Social Spotlight with Jenna Fryer

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community about how they use social media. Up next: Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press.

It’s fascinating to me how much you take on the haters. I feel like sometimes you embrace it and are like, “Bring it on” and sometimes you’re like, “I can’t believe people are getting mad.” So how do you deal on a day-to-day basis with those people on social media?

I recently made a really big change with my Twitter settings in that I changed it to where I only will see your tweet now if you have confirmed your email address (through Twitter). So I think that has cut down on the trolls, which I really enjoy. I really felt it liberating. I noticed it within a day; I noticed the traffic cut down. And it’s unfortunate, because maybe some legitimate people (were cut out) if they haven’t taken those steps with their accounts, but I did open my DMs — which has been a little weird.

The thing about the haters is I can’t believe some of the things people say. I think people think I’m being whiny or thin-skinned or I can’t take it, but sometimes I just think people are inappropriate or mean. One of the things I learned from (13-year-old daughter) Sydnee’s age group is there are certain things that just aren’t tolerated — like body shaming or woman-on-woman shaming. They just think it’s deplorable, like it’s the worst thing in the world. So you get on Twitter and you’ve got people who are just mean.

And sometimes it’s the most innocuous things. You retweeted a link of mine yesterday and said you thought my lede (a writer’s introduction paragraph) was “spicy.” And the mentions just deteriorated into this battle between IndyCar and NASCAR fans — and I don’t want any parts of that anymore.

But when you’ve crossed the line — even if it’s my imaginary moral line — I’m going to call you out on it. I am. Because even if you’re anonymous and we can’t tell who you are because you’re an egg (as a profile picture) or you’ve got a fake name, you deserve people to know what kind of person you are.

But do you enjoy it some days? Do you ever enjoy the back-and-forth and retweeting these people? Because sometimes I just feel like, “Oh, Jenna is from New Jersey, so she doesn’t mind ripping these people right back.”

Sometimes I rip them right back. But like I’ve really been quiet all week on the Danica (losing her ride) thing; I’ve really been offended by all the traffic I’ve seen. I don’t want to attack people to attack them, but I kind of want to shake people and say, “How many of your dreams did you follow? What did you make of your life? How dare you criticize or attack or disparage what this woman has done.” She may not have been the greatest race car driver ever, but she was a tremendous businesswoman who parlayed that into a multi-million dollar career while following her dreams. For people to just tweet nasty, angry things — and I got a particularly bad email this week — I don’t understand why people are like that.

I’ve seen through social media that jealousy is so ugly. And so sometimes I fight back. Sometimes I just can’t take it. Sometimes it’s not worth the headache, but sometimes you wake up and you’re just in that kind of mood and you’re like, “Alright. I’m going to fight back today.” And other days, you’re like, “I’m not even going to look at Twitter today.”

I think your biggest controversy was when you wrote your Fernando Alonso column in the spring (about how he wouldn’t have that big of an impact on the Indy 500) and there were so many people getting mad. Were there days during that time when you decided not to look at social media or were you always checking what people were saying?

No, I stopped looking at it after awhile. You can’t argue with people who don’t want to have healthy debate. You see that all across our country right now, and social media has really deteriorated conversation and debate. They just want to say what they want to say, and they just want to label me with whatever label fits their argument — as someone who is uneducated or doesn’t know or respect Alonso.

That wasn’t it. The issue I always had was, “What is Alonso going to do for this race and this series?” And what’s been difficult for me is I was right! I was right. Everything I said, I was right. The television ratings were not up. He did nothing in this country for the race or the series. Now, he was charming, he was wonderful, he was a delight to watch, he was a delight to cover. He would be a delight if he were here all the time — but that’s a different story. And that was the point. So it’s been very hard for me not to crow and say, “I told y’all.”

I use my column in different ways for different things. I’ve used it in political ways lately, and you get a lot of people who just don’t agree with you. I think there’s certain places for sports and certain places for politics, and NASCAR really stepped into a big hole by inserting itself into politics — and now you can’t really get out of it. You can’t pick and choose. And as a result of me trying to stay true to my moral conscience and true to the obligation I have to my daughter to show her how you must take stances, you just invite this attacking army on you on social media. So some days, I just don’t look.

Personally, I’m super reluctant to say anything I know is going to bring an avalanche of haters. Because it really can bring me down or be deflating. But it seems like you’re more willing to do it — it’s not going to deter you from speaking out if you feel strongly enough about it.

Well, there’s sometimes when I just feel like enough is enough and somebody’s got to say something. We as the auto racing media corps in general, we spend so much time on the nuts and bolts and encumbered finishes and this and that. We don’t tend to look at the bigger picture very often. And a lot of people don’t want to or they get annoyed.

I just think when Brian France took his stand on the Confederate flag, he started down a road where he has kind of cherry-picked where he wants to be involved. And at a time of tumult in this country and when you’re looking for good leaders and you’re looking for the JJ Watts of the world or the Jimmie Johnsons and these guys who step up, you would hope the leadership of the series would step up. But I think they’ve gone backward based on fan reaction, because not everybody cares as much about doing what’s morally right. And they’d rather just stick to their beliefs and keep sports and politics and entertainment and keep them all privately, and I just think NASCAR lost that right.

You’re probably the reporter who is most tied in to both NASCAR and IndyCar — I don’t know somebody else who has mastered having one foot in each as well as you have. So what’s your philosophy in managing that on social media? Sometimes you’ll tweet a picture of you with somebody from a series — is that part of letting people know, “Hey, I’m an insider?”

No. So I really have embraced Instagram and started to enjoy that more —

Is your Instagram public?

No, my Instagram is private, and the reason is it’s a lot of my daughter on there. But I started this thing called #100HappyDays. So unless you follow the #100HappyDays, you don’t really know about it. But in the beginning, it was really great, because it really forced you to look at every day differently. You would look at things and they would be small, minor, little things and you would say, “Oh, this made me happy today.” But then everything started making you happy, so you couldn’t post a picture too soon in the day, because what if something happier happened later in the day?

So as it went on, Chip Ganassi started to get annoyed by it. He started to literally get annoyed by it.

He was trolling you.

He was trolling me. And at a race, he did a media session. At the end of the media session, he asked to go off the record. And we went off the record, and he said everyone in the room had to agree to be honest with him and we had to do it by a show of hands. And he says (in Ganassi imitation voice): “Be honest. How many people are sick of Jenna Fryer’s #100HappyDays?”

How many hands went up?

There were some hands. But from that moment on, I said, “You know what? Now I’m doing #365HappyDays,” and a lot of them are dedicated to Chip. So I’m kind of trolling Chip now back with it. Like I posted a picture with Jamie McMurray the other day just so I could tag Chip. And whenever I have the opportunity to get Chip in a happy day (photo), I do it.

But it’s not to show I’m an insider. I just think I’m an asshole sometimes. Like when that guy wrote me that really mean email the other day and I wrote back, “I think your caps lock button is broken.” Or today, I bought a Marco Andretti shirt at the IndyCar (souvenir) hauler because why not? Like I just think I do things (to mess with people).

So it sounds like what happens is you’re doing something that’s a normal action to you, because you’re so tied in with all these people. But I feel like it’s coming across as, “Wow, Jenna is such an insider because she knows all these people.” But it’s normal to you.

I do get that, and part of that is because I’ve been in racing at a fairly full-time level since 1998, ’99, 2000. What I am seeing is much like Matt Kenseth and all these other guys, everybody that I do know so well, we’re all aging out. Like we all grew up together,  to a degree. Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman and Marty Smith and some of the people who work for Jimmie Johnson — we were all rookies together. Jamie McMurray, too. Well now, as they’re aging out — Dario (Franchitti) has gotten older and Helio (Castroneves) and Tony Kanaan are in their 20th years — we’re getting older. And I don’t know the younger drivers the way I do (the older ones). I’m fortunate I’ve built a little bit of a relationship with (Ryan) Blaney —

And Kyle Larson, I feel like.

Larson, yeah. But I’m not going to roll up on Josef Newgarden and be like, “Josef! Be in my #100HappyDays!” Because I don’t know him that well yet, you know? So there’s a changing of the guard that affects everybody that people don’t realize.

Is that a threat to your career or something you can adjust to? Like when you see younger drivers interacting with younger writers on social media, do you see it as a whole new class of writers that could be a challenge to the current generation of media?

No. I do see what you’re saying and it is a challenge because you have to learn. So much of what we do — yeah, it’s racing, but you have to understand these people. The most fun part of what we do is like dissecting why Kevin Harvick was mad about something or why did Kyle Busch do this. I just think it’s part of the job — we just have to learn new people and build new relationships. I don’t think it’s threatening. That’s a skill you have to have. You have to learn your subjects. It takes time.

Tony Stewart and I went two years without speaking to each other. You go through peaks and valleys and you get to know people and they get mad at you and stop talking to you for a little while or you work things out. It’s just part of the challenge. I’m not threatened. A huge part of it is still try to be professional and be fair and be honest and don’t get weighted down in all the muck. And the younger guys will figure out who you are.

But isn’t it tough to avoid being baited into that sometimes? Because that’s what social media often is — the muck.

I had a good time this past weekend on social media because (Brad Keselowski) and Denny (Hamlin) and Kyle sparring back and forth. I was like, “This was what social media is meant for. This is what I liked about Twitter when I joined it seven, eight, nine years ago.” And we’ve gotten so far away from that, where Twitter is just everybody attacking everybody. I like that, and that’s why I think I’ve migrated more toward Instagram, because you can get out of the muck.

It’s just your mood if you get baited. If somebody catches you or you see something at just that right time, then you’ve opened the hole and down you go and you’re fighting with everybody and you kind of have to step away.

What’s the future for you on social media? You talked about changing your Twitter settings. How do you see this evolving for you and your reporting as you go forward?

I’ve already changed a lot from when I first was using Twitter. I almost used it in lieu of taking notes. Because you would say, “Caution, Lap 145” and you would be able to go right back into your Twitter feed. Well now, everybody is tweeting “Caution.” A few years ago, I stopped doing it. There was such a race to tweet everything, and everybody was tweeting the exact same thing. And if you’re a reader or a consumer, when you open your Twitter account and see nine consecutive tweets and all they say is “Caution,” why are you following these people? Wait until you have the information and wait until you have something to report.

So I’ve already scaled down — I did that a few years ago. I also cherrypick quotes now so that I’m not part of that instant timeline where everybody is just tweeting what Dale Jr. said at exactly the same time.

I think social media is still a good tool. This is a great example: I woke up the other day and was like, “Why is Ted Cruz trending? Who is Sergio Dipp?” And within just a few keystrokes, you’re able to figure out exactly what you missed overnight by scrolling through Twitter.

But I also think for me, I don’t need to do a 24/7 update. There’s enough people who are doing that. I’d like to be a little more of myself, I’d like to be a little more sarcastic and of course tweet the links and the news.

One thing, while I have this (microphone): I think media-on-media crime on social media is the most disgusting thing. It’s awful. Media should not be fighting with media on social media. I think it makes the whole profession look bad. We all have to live together, we all have to work together and when people are critiquing, criticizing, roasting, dragging, complaining about other media, it’s such bad form. And it’s so ugly.

Yeah, we want more driver-on-driver crime — not media-on-media crime.

Correct. (Laughs) More driver-on-driver crime, starting now.

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place next weekend (!!!) at Dover. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

12 Questions with Scott Dixon

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, who came up short of his quest to win another title Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. Dixon, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, is fourth on the all-time IndyCar wins list with 41 victories.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I think it’s always a compromise, but it’s a team sport, so it’s definitely across all platforms of the good people on the team — engineers, mechanics, strategists — so it’s never just one person. I think that’s the most important thing, is you gotta work together as much as you can. And for myself, yeah, some of it is natural ability, but I think to keep consistency and win championships and so on, it takes a lot of hard work.

2. What’s your pitch for people to become fans of yours?

I think across the board, the Verizon IndyCar series has so many different personalities. There’s so many people from different countries, different backgrounds, so everybody has someone they can kind of relate with, and I think that’s pretty cool. But I don’t know — because I’m a ginger, maybe? 

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I think the separation sometimes from family life to racing life can be tough, but it’s also been really nice to have kids, because it helps you mentally kind of disconnect and helps you to not overthink things. So I think actually my outside family life is very important to how my racing career has progressed.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yeah, absolutely. Whatever they need. I’ll get their meal, too. (Smiles)

5. What’s a story in IndyCar that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Probably this Aussie guy, Will Power (who was walking by at the moment). He’s always moaning about being sore or a bad leg.

I don’t know. I think the racing is the best in the world. I think once people tune in, they’re hooked, and it is the diversity between the short tracks and the superspeedways, road courses, street courses — it’s just getting the person engaged, and once they’re engaged, they’re hooked.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Probably Tony Kanaan, my teammate.

You frequently text him?

Group messages, yeah, there’s quite a few. Yeah, that was probably him. He was probably the last, or Dario (Franchitti). He’s an ex-driver, but we text a lot.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Some of them for sure are very big entertainers. Helio (Castroneves). (James) Hinchcliffe did pretty well on Dancing with the Stars, so sure.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

On the racetrack? Use it at will.

What happens if you get it done to you?

I’ll probably do something back, probably the same thing. Maybe two of them.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

No, only a list for bad things. (Smiles) You know, I don’t keep any kind of lists. Depending on what it is, you have memories of what stands out, but I think you should be nice to people.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

Probably Marco Andretti. (Grins)

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I should probably stop biting my nails.

Is it a long time habit?

My wife hates it.

12. The last interview I did was with Chris Buescher.  His question is: What makes you crazy enough to strap into one of those things?

I don’t know. It’s just natural, man. He needs to try it out, then he’ll understand.

He said he can’t do it.

Yeah he can! Come on.

The next interview I’m doing is with Jimmie Johnson. Do you have a question that I can ask Jimmie?

What kind of underwear does he wear? It is briefs, boxers or tighty whities?

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place NEXT WEEKEND(!!!) at Dover. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

News Analysis: Chase Elliott docked 15 points, Alan Gustafson suspended for spoiler modification

What happened: Chase Elliott was penalized 15 points and crew chief Alan Gustafson and car chief Joshua Kirk were suspended for one race apiece — plus a $25,000 fine for Gustafson — after NASCAR ruled the No. 24 team illegally modified the spoiler at Chicagoland using tape. In addition, the race was ruled to be an encumbered finish — meaning Elliott will not get credit for the playoff point he earned at Chicago if he makes Round 2.

What it means: On Monday, several teams sent pictures and video around the industry of the No. 24 team appearing to have tape hanging off the spoiler and down the sides of the car. This photo evidence was sent to NASCAR and also ended up on Reddit, where it became public. It’s interesting the teams, who have photographers shooting high-resolution images of every car during the race, became sort of a second set of eyes for NASCAR after studying the pictures (Elliott had passed at-track inspection after the race). This shows if there’s a visible part of the car that is illegally modified, teams themselves are likely to catch it and report to NASCAR and/or the media in order to keep a level playing field for themselves. Ultimately, though, the penalty might not harm Elliott that much; he was a comfortable 33 points inside the cutoff, but now falls from sixth place to eight place — 18 points head of the final playoff spot for Round 2.

News value (scale of 1-10): Three. This isn’t very big in the grand scheme of things, but it’s newsworthy in the sense that the NASCAR community — namely the teams, but also Reddit by proxy — sniffed out an act of cheating.

Three questions: Teams privately have said the tape added a significant amount of downforce to the car, but how much of a difference did it really make? Is there any way this could actually cost Elliott in terms of making the next round? What else will the garage be able to find in future weeks by examining the photo evidence each team takes during races?

News Analysis: Kasey Kahne to drive Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 car

What happened: Leavine Family Racing, which currently fields the No. 95 car with Michael McDowell, announced Kasey Kahne will take over as its full-time driver in 2018. Kahne and Hendrick announced last month they would part ways after this year, but Kahne was ultimately able to remain in the Cup Series with another team.

What it means: Though his new home is certainly a downgrade from powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, this is a good move for both Kahne and family-run Leavine (pronounced “leh-VINE”). Kahne is only 37 and has some prime years ahead of him, and this will allow him to race in an environment without the pressure that comes with being part of Hendrick. At the same time, Leavine’s performance has been improving over the years — McDowell has been the best car in the Richard Childress Racing alliance at numerous races this year — and figures to only get better with an 18-time race winner in the seat. In addition, Leavine should be able to build a sponsorship program around a driver whose loyal fan base has continued to support him through several miserable seasons at Hendrick.

News value (scale of 1-10): Five. This move was expected for awhile, so it’s not a surprise. It also involves a team that isn’t well known to many fans, though Kahne’s part of the announcement makes it notable enough to get a decent amount of media coverage.

Three questions: Will lowered expectations actually allow Kahne to improve his results (McDowell’s average finish is only one spot behind Kahne this season)? Why did Leavine remain part of the RCR alliance instead of working a deal with Hendrick? Will McDowell be able to remain in NASCAR in some form?

The Top Five: Breaking down the Chicago and Sonoma races

Five thoughts after NASCAR’s playoff opener at Chicago and the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma…

1. U-S-A, U-S-A!

In 2012, when Ryan Hunter-Reay became the first American to win an IndyCar title in six years, there was hope his victory would help lead to a revitalization of open-wheel racing in the United States.

That didn’t happen. Perhaps that was in part because IndyCar doesn’t make enough ripples in the national sports scene to have an impact, but it also may have been because Hunter-Reay wasn’t able to finish in the top five in points since.

So it’s with a note of caution here when we say Josef Newgarden really could be the next great hope for helping to rejuvenate American open-wheel racing — but only if everything falls into place over the next several years.

Even before he signed with Team Penske this season, Newgarden was a tremendously marketable young driver. He’s a 26-year-old from suburban Nashville with tons of charisma, talent and the face of a movie star. Now he’s a champion — thanks to a near-flawless weekend at Sonoma — with plenty of years ahead of him.

It might be a fallacy that a big-time American star would really boost IndyCar to the next level, but that’s often been a debate that doesn’t get a chance to get settled because there hasn’t really been one. This generation of IndyCar has been dominated by South Americans and Europeans, and the top American open-wheel talents have largely ended up getting funneled into the NASCAR pipeline (Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, etc.).

Look, Newgarden is going to have to win a lot. He’s going to have to win more titles and an Indy 500 or two. But should Newgarden continue to shine, there’s a chance his visibility could rise on a national scale at the same time IndyCar does. And as the series champion, he’ll have more of a platform now to make an impact with sports fans.

“We don’t want a championship filled with just American drivers, but it’s important to have the best of America in it,” said Newgarden, who celebrated with an American flag draped around his shoulders. “We have to have the best from Europe and from anywhere overseas, because if it’s just Americans running, it wouldn’t mean anything. But certainly, having successful Americans is a big deal, too.”

2. Missed opportunity

This might anger all my new friends in IndyCar (seriously, everyone is so nice here!), but the Sonoma race didn’t do the series any favors in terms of winning over some NASCAR fans.

With the Chicagoland race serving as a lead-in on NBCSN, IndyCar had a golden opportunity to show stock car fans how compelling its brand of racing can be. Instead, Sonoma was a caution-free race with little drama — at least not the kind NASCAR fans are used to.

IndyCar fans probably love that, because they are fiercely proud of their purer brand of racing — no stages, no playoffs, no questionable cautions (even though they do have double points races and push to pass).

But here’s the thing: IndyCar needs to dip into the pool of NASCAR fans — present and former — to provide its best opportunity for growth. A mainstream sports fan is going to be harder for open-wheel racing to hook than a fan who is already predisposed to liking race cars.

I hope IndyCar continues to take steps toward being more and more relevant again in the sports world — and at the same time is able to coexist with NASCAR to have two very healthy forms of motorsport. Though their fans may argue (RIP my mentions this weekend), everyone still shares the common bond of being a race fan — which is becoming a rare breed these days.

3. Truex, again

Even when Martin Truex Jr. and his team screw up, like they did on Sunday, he still finds a way to win by more than seven seconds in a playoff race.

That’s a sobering fact for the competition, which looked like it might have a chance to beat Truex after he sped on pit road and later had to make an extra pit stop for missing lug nuts, which left him in 17th place.

The No. 78 car is so fast that it can overcome seemingly anything, though — at least if it happens early enough in the race — and Truex was back to the lead in plenty of time.

Truex now has 58 playoff points for Rounds 2 and 3, and the only realistic chance of beating him will come when the four contenders battle straight-up for the championship at Homestead.

In the meantime, expect a lot more races like Chicagoland in the coming weeks.

“We really don’t have any tracks I feel like we’re not good at,” Truex said. “It’s just being confident each and every week no matter where we’re going is the difference. We don’t have any big question marks on the schedule anymore.”

4. Keselowski’s great tweet

Brad Keselowski pissed off the Toyota NASCAR contingent this weekend with his tweet, but personally, I loved it.

People have been complaining lately that too many NASCAR storylines revolve around off-track issues. Well, guess what? This drama was about on-track stuff. It was about performance and rules and had everything to do with the playoffs.

That’s great! I mean, it resulted in Kyle Busch tweeting “STFU” with a crying emoji to another driver. Wild! NASCAR needs rivalries like this to add spice to the races.

Honestly, it’s great to see Busch and Keselowski not even pretending to be civil. All the drivers these days seem like they are way too tight, with the group text and drivers council and bike rides and wives/kids hanging out. It’s nice for them to get along, but it’s refreshing for everyone else when there’s some real sourness between two of the top competitors. It makes it more fun to watch.

And by the way, there was nothing wrong with what Keselowski tweeted. Politicking for manufacturer advantages has been a part of NASCAR for a long time, and that’s what he was obviously doing.

5. Burnout talk

OK, let’s have a chat about burnouts for a second. It seems like NASCAR race winners routinely destroy their cars on purpose these days — and not just in the name of celebration.

Today’s burnouts are intentionally designed to cause tire blowouts, which mess up the back of the car and make it harder for NASCAR to run the cars through post-race tech inspection.

A decade ago, drivers did kickass, smoky burnouts without blowing off the rear quarterpanels. But that’s not the case now. It seems like every winner does it, and some drivers (coughDennyHamlincough) have even tapped the wall in the process.

We know this makes a difference because cars can be illegal if they’re off a thousandth of an inch, and destroying part of the car removes that area from scrutiny. Fair or not, the appearance is not good.

NASCAR has indicated it does not want to step in and outlaw burnouts or institute a rule that limits them. After all, fans might complain that NASCAR officials are the fun police and they’re taking yet another enjoyable part away from the sport.

But drivers are smart enough to know how to do a burnout without shredding their tires. So perhaps in the interest of maintaining a level playing field for the playoffs, NASCAR should decide burnouts themselves are OK — but tire blowouts are not.

A NASCAR fan guide to the IndyCar championship race

Guess what race is on Sunday right after the Chicagoland race on the same channel (NBCSN)?

Yep, it’s the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale — a race which will decide the championship from among six eligible drivers.

I’m here at Sonoma and am going to be blowing your timelines up about the race, so you might as well watch with me. If you haven’t followed IndyCar much this year or are just a casual fan, here’s a quick guide to the race to get you caught up:

What’s at stake?

Sonoma Raceway is the 17th and final race of the IndyCar season, and six drivers can still win the title. They are the four Team Penske drivers — rising star Josef Newgarden, defending series champ Simon Pagenaud and veterans Will Power and Helio Castroneves — plus four-time series champion Scott Dixon and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.

Who has the advantage?

Before answering that, let’s take a look at the current driver point standings.

  1. Josef Newgarden  –Leader–
  2. Scott Dixon -4
  3. Helio Castroneves -23
  4. Simon Pagenaud -35
  5. Will Power -69
  6. Alexander Rossi -85

Those have been updated after Saturday’s qualifying session, because IndyCar awards one bonus point to the pole winner — and Newgarden put down a monster, track-record lap to start from P1.

Still, it’s tough to say who has the edge right now. In Friday’s two practice sessions, Newgarden had the quickest overall time. But in Saturday’s practice, Pagenaud, Dixon and Power all went even faster.

Plus, top five drivers in the point standings were also the top five drivers in final practice (just in a different order). Since they were only separated by 0.44 second, it really could be anyone’s race among the contenders.

So how does the championship race work?

Sonoma is a double points event — one of only two on the schedule, along with the Indy 500. That twist could play a massive role in the outcome of the championship, because the points are soooo close.

At a typical IndyCar race, first place is worth 50 points and second place gets 40. But at Sonoma, it’s 100 for first place and only 80 for second — a 20-point gap between first and second!

That means Newgarden, Dixon and likely Castroneves (depending on bonus points) are all in situations where a Sonoma victory will mean the championship (which has happened the last two years).

And really, Pagenaud isn’t in a bad spot, either (though he could use some help from his competition finishing off the podium). Power and Rossi are much bigger longshots at this point, even if they win.

How did they get to this point?

Newgarden has a series-leading four wins and eight podium finishes this season, but his lead is only four points thanks to a gaffe in the most recent race at Watkins Glen.

After entering the Glen with a 31-point lead over Dixon — thanks to winning three of four races — Newgarden locked up his tires in the pits while avoiding teammate Will Power and slid into the guardrail. That cost him 28 points of his lead, which was whittled to just four.

Dixon has just one win but has made finished on the podium seven times — second in the series. And he’s going up against the entire Penske team, which has been the most consistent this season.

What are they saying?

— Newgarden, who was totally fired up after his track-record lap to get the pole — his first since 2015 — is going into the race with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

“If I drop the ball and totally ball it up this weekend, I’m still going to be pretty happy with this year,” the 26-year-old American said. “That’s not to say I’m going to settle for that or that I’m looking to settle for something like that.

“But the only way I think you can approach this and get the most out of it and try and treat it like any other weekend. The moment you think, ‘Hey, this is championship week — you mess it up, you’re not the champion,’ then I think that can put you in a wrong place mentally.”

— Power, who qualified second, has a fast car but needs some help to pull off his second championship.

“It’s absolutely possible,” he said. “I mean, if Scott and Josef have a bad day, I can be right there. Yeah, see how it all plays out.”

— Pagenaud, who won this race en route to the championship last season, is feeling confident after qualifying third.

“Quite satisfied,” he said after his lap. “Overall it’s awesome for Team Penske, 1-2-3-4 once again here. A testament to the team doing such a good job. Nothing’s lost. Tomorrow is a long race. Lots of tire wear. I’m hoping for a really strong showing.”

— Speculation about Castrovenes’ future has been swirling lately, but it would certainly be nice for him to pull off an improbable title at age 42. He’s in a virtual win-and-clinch situation since there it’s a double points race.

“We wanted this championship as bad as anybody,” he said after qualifying fourth. “We do have a chance. We’re going to obviously try to execute. That’s our goal.”

— Dixon, the best driver of his generation, knows he has his work cut out for him. But it’s not like anyone can dismiss his chances.

“Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there,” he said. “I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race. Definitely you’d want to be a little further up. But that’s the way it goes.”