INDIANAPOLIS — The final three NTT IndyCar Series races are here. Two of which will occur this weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. With the championship likely out of reach for everyone with the exception of Josef Newgarden (-72), everyone else is just going for wins to round out the season.
I mean, the top two goals for any given year is to –
- Win the Indianapolis 500
- Win the season championship
Now that both are out of reach with Takuma Sato winning the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and Scott Dixon all but wrapping up his sixth season title, the only thing left to do is just pad your trophy case.
Graham Rahal said as much so recently. The Ohio native said prior to the Mid-Ohio race weekend that they were in a position to be aggressive to go for wins now. They have been winless as a team since 2017 but solid nevertheless. With a chance at a top five finish in the final NTT INDYCAR Series standings, they wanted a win. But, in order for someone in his position to do that, you have to swing for the fences too. They finished fourth both races last time out in Mid-Ohio and was on the podium here at Indy on July 4.
Rahal, wants a win but also wants a top five finish in the final standings. He’s five points behind Will Power right now for that distinction.
Same for Alexander Rossi. He’s had terrible luck in 2020 but was on the podium in both races at Mid-Ohio. He noted that they’re swinging for the fences too with his championship hopes as well as a top five finish in the final standings long gone. It’s all about wins now.
Power and Colton Herta split wins in the last race weekend at Mid-Ohio and just want to keep the momentum rolling through the end of the year. Herta is fourth in the standings but also 57 points shy of Newgarden for second in points. That’s his new marker that he’s aiming for.
“Definitely keep the momentum from Mid-Ohio and try to win,” the young Herta said. “If you want to try to get Newgarden, second in the championship, we’re going to have to have two good races. He’s a little bit ahead, so we might need a little bit of help from him. If we can win both races, that will definitely help our chances.”
Herta, notes that his mindset is also on winning races too. So, how does he balance that for this weekend?
“I mean, I think if you’re not going for the championship, you’re kind of mindset is to win races,” Herta continued. “That’s really the mindset. Obviously don’t overextend it and throw a good result away. I have a little bit to lose.
“Obviously we need to do well. If we really do want to get second place in the championship, we need to win another race. I think we do need a little bit of help from Josef on this weekend.
“But, yeah, like I said, if you’re not really in the championship, I think the goal for everyone should be to win races. That’s what we’re going to try and do. Try to get on pole, just like Mid-Ohio, then be able to lead the whole thing.”
Power, who has three Indy road course wins and had a car capable of adding a fourth Indy trophy this past July, notes that the championship was the goal and if he can’t win it, winning races is next up. A top three finish in the championship would be nice though as he’s 32 points behind Pato O’Ward for that distinction.
“Yeah, that’s obviously the goal, try to finish in the top three,” Power said. “More just looking at race wins honestly. The whole championship thing, I mean, I’m only interested in contending for a championship win. Other places don’t really mean anything to me.
“Trying to get wins, that’s all I’m aiming for. I mean, do my absolute best honestly, not even aim for wins. Just get the most out of myself every weekend.”
Power said that while it’s time to swing for the fences, he doesn’t necessarily think that they’ll do anything out of the norm in trying to find victory. The reason?
If you push too hard, it doesn’t typically work out well for you.
“I mean, I do the same thing every weekend, doesn’t matter the situation,” Power said on swinging for the fences now. “Unless you’re truly points racing, all you have to do is cover the guy you’re racing the points with. You’re just trying to execute the perfect weekend. Everyone understands the goal. The whole field are going there with one goal in mind. They’re just focusing, trying to get the most out of it.
“There’s no real benefit for going for a big move or something that’s 50/50. It just never works out.”
His other teammate in Simon Pagenaud has other thoughts in his mind. He’s now focusing on 2021. With him being eighth in the standings right now, 29 points out of a top five spot, why not turn your mindset to next year.
So, while you have aggression on some levels to just get a win to close out the season, Pagenaud is being aggressive to come out on top of things next year though.
“Yeah, I mean, for me it’s a bit of a different approach I guess,” said the 2016 series champion. “Obviously if we manage to get the car where we wanted it to be, go for the win, execute, like Will said. Obviously if we execute as a team, we should be in contention to win the race. One goes after the other.
“But to me and to my engineer and my 22 team, the goal is thinking about championship next year already. Considering the lack of testing, really want to understand what we need for next year. We’ll take some risk on setup choices and hope that it works. If it doesn’t, then we revert back and try to do the best we can. That’s really our goal at this point, think about 2021 as well.
“We’re going to do some aggressive setup change that we think should go in the right direction. Obviously it’s not just like throw a dart and try it. It’s something that we think might be interesting for the future. We’ll try it. We’ll see. If it’s in the right direction, we stick with it. If not, we revert back. Like Will said, basically extract the best out of the weekend.
“Like Colton said, there’s a few things I’m looking for in the car that we haven’t really been there yet. It’s not far. Should be an exciting weekend for those reasons.”
That’s at one side of the spectrum, what about the two racing for the championship?
Dixon, leads Newgarden by 72 points still but he’s lost 53 points in three races. He can’t afford to let this lead keep widdling down, so he can’t be as aggressive as others.
“For us, we just have to treat it like any other race weekend and try to get maximum points,” Dixon said ahead of this weekend’s race. “The obvious goal is to go out there and try to win, but unfortunately there’s 23, 24 others that have the same goal. Try to do better than we did at the last doubleheader at Mid-Ohio where I definitely made a very large mistake, that gave away some pretty easy points there.”
Which strategy wins out this weekend? Newgarden needs to do everything possible to close the gap. He’s never had a top five finish here. Dixon has four straight top twos including a win in July.
“I think this year is probably the least pressure-packed for us,” Newgarden said. “We’re certainly in the chase position. We’re not being chased. We don’t really have much to lose. We could slip backwards in the championship from our second-place position. If you’re not winning the championship, I don’t know how much you weight that. You really don’t. From our side, we don’t weight it that much. The championship is really all that matters.
“There’s not a lot of pressure to take risk. But like I was saying before, we don’t ever really stray away from our normal plan. We’re always trying to maximize points. If that means taking a little bit of risk at one point in the race to maximize the points, we’ll do that. Maybe it’s dialing back the risk to maximize the points.
“We really don’t approach weekends differently. It’s always the same goal. I think that part doesn’t change. If you are going to say is it easier or harder, I’d say it’s a little bit easier to go out there and try to make the most of the weekend. We don’t have a lot to protect at this point.”
To me, it sounds like you’re going to see a lot of cautiously aggressive driving styles and setups this weekend.