Drivers put aside lure of new car to focus on 2017 finale

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With one race to go in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, you'd think drivers out of the title picture would be thinking about the new era about to be ushered in by the debut of the universal aero kit in 2018.

Although the anticipation is certainly building throughout the INDYCAR paddock, most drivers continue to focus squarely on Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma before turning their gaze to next season.

“I think a lot of us were thinking about 2018 as you're trying to get the (contract) deal done, get things put together. As soon as it's done, it's like, 'Great, glad that's behind us,' and you focus right back onto what you're doing,” said Alexander Rossi, who announced a multiyear deal to stay with Andretti Autosport on Sept. 1, two days before he won the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.

“There are certainly a lot of reasons to be positive based on 2017. It's going to be a little bit more of a level playing field, I guess, with everyone resetting to a new car in 2018.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series unveiled the new universal kit that attaches to the Dallara IR-12 chassis during testing at three tracks this summer. The car received high marks from teams, drivers and fans alike, reminding many of the fast and sleek Indy cars of the 1990s.

New car or not, Rossi will keep his sights on finishing 2017 in the top five in points before he starts thinking in earnest about next year. After scoring his first Verizon IndyCar Series road course win at Watkins Glen International two weeks ago, Rossi goes into the double-points season finale at Sonoma Raceway sixth overall, just 16 points out of fifth.

It's the same further down the standings, where AJ Foyt Racing driver Conor Daly is 18th in points going into the final race. He's having no trouble keeping his feet in 2017 after being more competitive in the final stretch, including a season-best fifth-place finish in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park in late August.

“It's not really that hard to stay focused on 2017 because it feels like our year has just started recently,” Daly said. “We just want to finish strong, but as soon as Sonoma is over I am going to be wanting to get back in a car already.”

One person in the paddock who has no trouble looking to 2018 is team owner/driver Ed Carpenter, who only runs ovals in No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet. Carpenter’s on-track season ended last month at Gateway.

While his team is still competing and he wants to end the season on a high note, the driver half of Carpenter is already starting to look forward.

“It's a unique offseason because we are going into a whole new era with pretty significant changes to the car, so knowing that we are going to be doing some testing relatively soon makes it easy to look ahead as a driver for me,” he said.

“For sure, there is going to be change and you are going to have to adapt and change, but as an older, more experienced guy, I think it helps because I have driven more types of Indy car than a lot of guys who are in the series now.”

Daly may also be focusing on ending his 2017 season on a high note, but admitted feeling a bit pumped about what's to come when the new car hits the track.

“I can't wait to drive it,” he said.

“It looks great, obviously, and I will be very curious to see how the testing continues to go and then when everyone gets the cars. It would be really cool to see 24 fulltime cars on the grid with more teams and more people involved.”

First, though, is the 2017 season finale. The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma airs live from Sonoma Raceway at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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