INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indy 500 has always been the most important race on the schedule, the only one where a driver can reach transcendent status simply by being the first to cross the yard of bricks.
Now, it's even more important.
A revamped structure this season awards double the points on the ovals at Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana, along with points for qualifying. And many drivers now believe the season-long championship will be won or lost on those three tracks, beginning with Sunday's Indy 500.
"They kind of sold it as it didn't really change the championship much, but I think it's got the potential to," said Scott Dixon, who is fifth in the standings.
"It's like giving points for qualifying," Dixon said. "The thing I was questioning was every year, we come down to the last race of the championship. Why change something that works and many other series around the world would dream of being able to promote that?"
To illustrate the importance of this week, consider that Will Power arrived in Indy with a series-leading 149 points from the first four road races. If he would have qualified fastest, earned the pole, led the most laps and ultimately won the race, he would have piled up 145 points.
As it stands, those who struggled in qualifying have already taken a hit.
"You have one bad day or two bad days here during the month and it can turn you upside down in the points," said Ryan Hunter-Reay, who will start 19th in the 33-car field. "The 500-mile races will have a huge, huge implication for the championship."
Then again, wasn't the Indy 500 already important enough?
"The last thing we're all thinking about right now is points," Graham Rahal said. "Not to devalue the championship, but everybody in this series would rather win this thing."
So, turning the attention back to the Indy 500, here are five things making news Thursday:
CARB DAY: Teams have put in two weeks of work, turned hundreds of laps and burned through dozens of sets of tires, yet Friday's final practice remains crucial. "Not only is it the day closest to the race in terms of temperature," Oriol Servia said, "but it's the day you are going to make the final decisions on setup. No matter how much you run, on Carb Day, you're going to make the final decisions, and whoever makes the right decisions shows who has a good race or not."