Mid-Ohio race first of three crucial road-course events remaining

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – As Verizon IndyCar Series drivers take to the track at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course today in preparation for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, the bigger picture is coming into focus.

Just five races remain in the 2017 season, three of which take place on permanent road courses including Mid-Ohio this weekend. It doesn’t take a mathematician to deduce that the drivers who are strong on the road circuits will have a leg up on capturing the championship. Of course, that could be just about any one of the top contenders.

HONDA INDY 200 AT MID-OHIO: Entry list

Points leader Scott Dixon won last month’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America. Oh, and by the way, the Chip Ganassi Racing standout has more wins at Mid-Ohio (five) than anyone.

"We've been fortunate to have a lot of success over the years at Mid-Ohio with, I think, five or so wins now,” said Dixon, driving the No. 9 NTT Data Honda. “The team really has this place figured out, too, as overall they have 10 wins, which is the most wins for a track by the team.

“The flow and rhythm of this track just really suits my driving style. It's a big weekend for Honda and I hope we can put on a good show for the fans who always turn out in big numbers here."

Dixon’s lead is miniscule over the Team Penske armada. He’s just three points up on Helio Castroneves (a two-time Mid-Ohio winner), 19 ahead of Simon Pagenaud (last year’s Mid-Ohio winner on his way to winning the championship) and 23 in front of Josef Newgarden (winner earlier this season at Barber Motorsports Park and runner-up to Dixon at Road America).

Don’t forget Will Power, the fourth Team Penske driver who won on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in May, and Graham Rahal, the hometown favorite who has a 2015 win at Mid-Ohio. Each is 64 points behind Dixon and they round out a top six in points who have shown great acumen on permanent road courses.

Which makes doing well this weekend paramount to kicking off the stretch run.

"Road courses can be really fun to race at and Mid-Ohio is definitely a fun one,” said Newgarden, driving the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet. “The last time we raced at a road course was at Road America, where we finished second, and we won earlier this season at Barber. The No. 2 PPG Chevrolet team has really come together this season especially with road courses, and with a fun crowd there, I'll have everything I need to race for a win with a great team behind me."

As strong as Will Power has been on road and street courses – with 26 of his 31 career wins on the twisty circuits – Mid-Ohio is the only current road or street circuit where the 2014 series champion has not been victorious. He’d like to check off that box this weekend and climb into the thick of the title hunt in the process.

“We won at the Indianapolis road course earlier this season with a really strong car,” said Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “The team prepared a beast of a car, which was all I needed to win that race. They're taking a lot of what we learned there and are applying it to our car this weekend. It's a fun track with a great crowd, and one of the tracks I have not won at yet.

“To get a win there would be great for our season to give us a boost in points that we need."

A pair of 45-minute practice sessions are on the schedule today, starting at 10 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. ET. Both will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, as will a third practice at 9:55 a.m. Saturday.

Verizon P1 Award knockout pole qualifying airs live on NBCSN at 2 p.m. Saturday. Coverage of the 90-lap race begins at 3 p.m. Sunday on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore airing at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.

Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio fast facts:

Race 13 of 17 on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule

Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a 2.258-mile, 13-turn permanent road course in Lexington, Ohio

Race distance: 90 laps / 203.22 miles

Track record: Simon Pagenaud, 1 minute, 3.8700 seconds (127.721 mph), set in 2016

Firestone tire allotment: Seven sets primary compound, four sets alternate (rookies and drivers outside the top 10 in points may acquire an additional primary set for the first practice session; In a dry-condition race, each car that completes the race must use one set of primary tires and one new alternate set for at least two laps each.

Push-to-pass: 200 seconds total for the race with a maximum duration of 20 seconds per activation.

TV information: Qualifying airs live at 2 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN; the race airs live at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on CNBC and has an encore telecast at 7 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN.

Ticket information: MidOhio.com

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