Five things to watch for this IndyCar season

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With a new IndyCar season, there is always great anticipation.

More than ever, this season showcases a lot of change. IndyCar has a new entitlement sponsor with NTT, a new network in NBC, fresh faces and two new racetracks to challenge the drivers.

Here are five things to watch as the season begins:

    1. Fernando Alonso returns to IndyCar to compete in his second Indy 500. His first attempt in 2017 was met with great enthusiasm, but that was not his primary focus that season because he was running full time in Formula 1. He made a huge impression on the field by starting fifth and leading 27 laps before suffering an engine failure on Lap 179. In 2019, he could challenge again for the win after taking the checkers in this year’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in his second start there.
    2. A crowded Rookie of the Year battle.  As much as 25 percent of the field could be made up of rookies on a given week. This talented crop of young guns brings a diverse background to the sport, from second-generation Colton Herta’s experience in Indy Lights, to Marcus Ericsson’s five-year career in Formula 1 to Felix Rosenqvist’s time in Formula E, the rookies will launch off the grid fast.
    3. The addition of some famous road courses. Laguna Seca and the Circuit of the Americas replace Sonoma Raceway in 2019. Both courses will be challenging and add cachet to the series. Laguna Seca is heavily imprinted on road racers’ hearts while COTA is the only purpose-built Formula 1 track in the country. And with an uncertain future for F1 on that track, IndyCar rapidly could become the cornerstone.
    4. Scott Dixon is chasing history. Seven is a magic number, but first Dixon has to get to six. He is chasing A.J. Foyt’s record of seven Champ Car championships, and Dixon is in sight of a record that seems to be unassailable. If he can win this season, he’ll be one away from Foyt and his seven, as well as matching a milestone also achieved by Formula 1’s Michael Schumacher, and NASCAR’s Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson.
    5. IndyCar has a full-time home with NBC. After several years of splitting  time between multiple networks, the series has a partner that is fully invested in growing the sport. The greatest impact could be felt in the Indianapolis 500, which will air May 26 at 11 a.m. ET on NBC — the Greatest Spectacle in Racing’s new home for the first time in more than 50 years.

NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series begins on March 10 with the Streets of St. Petersburg at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app. Watch the entire 2019 IndyCar season on NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

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Scott Dixon fastest on the second day of Indianapolis 500 practice

Indy 500 practice Dixon
James Black/IndyCar
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Scott Dixon was fastest on the second day of Indy 500 practice Thursday, turning a lap at 226.102 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Takuma Sato was second, followed by Marco Andretti, Conor Daly and rookie Alex Palou.

The rest of the top 10 were: Colton Herta, Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe, Fernando Alonso and James Davison.

THURSDAY PRACTICE: Click here for Day 2 speeds at Indianapolis

COMBINED SPEEDS: Click here for the overall speeds from the first two days

The session had one incident as Alonso crashed with just less than an hour left in the session. The Arrow McLaren SP driver was optimistic that the car could be repaired without a backup.

Among the other notables on the speed chart Thursday: Ryan Hunter-Reay (11th); Tony Kanaan (14th); Helio Castroneves (16th); Josef Newgarden (18th); Graham Rahal (19th); Will Power (23rd); Alexander Rossi (26th) and defending race winner Simon Pagenaud (27th).

Felix Rosenqvist (24th) and rookie Dalton Kellett turned the most laps (141) around the 2.5-mile oval.

Teams mostly focused on race setup Thursday as they will receive 80 extra horsepower in the “Fast Friday” practice that will feature speeds above 230 mph for qualifying Saturday and Sunday.

The Indy 500 will take place Aug. 23; coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET on NBC with the green flag at 2:30 p.m.

HOW TO WATCH THE INDY 500 ON NBCDetails for the Aug. 23 race

DAILY INDY 500 SCHEDULEClick here for all on-track activity in August at Indy