Fuel & Tires: IndyCar heads to streets of Long Beach

 

WILL LESTER

The open-wheel racing season continues with on-track action in both IndyCar and Formula One this weekend. Elsewhere, NASCAR returns to Texas with races in the Monster Energy Cup Series and the XFINITY Series.

The Verizon IndyCar Series holds what is arguably its most famous race besides the Indianapolis 500 with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The second race of the 2017 season is the 34th consecutive year the series has raced on the 1.968-mile course on the Long Beach waterfront.

Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud won here last year while Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power are the only drivers in this year's field with multiple wins. Bourdais, who won the season opener at St. Petersburg three weeks ago, won this race three times in a row from 2005-2007 and Power won in 2008 (the last Champ Car-sanctioned points race) and 2012.

Drivers who took their first win at this race is a who's who of IndyCar royalty, including Michael Andretti (1986), Paul Tracy (1993), Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Helio Castroneves (2001), Mike Conway (2011) and Takuma Sato (2013). Andretti also won in 2002, his last full-time season in IndyCar. Michael's father, Mario, won the first two races here in 1984 and 1985.

Al Unser, Jr. holds the all-time win record at Long Beach with six wins from 1988-1995 and held the record for fastest average race speed until last season.

If, like me, you enjoy watching replays of past races, check out IndyCar's YouTube channel. Among more recent races, you can watch the 1997 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and the 1998 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. While the IndyCar Series currently offers some of the world's greatest racing, I consider the late 1990s to be the pinnacle. There were close to 30 cars on track every race, the cars themselves looked like beasts and had nearly 1,000 horsepower.

Coverage of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach starts at 3 p.m. Sunday on the NBC Sports Network.

F1 HITS CHINA

Formula One heads to the Shanghai International Circuit for Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix. It is the 14th consecutive year that the series has raced in China with Ferrari and Mercedes both having scored four wins at the track.

Much has been made about Ferrari's offseason gains to Mercedes with Ferrari winning the season opener at Australia two weeks ago with driver Sebastian Vettel. This weekend could be the first true test to see how close Ferrari really is to Mercedes, who has won the last three world championship titles.

Not surprisingly, Lewis Hamilton has the most wins of any driver at Shanghai with four. The only other active driver with multiple wins in China is Fernando Alonso, who will be lucky to score a point this weekend in his under performing McLaren machine. Ferrari teammates Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have each have one win at China. The recently retired Nico Rosberg won this race last year.

Coverage of the Chinese Grand Prix starts at 1 a.m. Sunday on NBC Sports Network.

NASCAR IN THE LONE STAR STATE

NASCAR will be at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 on Sunday. The 1.5-mile oval track, which has hosted NASCAR since 1997, has recently been repaved which could lead to some unpredictable racing.

Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with six wins at Texas, most recently winning three in a row from fall 2014 through fall 2015. Other multiple Texas winners include Kyle Busch, who won here last fall, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.

The new stage format that NASCAR introduced this season does seem to be mixing up the points standings. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott are first and second in points, each with one win. Team Penske teammates Joey Logano, who has yet to win, is third in points and Brad Keselowski sits in fourth place with two wins. Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch hasn't finished higher than seventh in the last five races and is 19th in points.

Perhaps even more surprising is that Ford has three wins this season while Chevrolet has won twice and Toyota has only one win. Last season, Toyota ruled the series with 16 wins compared to Chevy's twelve wins and Ford's eight wins.

Coverage of the Monster Energy Cup's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 starts at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on FOX.

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