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Bernard: An up-and-down season so far for IndyCar

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LEXINGTON, Ohio (AP)

With just three races left in the IndyCar season, the guy in charge of the series says there have been ups and downs in 2012.

''I give 2012 some high marks on certain things and some low marks on others,'' IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said Sunday just before the start of the race at Mid-Ohio.

Bernard pointed to the introduction of a new car and getting the kinks out of it as one of the high points. He also said he was encouraged by the number of fans turning out.

''Our attendance has been very good at most races this year. I'm very happy with it,'' he said. ''Our ovals, there's an improvement over last year.''

As for the biggest concerns, he pointed to TV numbers.

''I'd like to have seen bigger increases,'' he said, ''but when you look at our year, there's some things we can change and improve at next year.''

One of those improvements is to expand the current schedule from 15 to at least 19 races.

''We have to have a minimum of 19 races. That's very important,'' Bernard said. ''We have to be able to bring more attention to these drivers and these sponsors. We need to create more compelling story lines. The more races we have, the more exposure the drivers get, and the better opportunity we have to create those story lines.''

After the race at Mid-Ohio, the series has three left: Sonoma on Aug. 26, Baltimore on Sept. 2 and Fontana on Sept. 15.

Bernard said IndyCar was looking to add one or two more ovals to the series next year. He said any additions would likely be fit into the gaps currently in the schedule without extending the season or starting much earlier. This year's schedule began with St. Petersburg on March 25 and will end at Fontana in mid-September.

Next year, the final race will likely be at Houston the first weekend in October.

Bernard said IndyCar is ''intrigued'' by a race in Germany but felt it was most important to establish the series in North America first and then go from there. The series will announce the 2013 schedule in the fall, after all contracts are finalized.

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NOT A BIG FAN: IndyCar introduced a 5-second delay for its push-to-pass system at Sunday's race at Mid-Ohio.

Drivers could hit the overtake assist button before getting to a braking zone, then were given extra power when they reached full throttle. Officials hoped the change would create more suspense.

Will Power, who finished second, was not enthralled.

''I think it was stupid, honestly,'' he said. ''The way they got it, you have to have a certain throttle percentage. You'd hit it and get in the corner and it would unclick itself. It was useless. Honestly, I didn't find it useful at all.''

Third-place finisher Simon Pagenaud felt the system needed to be tweaked.

''The problem is the previous push-pass we had was good. You could use it in a defensive way,'' he said. ''But the problem is when people are coming out of the pits and you're fighting with them, you hit push-pass going into turn 2 and if you touch the throttle and then come back off of it just a touch, it shuts itself down. So you can't pass.''

Winner Scott Dixon said it would take time to for drivers to figure out how to properly use the current configuration. He seldom used the push to pass.

''You could tell everybody completely messed it up,'' he said.

IRL's Bernard said he hoped to provide more power with the push-pass.

''We'd like to see the push to pass go up on horsepower, maybe double what it is right now,'' he said. ''It won't happen overnight. This year we saw some great progress. I would like to see some more horsepower, especially at some of those big races.''

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THE STORM PASSED: Heavy storms hit the Lexington area Saturday night and again on Sunday morning. But the rain stopped just before the race. The drivers were greeted by cloudy skies and temperatures in the 70s.

Shortly after the race ended, the sun came out.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: Pagenaud was asked how he and fellow Frenchman, fourth-place Sebastien Bourdais, had raced so well.

''Cheating,'' cracked Power.

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DRIVER STANDINGS: Power took over the top spot in the rankings off his second-place finish, his 379 points giving him five more than Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay, who finished 24th, came in as the leader.

''That was definitely a good points day,'' Power said.

He said his team had told him over the radio that Hunter-Reay was struggling.

''It's disappointing to start the day with a 23-point lead and leave in second place, but we'll get over this quick,'' said Hunter-Reay, whose car gradually lost power over the second half of the race. ''There's a lot of racing still to go and the only thing we can do is dig deep and move on.''

Helio Castroneves is third with 353 points, followed by Dixon with 351 and James Hinchcliffe with 316.

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PIT STOPS: Dragon Racing, the IndyCar team owned by Jay Penske, announced that it would race a second car at the next series stop in Sonoma, Calif., on Aug. 26. ... Mid-Ohio marked the second IndyCar race in a row, following Toronto two weeks ago, in which there were no caution flags. The last time that happened in IndyCar was 1987 when Bobby Rahal won at Laguna Seca on Oct. 11 and Michael Andretti won at Miami on Nov. 1. ... The next race is Aug. 26 at Sonoma.

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