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SCORESHEET/Timbers eye long MLS playoff run on heels of recent successes; Winterhawks off to hot WHL start

Happily — and with little other choice — IndyCar racing is coming back to Portland.INDYCAR

Two years of speculation came true last week with the announcement that Portland International Raceway will replace, noise levels and all, historic Watkins Glen on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.

The open-wheelers raced at PIR from 1984-2007 under the Championship Auto Racing Teams and Champ Car World Series umbrella. Those events drew huge crowds and interest, with legendary drivers competing — from the Andrettis, Unsers and Rahals to A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell to Sebastien Bourdais (the winner in 2004 and 2007 who is expected to return next year).

IndyCar officials are excited to be back in the Pacific Northwest. Will the feeling be mutual? Will the cars and drivers create the kind of buzz that used to surround race week in Portland?

The city and sports world have changed, with more options. But the Portland area has grown and has more residents from around the country and world, many of whom presumably once were or are current IndyCar fans. It'll be up to the new promoter, Indianapolis-based Green Savoree, to sell everyone on spending Labor Day weekend at the North Portland track.

Story lines abound — the series has a new car design, a variety of competitive drivers, an engine battle between Honda and Chevy, and familar owners such as Team (Roger) Penske, Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Chip Ganassi, Foyt and more.

It all begins March 11 with the first of 17 or 18 series races in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Portland will be the next-to-last stop.

Timbers in it to win it

For the third time in seven years of MLS in Portland, the season will continue beyond the regular season. The Timbers will be in the playoffs and with a win in their final regular-season match on Sunday will enter as the top team in the Western Conference. They locked up a berth — and at least one playoff home match — with Sunday's 4-0 victory over D.C. United.

Beat the Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend at Providence Park and the Timbers will be the top seed in the West — with the Cascadia Cup as a bonus. Seattle wins that Cup if there is a draw or Whitecaps win at Portland.

The Sounders (13-9-11) are tied with the Timbers (14-11-8) with 50 points. But Portland's extra win means the Timbers are the higher seed if the rivals end up tied in the standings.

n All 11 MLS matches kick off at 1 p.m. Pacific Sunday as the league completes the regular season. ESPN will provide wraparound coverage.

n If Portland winds up third or fourth in the West, the Timbers will be at home on Oct. 25 or 26 for a knockout game. If they finish first or second, they open the conference semifinals on the road against a knockout survivor.

Six in a row

The Portland Winterhawks have won six consecutive games to surge to the top of the Western Hockey League's U.S. Division.

Portland swept two games against Kelowna at home over the weekend. The most dramatic of their recent wins was 5-4 in overtime on Saturday as Skyler McKenzie scored 24 seconds into OT, stuffing the puck between the legs of Rockets goalie James Porter.

The Hawks followed with an 8-2 win over Kelowna on Sunday.

This week, Portland visits Kelowna for games on Friday and Saturday that will complete the regular-season series between the teams.

The Winterhawks are 8-1 and enjoy a six-point lead on division rivals Tri-City and Spokane.

The Hawks are one of five teams in the WHL off to fast starts. Through Sunday, Victoria (8-1-1) was atop the B.C. Division. Swift Current was 8-1, Brandon 7-2-0-1 and Moose Jaw 7-1. Moose Jaw is the next team to visit Portland, for an Oct. 24 game.

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