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IndyCar’s final four races: A stat primer on title contenders

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Since Pocono Raceway (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) has returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar in 2013, there hasn’t been a consistent theme yet.

So far there have been four different winners and four different polesitters, only one of whom has gone onto win:

  • 2013: Win: Scott Dixon (started 17th), Pole: Marco Andretti (finished 10th)
  • 2014: Win/Pole: Juan Pablo Montoya
  • 2015: Win: Ryan Hunter-Reay (started 8th), Pole: Helio Castroneves (finished 16th)
  • 2016: Win: Will Power (started 8th), Pole: Mikhail Aleshin (finished 2nd)

With four races remaining in the 2017 season, there’s seven drivers still within realistic title contention, although the top four hold a distinctly better chance given they’re only covered by 17 points.

Here’s how the top-10 in points sits going into Pocono:

  1. Josef Newgarden, 453
  2. Helio Castroneves, 446
  3. Scott Dixon, 445
  4. Simon Pagenaud, 436
  5. Will Power, 401
  6. Graham Rahal, 395
  7. Takuma Sato, 381
  8. Alexander Rossi, 358
  9. Tony Kanaan, 320
  10. James Hinchcliffe, 316

Of the top seven, who are covered within 72 points, here’s their records at the final four tracks in recent years, since the current chassis was introduced in 2012:

POCONO

  • Newgarden: 2013: Started 15th/Finished 5th, 2014: Started 21st/Finished 8th, 2015: Started 4th/Finished 2nd, 2016: Started 2nd/Finished 4th
  • Castroneves: 2013: Started 6th/Finished 8th, 2014: Started 7th/Finished 2nd, 2015: Started 1st/Finished 16th, 2016: Started 4th/Finished 19th
  • Dixon: 2013: Started 17th/Finished 1st, 2014: Started 15th/Finished 5th, 2015: Started 11th/Finished 9th, 2016: Started 19th/Finished 6th
  • Pagenaud: 2013: Started 8th/Finished 6th, 2014: Started 11th/Finished 6th, 2015: Started 2nd/Finished 7th, 2016: Started 14th/Finished 18th
  • Power: 2013: Started 4th/Finished 4th, 2014: Started 2nd/Finished 10th, 2015: Started 3rd/Finished 4th, 2016: Started 8th/Finished 1st
  • Rahal: 2013: Started 16th/Finished 18th, 2014: Started 14th/Finished 19th, 2015: Started 5th/Finished 20th, 2016: Started 11th/Finished 11th
  • Sato: 2013: Started 7th/Finished 22nd, 2014: Started 4th/Finished 21st, 2015: Started 9th/Finished 6th, 2016: Started 3rd/Finished 22nd

GATEWAY

Only Castroneves and Dixon, among the top-seven in points, have past starts there and it was on the old surface. Castroneves scored his second career IndyCar podium finish there in 1999 driving for Hogan Racing, finishing second to Michael Andretti, and he won the series’ most recent race there in 2003. In five Gateway starts, Castroneves has finished seventh, second, ninth, second and first.

WATKINS GLEN

  • Newgarden: 2016: Started 12th/Finished 2nd
  • Castroneves: 2016: Started 4th/Finished 3rd
  • Dixon: 2016: Started 1st/Finished 1st
  • Pagenaud: 2016: Started 7th/Finished 7th
  • Power: 2016: Started 2nd/Finished 20th
  • Rahal: 2016: Started 20th/Finished 21st
  • Sato: 2016: Started 22nd/Finished 17th

SONOMA

  • Newgarden: 2012: Started 22nd/Finished 23rd, 2013: Started 17th/Finished 24th, 2014: Started 2nd/Finished 6th, 2015: Started 2nd/Finished 21st, 2016: Started 10th/Finished 6th
  • Castroneves: 2012: Started 4th/Finished 6th, 2013: Started 5th/Finished 7th, 2014: Started 6th/Finished 18th, 2015: Started 15th/Finished 15th, 2016: Started 2nd/Finished 7th
  • Dixon: 2012: Started 5th/Finished 13th, 2013: Started 2nd/Finished 15th, 2014: Started 3rd/Finished 1st, 2015: Started 9th/Finished 1st, 2016: Started 7th/Finished 17th
  • Pagenaud: 2012: Started 9th/Finished 7th, 2013: Started 10th/Finished 5th, 2014: Started 15th/Finished 3rd, 2015: Started 4th/Finished 16th, 2016: Started 1st/Finished 1st
  • Power: 2012: Started 1st/Finished 2nd, 2013: Started 3rd/Finished 1st, 2014: Started 1st/Finished 10th, 2015: Started 1st/Finished 7th, 2016: Started 4th/Finished 20th
  • Rahal: 2012: Started 13th/Finished 5th, 2013: Started 8th/Finished 11th, 2014: Started 14th/Finished 20th, 2015: Started 6th/Finished 18th, 2016: Started 5th/Finished 2nd
  • Sato: 2012: Started 26th/Finished 27th, 2013: Started 13th/Finished 23rd, 2014: Started 20th/Finished 4th, 2015: Started 18th/Finished 8th, 2016: Started 15th/Finished 14th

Looking at past results from the last few years, here’s a few things that immediately stick out:

  • Newgarden and Dixon have made something out of nothing at Pocono, turning often poor qualifying results into great race finishes. At a 500-mile race, it’s fair to say qualifying means less here than at any of the other final four races.
  • Pagenaud has been good but not great at Pocono. As a superspeedway win is the only thing missing from his resume – he got his first short oval win earlier this year at Phoenix – it is the last thing he needs to complete the full versatility checklist.
  • Castroneves can rely on the most Gateway experience among the title contenders, plus his dominance in Iowa, to bolster his championship hopes.
  • Power, last year’s Pocono winner, could parlay himself back into title contention with an encore. He got the gap to Pagenaud down to 20 points after his win and Pagenaud’s accident here last year
  • Rahal and Sato have struggled for results at Pocono. At 58 and 72 points back of Newgarden, respectively, another year where they fail to achieve a needed result will likely knock them from the fringes of title contention out of it entirely.
  • As the series gets closer to the final two road course races, it’ll put a premium on qualifying. Within those above stats at Sonoma, only Rahal in 2012, Pagenaud and Sato in 2014 and Sato again in 2015 have delivered a top-10 finish from outside the top-10 on the grid. Newgarden was able to pull off a 12th-to-second run at Watkins Glen last year but expecting an encore would be difficult; he’ll need to qualify better on this occasion.

Starting this weekend, expect some fireworks as the series begins a three-in-a-row stretch of races in as many weekends before a one-week breather, then the Sonoma finale on September 17.

MRTI: Road America Sunday notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Sunday at Road America for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires saw two series complete their second races of the weekend, with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda taking to the track – the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires completed their weekend on Saturday.

Indy Lights saw a driver take an emotional first career win, while a chaotic USF2000 race saw the championship leader complete a weekend sweep.

Reports on both races are below.

Indy Lights: Franzoni Takes Emotional Maiden Win in Indy Lights

Victory Franzoni took an emotional first career victory Sunday at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Victor Franzoni finished third in Race 1 on Saturday, but did so despite driving what he described as “the worst of my career” to the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Sunday, however, was the exact opposite for the affable Brazilian driver, who took his maiden Indy Lights win in what has been an emotional weekend for him and his Juncos Racing team as they raced in memory of the late Jeff Green, Franzoni’s Pro Mazda teammate last year.

Pato O’Ward started on the pole, but engaged in an intense duel with Santi Urrutia in the opening laps.

Their battle came to a head on Lap 4, when Urrutia tried diving inside of O’Ward entering Turn 5, but they both ran wide on the exit – O’Ward even took to the outside grass – which opened the door for Franzoni to blitz by both of them entering Turn 6.

O’Ward, Urrutia, and Colton Herta then immediately had a hard fight for second, which saw them go three-wide in Turn 8. Ultimately, Urrutia lost out as he was pushed off the track and suffered front wing damage, forcing a pit stop for repairs – he ultimately finished seven laps off the lead in seventh.

Up front, Franzoni pulled away from everyone to win by nearly seven seconds. Herta emerged in second after battling with O’Ward, while Aaron Telitz passed O’Ward in the final laps to take the final spot on the podium. Ryan Norman rounded out the top five, with Dalton Kellett finishing sixth.

Full results are below.

USF2000: Kirkwood Survives Race 2 Carnage to Complete Weekend Sweep

Kyle Kirkwood survived a lot of chaos to win Race 2 at Road America and complete the weekend sweep. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

While Race 1 almost appeared easy for Kyle Kirkwood, who passed pole sitter Jose Sierra for the lead in Turn 1 off the start and then led every lap on the way to victory, Race 2 was a completely different story.

Kirkwood needed to outduel Kaylen Frederick and Lucas Kohl and survive a seemingly endless slew of carnage in Race 2 to grab the win, his fifth of the year, to complete a weekend sweep.

Three times the race was slowed by full-course cautions for on-track incidents.

The first came on the opening lap for separate incidents involving Sabre Cook, Russell McDonough, Jose Sierra, and Max Peichel – Cook and McDonough appeared to go off into the Turn 1 gravel, while Sierra and Peichel got together approaching Turn 5 and ended up against the outside wall.

A second caution was flown only a couple laps after racing resumed when Darren Keane and Kyle Dupell got together in Canada Corner, spinning off the track and stalling as a result.

And a third caution was flown in the waning laps when Lindh, who had been running second, went off into the Turn 3 gravel trap, while Kory Enders and Calvin Ming got together and spun in Turn 6.

Up front, Lucas Kohl had worked his way into the lead, passing Lindh in Turn 1 off the start, while Kirkwood had moved up to second, ahead of third-place runner Kaylen Frederick.

A restart with one lap remaining saw Kirkwood jump to the outside of Kohl entering Turn 1, and he completed the pass before they even got to the corner, Frederick then was able to get around Kohl for second, while Colin Kaminsky and Igor Fraga rounded out the top five. Of note: second-place man in the championship Alex Baron finished seventh, allowing Kirkwood to widen an already immense championship lead.

Results are below. Kirkwood now leads Baron by 94 points. Frederick now sits third, jumping ahead of Fraga and Sierra, who sit fourth and fifth.

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