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'5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW' AS THE VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES OPENS THIS WEEKEND

'5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW' AS THE VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES OPENS THIS WEEKEND
The Verizon IndyCar Series season gets underway with Sunday's Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, the first American-born series champion in more than a decade, begins the defense of his crown and the series debuts its new, sleek car design. 
Those will be among the key storylines as the Verizon IndyCar Series visits St. Petersburg, Fla. to attack the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit that winds through downtown as well as a runway at Albert Whitted Airport. The event, won last year by Sebastien Bourdais, is scheduled for 110 laps and 198 miles on the scenic, waterfront layout.
This will be the eighth consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg and 15th race overall dating to the inaugural race in 2003.
The Verizon IndyCar Series will make its only stop in Texas on Saturday, June 9, for the DXC Technology 600.
Here are "5 Things You Need To Know" heading into Sunday's Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, beginning at 11:30 a.m. CT on ABC-TV as well as the INDYCAR Radio Network and Sirius Radio Ch. 214 and XM Ch. 209:
 
1. "New Car Smell" - The Verizon IndyCar Series will debut the long-anticipated new car design that once again will be powered by Chevrolet and Honda engines. The stylish and functional universal aerodynamic bodywork kit supplied by Dallara will cover each of its chassis beginning this season. The new car will come in two specifications: one for superspeedway ovals and the other for short ovals, permanent road courses and temporary street circuits.
It is a sleek, new look inspired by a previous generation of Indy cars in the 1990s that also brings safety and competition to the forefront. Longer, leaner, lower and smaller wings, and the elimination of the rear wheel guards are some of the highlights. The LED display system on each car is more sophisticated and will show position in the running order, time of a pit stop and when push-to-pass is engaged.

For safety, side impact protection was significantly improved and the design allows for a cockpit windscreen application that the series currently tested at Phoenix. A lighter car with more stability and downforce is expected to improve the maneuverability and possibly lead to more passing opportunities.

"The process started a year ago April, and we took the input of our fans, drivers, teams, manufacturers, partners - everyone shares in this," INDYCAR President of Competition & Operations Jay Frye said. "There is a historical component to this design, and it comes with a very forward look and all the latest components. Although the design looked good on paper it looks even better in person. We couldn't be more excited to get this car on the track."
2. "As American As Apple Pie"Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, a 27 year-old native of Hendersonville, Tenn., is the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion. More significantly, Newgarden is the first American-born series champion since Ohio's Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 and is expected to be one of the future faces of the sport.
 
Coming off a four-win season in his first year with powerhouse Team Penske, Newgarden is looking to become the first series champ to repeat since Dario Franchitti won three in a row from 2009-11. He could get off to a fast start of that defense given that Team Penske has won at St. Pete eight times, including four of the last six.
 
"I still have to pinch myself when I think about going to St. Pete as the Verizon IndyCar Series champion," Newgarden said. "Any driver that gets an opportunity, like the one I got with Team Penske, will tell you they expect to win right away. I certainly did as well, but I think we were all surprised at how quickly we gelled together and made it happen. But that is last year. The drive for the 2018 championship starts at St. Pete, and it's a track where I've never won before. That is our only thought this weekend: going to Victory Lane."

3. "Dancing With Myself" -
The Verizon IndyCar Series used to be able to boast a Dancing With The Stars champion and a finalist, but one has taken his dance steps to another series. Three-time Indy 500 champ Helio Castroneves, the 2007 DWTS champion, has moved over to the IMSA sports car series full-time for Team Penske. He will make two Verizon IndyCar Series starts this season for Penske - the INDYCAR Grand Prix in Indianapolis and the Indy 500 - as well as serve as Grand Marshal for Sunday's opener.
 
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe, a DWTS runner-up in 2016, will fill the huge personality void left by Castroneves and the five-time race winner from Toronto will look to further flourish on the track like the Brazilian star.
 
Get Hinchtown's take on the upcoming season in the video box or download directly here. Here's the YouTube link.
4. "Iron Man"Veteran Tony Kanaan, the 2004 series champion and 2013 Indy 500 winner, moves from Chip Ganassi Racing to A.J. Foyt Racing this season and brings along his series-record consecutive race streak with him. The 43-year-old Brazilian will be looking to make his 283rd consecutive start in Sunday's race to extend a streak that began June of 2001 in Portland.
 
It would be his 344th Indy-car start overall, which would tie him with Castroneves for third on the all-time list. Also, four-time series champion Scott Dixon will be looking to make his 225th consecutive start, which is second only to Kanaan, and Marco Andretti his 201st in a row, the fourth-longest in history.
 
5. "Rookie Rage" - Seven rookies are entered in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and four - Rene Binder, Jordan King, Matheus Leist and Robert Wickens - will be making their first Verizon IndyCar Series career starts this weekend.The other Rookie-of-the-Year candidates with previous starts under their belt are Zachary Clama De Melo, Zach Veach and Jack Harvey.
 
Leist, who will be Kanaan's teammate at A.J. Foyt Racing, is the youngster of the group at 19 years old. On Sunday, he will become the 17th teenager to start an INDYCAR race.
 
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg opens Friday with a pair of 45-minute practices, one beginning at 10:20 a.m. CT and another at 2:10 p.m. CT. Following a final practice session Saturday beginning at 10:10 a.m. CT, the three-round knockout qualifying will start at 1:20 p.m. CT. Green flag for Sunday's Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be 11:40 a.m. CT.

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The Texas Motor Speedway Media Relations Department is located on the 6th floor of The Speedway Club outside of Turn 1 of the speedway. 

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