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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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.