IndyCar points tighten as halfway point approaches

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The Verizon IndyCar Series crosses the halfway point of its season this weekend at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 from Texas Motor Speedway (June 10, 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

As always, the series is widely recognized as one of the toughest, most competitive championships on the planet, and one of the indicators that onlookers use to justify that sentiment is the championship picture, which is notoriously close year in and year out.

Graham Rahal was the seventh winner in as many races this year at Detroit race one, before doubling up in the second race.

For example, last year’s standings looked like this following Detroit:

  1. Simon Pagenaud 357
  2. Scott Dixon 277
  3. Helio Castroneves 271
  4. Josef Newgarden 259
  5. Alexander Rossi 242
  6. Carlos Munoz 242
  7. Will Power 240
  8. Tony Kanaan 240
  9. Juan Pablo Montoya 233
  10. Charlie Kimball 227

Simon Pagenaud led the championship at that time on 357 points, with tenth-place Charlie Kimball sitting on 227, 130 points adrift of Pagenaud. While that appears close, it actually pales in comparison to the 2017 title picture. This year’s standings look like this:

  1. Scott Dixon 303
  2. Helio Castroneves 295
  3. Takuma Sato 292
  4. Simon Pagenaud 278
  5. Josef Newgarden 259
  6. Graham Rahal 251
  7. Alexander Rossi 246
  8. Will Power 233
  9. Tony Kanaan 223
  10. James Hinchcliffe 216

Scott Dixon leads the way, but with 303 points, he has scored 54 fewer than Pagenaud had scored at this time last year. And, the gap to tenth-place James Hinchcliffe is 87 points, considerably smaller than last year.

The lead gap to second was 80 points last year coming out of Detroit. This year, it’s 8!

As it stands, the top three (Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, and Takuma Sato) could all leave Texas with the points lead by scoring a victory. Simon Pagenaud, too, could leave with the points lead with a win and a little misfortune hitting those ahead of them.

And even though everyone from fifth-place Josef Newgarden on down can’t mathematically assume the championship lead after Texas, strong finishes or a even a victory for any of them would result in a further dent in the championship gap to the leaders.

And with a second double-points event still looming (the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma), the 2017 championship picture remains anyone’s for the taking.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

 

Jack Miller wins MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his 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.