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Race Day Preview: Sunday, July 30

These are the dog days of summer for stick-and-ball sports.

Baseball is mired in the middle of its 162-game slog toward the postseason. Football training camps are just opening. Basketball and hockey players are enjoying the offseason. Major League Soccer is more than two months away from its postseason, and European soccer leagues don’t start until mid-August.

But the level of intensity is different now in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Formula One. It’s crunch time, even though it’s only July. It’s what Sir Alex Ferguson, former legendary manager of English soccer power Manchester United, once famously called “squeaky bum time,” as everyone feels just a bit more tension, pressure and anxiety.

Here’s a look at the building drama in the three series, which all race this weekend:

Verizon IndyCar Series: The series heads to beloved Mid-Ohio this weekend, and there are only five races left on the 2017 schedule. It’s go time.

The top five drivers are within 64 points of each other, with leader Scott Dixon just three points ahead of Helio Castroneves. Simon Pagenaud is third, 19 points behind Dixon, with Josef Newgarden fourth, 23 points behind Dixon. Will Power is clinging to the championship party in fifth, 64 points behind Dixon.

All five drivers are facing high stakes. One poor result could drop a contender into a pretender.

Castroneves, Pagenaud, Newgarden and Power will look to put a dent into Dixon’s lead or even take the top spot. Good luck with that, if history is any indication.

Dixon has won the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio five times since 2007. He doesn’t just have the key to the place – he has the lock.

But Pagenaud is the defending champion of the race, with Dixon finishing last in 2016 after early contact with Castroneves. 

The race will be televised at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on CNBC.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Kasey Kahne earned an unexpected spot in the NASCAR Playoffs with his dramatic victory last Sunday in the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 at IMS.

Kahne became the 12th driver to win at least one race this season and guarantee a spot in the postseason. There are only four spots left in the Playoffs with just six races remaining, including the Overton’s 400 Sunday at Pocono.

A handful of NASCAR superstars still are winless this season and in squeaky bum time as they try to earn a spot in the postseason. That list is led by Kyle Busch, who remarkably is winless since the 2016 Big Machine Brickyard 400.

Other stars still on the outside looking in include Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer and the biggest supernova in the NASCAR galaxy, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The race next weekend is at Watkins Glen, which often is won by a road-course specialist (paging AJ Allmendinger), so the pressure could ratchet up even more if only three spots remaining with four races left before the Playoffs if there’s another first-time winner this season at The Glen.

Racing at Pocono will be televised at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBCSN.

Formula One: F1 is reaching only the 11th race of its 20-race season this weekend at the Grand Prix of Hungary, and the series is going on a month-long summer break after this weekend.

But the tension is reaching fever pitch. Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari leads rival Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes by just one point, 177-176. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas is third, with 154 points.

There’s a growing sense entering this race at the Hungoraring that the red tide is turning against Vettel and Ferrari. Hamilton has won two of the last four races, including a dominant romp at the most-recent race, his home British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Meanwhile, Vettel is winless since the Monaco Grand Prix on May 28. And it appears Ferrari is lacking pace compared to Mercedes, leading to alarm among the Scuderia’s loyal fans, the tifosi.

Hamilton has won in Hungary three of the last five years, including last year. So the tight, twisting circuit, where qualifying position is vital because overtaking is tough, will be an ideal spot for Hamilton to overtake Vettel in the standings. Hamilton also could enter the summer break with a ton of momentum, leaving Vettel to rue and stew for the next four weeks over what could have been.

The Hungarian Grand Prix will be televised at 8 a.m. (ET) Sunday on NBCSN.

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JR Hildebrand
 
Race Day Preview: Sunday, July 30
The level of intensity is different now in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Formula One. It’s crunch time, even though it’s only July. It’s what Sir Alex Ferguson, former legendary manager of English soccer power Manchester United, once famously called “squeaky bum time,” as everyone feels just a bit more tension, pressure and anxiety. Here’s a look at the building drama in the three series, which all race this weekend:
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