Five things to watch for during Firestone Grand Prix at Monterey

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The CART series visited Laguna Seca 22 times from 1983 through 2004.

And then the IndyCars disappeared until this weekend.

Laguna Seca Raceway was the site of the finale from 1989 through 1996 with some of the greatest names in open wheel racing crowned on these grounds.

Their presence hovers over the field this week as Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon are vying for the championship in a race where it’s twice as easy to gain or lose ground. This week, the points, and the stakes, are doubled.

Even though the statistics are from a different era, it is notable that the winner of an IndyCar race at Laguna Seca has started third or better in all but two events. Jimmy Vasser won from sixth in 1997; Max Papis (25th) came from deep in the field to win in 2001.

There were five or fewer lead changes in 19 of the 22 races, including the last 15.

Here are some of the storylines to watch this Sunday:

  1. The points contenders’ performances on road and street courses will be under a microscope this week: Rossi (with an average finish of 5.55, two wins and nine top fives), Dixon (6.27 with two wins and eight top-fives), Newgarden (6.36 with two wins and eight top fives) and Pagenaud (8.00 with two wins and no other top-fives) all have another top five in their sights. While Rossi has a 41-point deficit to erase, he also has the best record at this type of circuit in 2019.
  2. Equally important, Rossi is seeking to extend his current top-five streak on twisty tracks to seven consecutive. He finished second and fifth at Belle Isle and has not been outside the top five since.
  3. He has far fewer top-fives than his three rivals, but Pagenaud currently has the longest top-10 streak (eight consecutive on road courses and ovals). This includes one win at Toronto, which gives him hope.
  4. The rookie of the year battle comes down to Felix Rosenqvist and Santino Ferrucci, but who has momentum? Ferrucci had it with back-to-back fourth-place finishes at Pocono and Gateway. Rosenqvist stole it with a second-place finish at Portland, which is his second runner-up finish in the last four races.
  5. A mechanical issue at Gateway snapped an eight-race streak on ovals and road courses, but he still had an impressive mark on the twisty tracks. Rahal’s seven-race, top-10 streak on that course type literally came to a crashing halt before the race even started when he was involved in a multicar crash on the opening lap of the Grand Prix of Portland. Restarting that streak could be difficult because Rahal was unable to score back-to-back top-10s in the previous seven road or street courses.
  6. MORE: IndyCar Contenders ready to settle championship fight

MORE: Coltan Herta’s Connection to an amazing corkscrew pass

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Adam Cianciarulo serves notice with Monster Energy Cup win

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In his debut on a 450 Kawasaki, Adam Cianciarulo held off teammate Eli Tomac in a hotly contested final Main to win the Monster Energy Cup at Sam Boyd Stadium: One race; one win.

“My first thought was, ‘what I life I get to live,’ ” Cianciarulo told NBCSN after the race. “That whole race I knew (Eli) was behind me. We had a gap and I knew it was going to come down to the Joker Lane.”

For Cianciarulo, it was all about managing pressure. He earned the holeshot in the first and final Mains. In the first race, he lost his bike and the lead under the bridge. In the final Main, he withstood a fierce charge for 10 laps from one of the best riders ever in Supercross.

Tomac stalked Cianciarulo for eight laps. At one point, he made the pass, but Cianciarulo expertly executed a crossover move and retook the point in the same corner. Tomac knew he was going to have to change things up if he wanted to make a pass for the lead and the overall win.

“Going into the Joker, I couldn’t really ever make the pass stick, so I thought let me get in this thing a lap early and see if I can make the speed up on the track,” Tomac said after the race.

He had a reason to believe it would turn out in his favor because he used the tactic in the second Main and made up four spots on the track – advancing from seventh to fourth.

“Just the opportunity to race with Eli,” Cianciarulo continued from Victory Lane. “You know, he’s accomplished so much and just to be out there on the track with him. I’m just stoked to be out there with him.”

Cianciarulo would have been forgiven if he thought Las Vegas owed him something. Entering the Supercross season finale this year, he only needed a clean finish to win the 250 West championship. He crashed and handed the win over to Dylan Ferrandis, but instead of allowing that to frustrate him, Cianciarulo used it as motivation.

“(Winning this race) is a little bit of redemption, but to be honest with you I look at (the accident in) Vegas now after winning the outdoor motocross championship as something that helped me get there,” Cianciarulo said. “It’s helped me grow.”

With his overall win, Cianciarulo pocketed a $100,000 check. The payday could have been $1 million if any rider had been able to win all three Mains. Instead, three Mains featured three different riders. Tomac won the first Main, Malcolm Stewart the second, and Cianciarulo the third.

Tomac stormed to the lead in the first Main and was slicing through the field in Main 2 before he flipped his bike on a bad landing. He fell from challenging for the lead to 10th. Ten laps does not allow a lot of time to make up for a mistake, but Tomac was able to make up significant time by taking the Joker Lane one lap before Cianciarulo and Stewart.

Malcolm Stewart finished third in his return to Supercross racing. SupercrossLive.com

Stewart would win the second Main, completing a comeback nine months in the making. Early in the Supercross season, he crashed hard in Phoenix and broke his femur.

“I’ve been waiting nine months for all this; I’m just having fun out there.” Stewart said at the end of Main 2. “We’ve got another race to go and hopefully we’re on the top step, but if not, we’re already making dreams come true. I’ve already marked things off my checklist. It was just to win a Main Event.”

Entering the final Main Cianciarulo, Tomac, and Stewart were in a dead heat in regard to points. Cianciarulo finished second in the first two Mains, Tomac had a 1-3 with Stewart at a 3-1. The battle would be a “winner takes all” scenario.

How they finished in the final Main determined the overall result with Stewart finishing third in the race and overall standings.

Vince Friese had the ride of his life. With a 4-5-5, he finished fourth.

Friese was also trying to erase an injury-plagued season.

“I had a good (2019) season going,” Friese said. “I don’t think I got to show everything I had. It was frustrating getting hurt just a few races in and five months off the motorcycle is not fun, so I was hungry tonight.”

The World Champion Tim Gajser scored a 7-4-4 and rounded out the top five.

Dean Wilson crashed hard in the last lap of practice. He was transported to the hospital with a leg injury.

Evan Ferry won the Supermini division on the strength of winning both Mains. Gavin Towers and Myles Gilmore rounded out the top three.

In 250 Futures, Jett Lawrence won both Mains and the overall. Jalek Swoll and Brock Papi rounded out the top three.

Main 1 Results
Main 2 Results
Main 3 Results
Overall Results

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