I think in some ways the experience he’s had is going to pay off more here than some of the early places that we’ve been.”

Rossi will start a career best ninth.

DOME SKIDS, BABY

When IndyCar rolled in TMS at the beginning of May for an open test, the main topic of contention was dome skids.

That’s the name of the 7 millimeters of metal attached to the bottom of the chassis in IndyCar in order to keep them from going airborne. Combined with titanium blocks on the underside, the ride around TMS is a bit rougher for drivers, especially In Turn 2.

“Kind of just a bit before turn two, the bumps are pretty bad there,” Dixon said. “With the dome skid and the titanium plates, it hits the bottom, hits a lot harder and moves your car around. That’s the same in the exit of (Turn) 4. Those are areas that everybody is being a little cautious about. When it comes down to the race, man, you’ll have everybody using every lane possible, I think.”

Graham Rahal wasn’t a fan of the dome skids in May and he’s not enthusiastic about them this weekend.

“In my estimation, I think the domed skids are going to hurt the racing a little bit, but we’ll find out and see tomorrow,” said Rahal, who had the fastest speed in the final 30-minute practice session Friday night.

The combination of dome skids and titanium have also created more frequent showers of sparks as they bounce off the track surface.

SAME OLD TEXAS

James Hinchcliffe is continuing his tour of tracks he missed racing at in 2015 after his injury during Indianapolis 500 practice.

Hinchcliffe’s last run at TMS in 2014 came while he was still at Andretti Autosport. His best finish at Texas was fourth in 2012.

Luckily for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, Texas “didn’t change too much” in the last two years.

“Not a ton, it’s a little bumpier up top, which is kind of normal every year, it seems to get a little bit worse up there,” said Hinchcliffe. “You’re going going to want to run up there. It’s going to come into play for sure at some point over the race. It’s still the same old Texas, it’s still a tricky place and tire concentration is still the No. 1 goal.”

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

NBCSN

“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).