The Verizon IndyCar Series is making its annual Southern California stop in mid-June rather than at the end of the short IndyCar season, This weekend the MAVTV 500 race weekend is a two-day event at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana CA. Friday is practice and qualifying, and warm-up and race on Saturday afternoon. All in all, the IndyCars are on track for four sessions prior to the 250-lap race on the 2-mile D-shaped oval.

The only other group on track this weekend is the Victory Lane Historics – old time indycars.

Going into this weekend, Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet still leads the standings with 374 points. If JPM wins this weekend, he will be closer to winning the IndyCar Triple Crown. Having won the 2015 Indianapolis 500, if he wins here and then again at the August Pocono race, he will be on par with Al Unser Jr, who is the only other indycar driver to date who has won the Triple Crown in one year.

Montoya is 27 points ahead in the standings of his Penske teammate, Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Third and fourth overall are also Chevrolet drivers: Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California.

Fifth and top Honda driver is Graham Rahal/No.15 Mi-Jack.

Three Rookies had an hour practice Friday morning: Gabby Chaves/No.98 Bowers & Wilkins Curb Honda-who is leading the Rookie standings with 168 points, for P15; Stefano Coletti/No.4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet; and Sage Karam/No.8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet. Coletti is second in the Rookie standings, with 122 points, for P20; and Karam, who isn’t running the full season, is third with 95 points, in P21.

The first morning IndyCar practice is 45 minutes, followed by a 75-minute practice at noon. Qualifying begins at 4:45pm. Sunday morning’s System Check is half an hour at 9:30am, with the race beginning at 1:30pm.

Twenty-three IndyCars are entered. The ever-revolving lineup for Dale Coyne Racing has Pippa Mann in No.18 Honda and Tristan Vautier in No.19 Honda as this weekend’s drivers. Ed Carpenter, co-team owner of CFH Racing is in No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing Chevrolet. He drives the ovals, with Luca Filippi in the car for road races. The team’s other driver, Josef Newgarden/No.67 Hartman Oil CGS Racing Chevrolet. won the last race in Toronto, and now sits eighth in the standings.

Thirty-eight different drivers have run at least one IndyCar race this season.

Thursday was setup day at the track, and done in a very desultory fashion, with the extreme heat. All cars are on site and have started the Tech process.

Penske Pavillion

Holmatro Team

No.19 Dale Coyne Honda

The decision to select this particular weekend in the IndyCar schedule, this particular format, and particular time slot is a joint decision between IndyCar, the promotor MAVTV, and the TV broadcaster. In the past, the Auto Club IndyCar race has been the last race of the season in August/September, followed by the annual Awards Banquet. This year the last race of the season will be held in Sonoma – the last weekend in August. This year the annual June NASCAR road race at Sonoma Raceway is this weekend on Sunday.

Heat will be a factor all weekend, as California is experiencing another heat wave. Friday morning the temperature was already close to 80 degrees F by 9am. Thursday at 5:30pm it was nearly 100 degrees F. Saturday is forecast for a few degrees cooler. There is little to no breeze. It’s sunscreen weather for sure.