Milestones are within reach, but Andretti seeks wins

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As the 2017 season Verizon IndyCar Series prepares to launch, there are plenty of statistics that teams, drivers and fans will be keeping an eye on in the coming year.

With the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg opening the schedule Sunday, several milestones are expected to be met and multiple records are in danger of being broken. Here’s a look at some stats to keep an eye on throughout the 2017 campaign.

Marco Andretti – By leading 10 laps this season and by starting every race, the third-generation racer will hit a pair of milestones: reaching 1,000 career laps led and notching the 200th start of his career in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway. Should Andretti start all 17 races this season, he will become the first driver in history to make his first 200 starts consecutively. Andretti hasn’t missed a start since his 2006 debut.

If he gets to 200 this season, Andretti will be fifth on the all-time list for consecutive starts, trailing fellow current drivers Tony Kanaan (265), Helio Castroneves (209), and Scott Dixon (207) and retired Indy car champion Jimmy Vasser (211).

“I think the 200-race thing, I’m blessed to be able to be here and go do it and be unscathed in a lot of ways,” Andretti said. “I try to drive smart, I try to finish races, I try not to crash.”

But with just a pair of career victories to his credit (Sonoma 2006 and Iowa 2011), Andretti is as determined as ever to put 2016’s struggles behind him.

“Obviously, I’m frustrated with the win tally,” he said. “Podiums are all right, top-10s are great, but we just need to be a little closer to the pointy end. My plan this year is to go into it thinking I still know how to do this, then go out and do it.”

Other start milestones – James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden are on pace to make their 100th career Indy car starts in 2017. Hinchcliffe would hit triple digits at Iowa Speedway in July and Newgarden would notch his 100th in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Two decades – Castroneves and Kanaan are beginning their 20th season in Indy car racing. Having graduated from Indy Lights teammates to Indy cars in 1998, the Brazilians have combined for 653 starts, 46 wins, 62 poles, 166 podium finishes and 9,590 laps led to go with Castroneves’ three Indy 500 wins (2001, 2002, 2009) and Kanaan’s 2013 Indy triumph and 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Servia’s 200th – Another Indy car vet could hit the 200-start mark in 2017 as well. With 199 starts under his belt, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Oriol Servia needs to take one more green flag to hit the 200-start milestone. He is currently scheduled to make that start at the 101st Indianapolis 500 in May and run three races in all, which would tie him for 20th on the all-time list with Rick Mears at 202.

Vets climb all-time starts list – Several long-time Indy car drivers continue ascending the all-time starts list. Castroneves (327) and Kanaan (326) sit in fourth and fifth on the all-time list, respectively, and are poised to pass Al Unser Jr. (329) early in the season. Dixon (currently at 270) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (201) can climb to ninth and 17th, respectively, on the all-time chart if they start all 17 races.

Iron men - Kanaan currently holds the record for consecutive race starts at 265 and running, but other active drivers could make their way up the list this season. By starting the first three races of 2017, Castroneves (209) would pass Vasser (211) for second on the list of consecutive starts. Dixon (207) can also pass Vasser at the INDYCAR Grand Prix in May.

Lap leaders – Castroneves’ 5,594 laps led places him fifth on the all-time list, just 208 behind Al Unser for fourth place. Dixon needs to lead one lap to reach 4,900 and 101 laps to total 5,000. Kanaan needs lead just four laps to reach 4,000.

Penske runs in circles – With a win at one of this season’s six oval races, Team Penske will notch its 100th oval victory in team history. It would be the first Indy car team to do so. Should Castroneves pull off a win for owner Roger Penske on any track, it would break the Brazilian’s tie with Rick Mears as the winningest Penske driver. Each has 29 right now.

Podium finishes – With 90 career podiums in 327 starts, Castroneves sits sixth on the all-time list. Dixon is right behind with 89 podium showings. Dario Franchitti holds down fifth place with 92.

Career wins – Having claimed his 40th career win at Watkins Glen International last year, Scott Dixon passed Al Unser for fourth on the all-time win list. Michael Andretti is next on the list for Dixon, sitting in third place with 42 career victories. Sebastien Bourdais is tied for sixth with Bobby Unser on the all-time list with 35. Castroneves, Will Power and the retired Mears are knotted for 11th place with 29 wins.

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg airs live at noon ET Sunday on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. All practice and qualifying sessions leading up to the race will stream live on Indycar.com.

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