IndyCar's homestretch: Four races to decide season title

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The NTT IndyCar Series season is down to four races to determine the 2019 championship. Realistically, there are four drivers and three teams still in contention, but the road includes two types of oval tracks and a pair of different road courses.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, the series champion in 2017, will take a 16-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi into next week’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. But reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske, the 2016 series champion, and five-time and defending series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing shouldn’t be discounted as they have the experience to take the crown.

A look at the final four races, the first of which begins this weekend:

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Pocono Raceway

When: Sunday, Aug. 18

TV Coverage: 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Circuit Description: 2.5-mile oval with three uniquely shaped corners. The front straightaway is the longest and widest of those on the 17-race schedule.

Track’s History: Staged its first Indy car race in 1971, and Team Penske has won a record 10 series races. Will Power of Team Penske, a winner in 2016 and ’17, should be expected to perform well there.

Title Hopefuls: Scott Dixon (2013) and Alexander Rossi (’18) each have race wins at the track, but Rossi’s was not only the more recent of the two, it was the more impressive – he led 180 laps, the most at the track by an Indy car race winner. Josef Newgarden has twice finished second at the track.

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Gateway 2018

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway

When: Saturday, Aug. 24

TV Coverage: 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Circuit Description: 1.25-mile oval with a tighter corner radius in Turns 1-2.

Track’s History: Indy car’s debut was in 1997, a CART race won by Paul Tracy. There were four CART races held there followed by three Indy Racing League races. Will Power won last year’s race.

Title Hopefuls: Give the edge to Alexander Rossi, who finished second there last year, or Josef Newgarden, who won in 2017 in commanding fashion (170 laps led). Whatever happens, figure it will be done in quick fashion as Power’s track-record qualifying lap is 23.7206 seconds (189.709 mph). That’s zippin’ for one of the sport’s smallest tracks.

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Portland International Raceway

When: Sunday, Sept. 1

TV Coverage: 3 p.m. ET, NBC

Circuit Description: One of the shorter permanent road courses in U.S. racing at 1.964 miles (the locals consider it 1.97 miles). There are three left turns and nine right turns, all set in a city park on the north side of Portland.

Track’s History: Hosted its first Indy car race in 1984 (the first of three races won by Al Unser Jr. there). Noted as a track for champions as the following series winners won races there: Mario Andretti (twice), Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Emerson Fittipaldi (twice), Michael Andretti (three times in succession), Alex Zanardi (twice), Gil de Ferran (twice), Christiano da Matta (twice) and Sebastien Bourdais (twice).

Title Hopefuls: The NTT IndyCar Series has raced there only once, and the podium featured Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais. Scott Dixon was the highest finishers of this year’s top championship contenders, recovering from a first-lap incident (in which Marco Andretti’s car flipped as shown below) to finish fifth. Simon Pagenaud finished sixth with Alexander Rossi eighth and Josef Newgarden 10th.

Portland 2018

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WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca

When: Sunday, Sept. 22

TV Coverage: 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Circuit Description: A flowing and hilly 2.258-mile layout that is famous for its Corkscrew corner where Alex Zanardi drove through the downhill dirt to swipe the lead from Bryan Herta on the last lap of the 1996 race.

Track’s History: The first Indy car race there was in 1983, with Teo Fabi driving to victory lane. Bobby Rahal followed with four consecutive race wins, which stands as the track record for career Indy car victories. Rahal’s dominance and Zanardi’s pass are the two moments fans remember most about this track. The last Champ Car race there was in 2004, a second straight win by Patrick Carpentier. Most of the current field tested there in February (see Ryan Hunter-Reay's car there below).

Title Hopefuls: Only Scott Dixon has raced there in an Indy car. He finished fourth in 2001 and sixth in ’02.

Laguna Seca 2018 test

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