INDIANAPOLIS – 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."
PROM KING: Sage Karam got to trade his race helmet for a crown. The Indy 500 rookie attended prom with his girlfriend, Anna de Ferran, though the locale was a bit of a switch from a high school gym or hotel ballroom: The couple danced away to John Legend's "All of Me" at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 19-year-old Indy Lights champion missed his prom at his Pennsylvania high school because it was the same night as Indy 500 practice. "It was the first time I ever slow danced," Karam said. "It was kind of weird because there were news stations there videotaping me and stuff. But I think I killed it." Karam graduates from Nazareth Area High School on June 10, and while he doesn't have another IndyCar date lined up yet, he's hoping something comes through for the July 6 race at his hometown track, Pocono Raceway.
HINCHCLIFFE'S MEMENTO: James Hinchcliffe plans to put the helmet he was wearing during a wreck in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in a prominent place on his mantle. First, it's headed to Japan. The manufacturer, Aria Helmet, wants to examine how it performed during the May 10 wreck that left Hinchcliffe with a concussion. "It'll eventually be returned and end up in the trophy case," said Hinchcliffe, who has been cleared to start in the Indy 500.
TECHNICALLY SPEAKING: Verizon is making technology trendy. The IndyCar series title sponsor demonstrated at the track 3-D holographic technology, an IndyCar that simulates how it feels to actually drive around a track and a new tool teams will be able to use during Sunday's race: four different camera angles for every driver. Company officials said the technology will soon be available to fans. "So it's another tool to say that we're lying when we say it's flat or something," Chip Ganassi driver Charlie Kimball joked.
HONDA VS. CHEVROLET: Engine manufacturer Chevrolet dominated practice a year ago, only for Honda to rally on Carburation Day. This year, it's a virtual tossup between the rivals. "I think on the street courses we've shown we have the edge," said Hunter-Reay, whose Andretti Autosport team runs Honda engines. "Verdicts out on the ovals, though. I'm not really sure yet."
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer and AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed to this report.