OTHER KEY BATTLES –
Pagenaud's fourth podium of the year has netted him a 15-point lead on Briscoe for fifth in points, although back-to-back podiums have lifted the Australian from ninth to sixth in the standings. Hinchcliffe and Kanaan are separated by only two points for seventh and have an outside shot at the top five, but would need to rely on bad luck in front of them to make up the gap (31 from Pagenaud to Hinchcliffe).
Graham Rahal (ABOVE) is 28 points clear of Rubens Barrichello for 10th in points, while just 24 markers cover 11th to 17th. It would take a tough day for Rahal to realistically open the door for anyone else to break through, and judging by how well he ran at Texas, that might be even more of a long shot.
It's the last chance for Josef Newgarden, back after missing Baltimore, and Simona de Silvestro to score that elusive first top-10 finish of the season. Newgarden's had flashes of brilliance throughout the year without a complete weekend with no issues from start to finish, while de Silvestro has persevered and maintained a brave face despite being saddled with the inferior Lotus engine all season.
By starting, de Silvestro will be able to overtake Sebastien Bourdais in the standings – although Bourdais has started only 11 of 14 races and de Silvestro has started them all.
CONWAY OUT, CUNNINGHAM IN – There was some cryptic chatter on Twitter Wednesday about certain drivers being offered seats for Fontana – Townsend Bell made it public and at least one other driver was known to be in the frame for a seat at Auto Club Speedway. Wade Cunningham later tweeted he was packing his bags en route to the track and, as it turned out, he's the one in a one-off, last-minute opportunity.
Mike Conway, whose oval luck in IndyCar has been nothing short of horrid with two major accidents in the Indianapolis 500, decided on Thursday to step out of his seat at A.J. Foyt Racing, citing his discomfort in oval racing. It was a rare and undeniably brave announcement for a racer to make. Cunningham's a good oval shoe and now has a de facto audition for further opportunities in 2013.
LAST CALL FOR AUDITIONS – It's the likely sign-offs for Rahal (Ganassi) and Barrichello (KV) at their respective teams and the possible last drive for Briscoe at Penske. Sebastian Saavedra gets another go for AFS/Andretti Autosport for his third start of the year. Meanwhile, for everyone else not in a confirmed status for 2013, it's the final chance of the year to make an impression before the long off-season slog of budget gathering and meetings commences.
JENKINS SIGNS OFF – A legendary voice of IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will call his last race this weekend. After missing Baltimore, Bob Jenkins will have a 500-miler for this last time as lead announcer. If you forgive the occasional missteps on the mic in recent years, you can't doubt Jenkins' passion and enthusiasm for the sport, and whoever is set to replace him in 2013 will have some big shoes to fill. Here's wishing all the best to Bob and his family in this new stage of his life, away from the tracks on a regular basis.
“This race is of course, very special to me because it's my last after 34 years in television,” Jenkins said in a statement. “I know I'll be very emotional at the end of the evening, but I'm confident I've made the right decision. I couldn't possibly thank everyone individually, especially the fans, who have been so supportive of me in my career. My only hope is that at the conclusion of the race we have 26 healthy drivers. That will be the greatest send-off I could possibly ask for.”
There's one other change in the TV ranks with Chris Neville in for Bell, as Townsend is racing the Lotus Evora for Alex Job in this weekend's American Le Mans Series race in Virginia. Neville makes his IndyCar pit-reporting debut, although he has a wealth of sports car and NASCAR experience.
The IZOD IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 airs live Saturday night on NBC Sports Network with pre-race coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. Eastern and the race itself green at 8:50 p.m. Eastern.