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Five things to watch for at Honda Indy Toronto at Exhibition Place

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With last week’s victory, Alexander Rossi has clawed his way to within seven points of Josef Newgarden as the series heads into Round 11 of the NTT IndyCar Series. Based on their performance so far on street and road courses this season, one would have to give good odds that a change could change at the end of the Honda Indy Toronto at Exhibition Place.

Looking back on the past two runnings of this race, however, that might not be as simple as it would appear.

Here are some of the storylines to watch this Sunday:

  1. Based on recent performance, Rossi can easily lay claim to being the hottest driver on the circuit. The first 10 rounds for the Andretti Autosport hot shoe have ended outside the top 10 only twice this year and he has a current five-race, top-five streak to his credit.
  2. The top two in the standings hold a considerable lead over the field with a 61-point advantage for Newgarden over third-place Simon Pagenaud. That means the leaders need only keep their principle rival in sight – and it appears Newgarden and Rossi have been well-matched at Toronto over the past two seasons. In 2017 Newgarden won this race with Rossi on his heels in second. Last year, Rossi edged Newgarden by one spot as they struggled to finish eighth and ninth.
  3. Still looking for his first top-five of the season, James Hinchliffe could finally finish in the low single digits this week. He enters Toronto with a current three-race streak of top-fives that is unmatched. Earlier this year, his best result came on another temporary circuit of St Petersburg; he backed that up with another sixth on the permanent road course of Barber Motorsports Park.
  4. With three sub-15th-place finishes in his last five starts, Scott Dixon should rebound this week. Six of eight attempts on street and road courses have ended in top-five finishes including his victory in the second race at Belle Isle. He won last year’s edition of this race, which is past of an eight-race streak of top-10s.
  5. If Pagenaud is going to make up any ground on the points leaders, this is a good week to do so. Pagenaud is one of four active drivers (along with Dixon, Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti) with at least a three-race streak of top-10s. He finished ninth in 2016, fifth in 2017 and second last year.

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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

Road to Indy
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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter