INDIANAPOLIS — Will Power put on an absolute clinic in front of a socially distanced crowd of about 10k on Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Team Penske driver became the modern leader in all-time IMS wins with a rout on the 25 car field in Saturday’s Harvest Grand Prix.
While no one would rank Power’s five wins at IMS, four of which coming on the 2.439-mile road course, above the likes of AJ Foyt, Rick Mears or Al Unser, it’s still a feat to eclipse five wins on any given race track in this era of INDYCAR racing.
Power, did join the ranks of AJ Foyt (67), Mario Andretti (52), Scott Dixon (50), Michael Andretti (42) and Al Unser Sr. (39) in another marker as the Aussie tied Unser Sr. for fifth on the all-time INDYCAR wins list with his second triumph of the season though. He did so after earning his 61st career NTT IndyCar Series pole award, which only Andretti’s 67 is more.
Power, jumped out to an early lead and led literally all 75 laps in the caution free race for a second straight day and took his No. 12 Chevrolet to victory lane for the fourth time in five poles in this race track.
Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi made it closer than it likely would have been in the end. Power, was untouchable all day as no one was remotely in his zip code all afternoon. But, following the final pit stops, Rossi kept eating away at Power’s lead. Rossi, cut the deficit to below a second before his Firestone Primaries fell off in comparison to Power’s Reds, which is normally the other way around, with Power pulling head. That left Rossi in the clutches of his Andretti Autosport teammate of Colton Herta who saw Herta chase down and pass Rossi with 11 to go.
Herta, staked a fight with Power for the win as he had way more push to passes left. But, Power’s Chevy was just too strong on the straightaways for Herta to mount a legitimate charge.
Power, crossed the Yard of Bricks by .8932-seconds ahead of Herta for the third closes finish of the season and the only race to finish with a final margin of victory less than 12 seconds on the road course this year.
Still, Friday’s 85 Lap race was better aesthetically even though Josef Newgarden won by 14.2940-seconds. Yesterday’s race had over 250 on track passes as everyone was in a full out fight with it being a three stop strategy. Saturday’s race was 10 laps shorter and just barely in a window to do it in two stops. With 25 laps being used to a fuel run, it meant if you saved just enough for each stint, you can make it in two stops.
That’s why you saw a lot of the racing with drivers electing to hit a fuel number instead of battling like they were on Friday.
Herta, scored his first podium that wasn’t a win in his No. 88 Honda for his third straight top four result in 2020. He’s had a top 10 in all but two races run this year two with the duo coming at Iowa back in July.
Rossi, settled for his fourth straight podium in his No. 27 Honda. He only had one top five in his previous nine races of the season and heating up as the season is coming to a close.
Newgarden, came home fourth to cut another eight points off Dixon’s lead with Dixon finishing eighth in his No. 9 Honda. Since Newgarden’s World Wide Technology Raceway victory back on Aug. 30, he’s outscored Dixon by 85 points. The Tennessee native has scored three top 10’s on the IMS road course during his career, all coming in 2020. He was 0-for-6 prior.
Pato O’Ward rounded out the top five in his No. 5 Chevrolet.
Herta’s Improvement Noticeable, On Right Tire Strategy On Saturday
Colton Herta told me on Friday morning how he wanted to turn his top five finishes into podiums. That and eliminating rookie mistakes that he made last year were his two goals to accomplish in 2020. If a win or two came is way, then it would be an added bonus.
Well, Herta came close to a podium in Friday’s race. He had the speed for a win but was on the wrong tire strategy. With Saturday’s race being 10 laps shorter than Friday’s, it meant that tire strategy was pretty much irrelevant. Everyone was going to be on the same strategy with the same tire designations.
Herta, caught his teammate Alexander Rossi and passed him for second with 11 laps remaining. He then staked a claim to get Will Power for the win but Power’s No. 12 Chevrolet was just too strong. Herta, had to settle for second, his first podium that wasn’t a race win.
On Saturday, he felt like he had a car capable of a win too.
See, he was the only driver in the top five of the starting lineup electing to begin the race on the Firestone Black’s. With strategy going to be key in terms of the Reds being faster and lasting longer than normal too, the tire strategy would be flipped here in the cooler conditions to where you’d want to pit earlier when starting on the Black’s and be able to go the rest of the way on the Red’s.
That’s why he felt like if he could keep the guys behind him at bay, he could settle in and really be in a good spot for the rest of the 85 Lap race.
“For me, it’s going to be less aggressive because I’m starting on the black tires where everyone in front of me is on reds,” Herta said to me on Friday morning about Friday’s start. “I even think two guys behind me are on reds also. For me, it’s going to be trying to keep those guys behind me, then after the first 2 or 3 laps hopefully it balances out and I can drive normally at that point and not worry about them and just focus on my own race.”
It worked too. Herta went from third to second on the opening lap. He had a very intense battle with pole sitter Rinus VeeKay for the lead for a while, but VeeKay on Red tires pulled away with Herta settling in for second.
That was his race to lose at that point.
Herta, went with the Reds on the second stop while VeeKay would go to the Black’s. It didn’t take long for Herta to find the lead with the quicker tire. The problem from then on was, Herta was also trying to stretch a fuel number and his rear tires were going away.
Running the Red’s long because he pit early on the first stint on the Black’s hurt him. That allowed Josef Newgarden to close him and force Herta into a rare mistake in running in hot into Turn 1 while leading on Lap 59 and running through the corner. His rear tires were gone.
He’d come out second while running on scuffed Red Tires.
So, they decided to go conservative with the Black tires for the final stint and it was over. Everyone else up front was on Red’s and he went from second to fourth in the end.
“The start and overall of the race was kind of what I was expecting because of the switch-up of tire choices and how a lot of people were starting on blacks and not so many on reds. I thought it would give a good chance in the second stint to move forward. In the end, we were just too loose. We wore out the rear tires and just didn’t have the pace to make the strategy work. We tried to do all we could and ended on blacks.
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the pace at the end, but we’re really happy with the Gleaners car and proud to carry the No One Runs On Empty message today. I hope everyone remembers that you can donate now, $0.88 a month at Gleaners.org, and help save 135 families from hunger.”
It’s frustrating for him because he also said to me before the race on Friday that he wanted to turn those fourth, fifth and sixth place finishes he keeps scoring to podiums.
“I really need to turn these fourth and fifth place finishes that we’ve had so often this year and turn them into first, second or third and that will really make the championship,” Herta said. “I think if we can get a few wins next year, and stack those podiums, I think it can look really good going into next year. Just trying to get more podiums.”
Now he’s done so and has shown great improvement from his rookie season to this sophomore. He’s had seven top five finishes in 2020 compared to three a year ago. He’s also had 11 top 10’s in 13 races this year too with having 11 in 17 races a season ago.
Herta’s end of season goal was to catch Josef Newgarden for second in the championship, but that’s now over with Newgarden leading him by 69 points with one race left.
Rossi Heating Up As Season Coming To A Close With 4 Straight Podiums Now
Alexander Rossi has to wonder what if. What if his power unit of his No. 27 Honda didn’t fail him right before the start of the season opener at the Texas Motor Speedway back on June 6? What if an electrical malfunction on this very Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn’t occur on July 4? What if luck was better following that? What if he wasn’t penalized in the other two Indy races prior to Saturday?
Rossi, may have more of a say in this year’s championship than he does now. Rossi, went from 18th in the standings to ninth in four races. He’s now scored four straight podiums in his No. 27 Honda on the year with being third and second respectively a couple of weekend’s ago in Mid-Ohio to flipping that to second and third respectively this weekend on the IMS road course.
By comparison, Rossi only had one top five in his previous nine starts of the season, so it’s safe to say he’s ending the year to where he can start 2021 and be a championship threat.
Harvey Quietly Having Strong 2020 Season
Jack Harvey isn’t getting the attention that he deserves this year. Meyer Shank Racing went from an alliance with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2019 to Andretti Autosport in 2020. Harvey, is reaping the benefits of that move.
Harvey, scored dual top 10 finishes this weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with being sixth on Friday and eighth on Saturday in his No. 60 Honda. He was also third in his first start on the 2.439-mile circuit back in 2019 to get three top eight finishes in four tries.
He’s best shot at a win though was back in July when he qualified on the front row and had race winning pace before getting caught out by an ill timed caution.
Still, he’s ending 2020 strong. He’s had six top 10 finishes in 13 races run this year. He had four in his previous 19 starts of his career. He heads to St. Pete which was a place where he came home 10th in last year’s season opener.
Rahal Continuing Strong End To 2020 Hoping To Chase 5th In Points
Graham Rahal is only 22 points behind Pato O’Ward for fifth in the NTT IndyCar Series points standings. That would be a good team goal for them to finish in the top five of points in such a weird year. He has one race to accomplish that feat as we leave the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and set our sights on the season finale in St. Pete in three weeks.
Rahal, heads there on the heels of a pair of seventh place finishes on the 2.439-mile IMS road course this past weekend in his No. 15 Honda. He backed that up from dual fourth place results the race weekend prior on his home track at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last month.
If you go back to the second race of the Iowa weekend, Rahal has six top seven finishes in his last seven starts on the year. He’s carrying a lot of momentum right now.
Newgarden vs. Dixon For The Championship
Josef Newgarden said that he needed to be perfect from here on out in order to win the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series championship. He was hot and had the momentum, but was a lot of points out still. In order to not only catch Scott Dixon, but pass him too, was going to be no easy feat.
So far, he’s been as close to perfect as one can and has gotten some help along the way.
Dixon and Newgarden were caught out from a Takuma Sato off in qualifying for their group for Race 1 on Thursday evening. Newgarden, started second. Dixon 12th. Newgarden, led the most laps on Friday too and won by 14.2940-seconds. Dixon, finished ninth.
The points gap went from 72 to 40 in one race.
On Saturday, Dixon qualified 15th. Newgarden though only started ninth. By the end of the opening stint, Newgarden was up to sixth. By the end of the race, he came home fourth. Dixon was eighth. That’s another 10 point swing.
The points gap heading to the season finale in three weeks at ST. Pete is down to 32. Newgarden, has made up 85 points since his win at the World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug. 30. He’s had four top four’s in his last five starts. Dixon’s had one top five in the same span. Newgarden, has four top two finishes in his last six starts overall on the year. Dixon, had six in the first eight races but none in the last five.
You get a heated battle now. All the momentum is on Newgarden with all the pressure on Dixon. I mean, Dixon has led the points after literally every race in 2020. Can he lose it in the end when it matters the most?
32 points is still a healthy lead though. But, Newgarden outscored Dixon by 32 points on Friday too. So, it’s possible. Plus, Dixon isn’t qualifying great right now either. Three of his last four efforts have been 12th or worse. Newgarden, has started in the top nine for six straight races and eight of his last nine tries. Among those last six are three in the top three.
Newgarden, is the defending race winner on the streets of St. Pete but Dixon finished second to him last year to though. Penske has won four of the last six years in St. Pete with Ganassi one win ever and that wasn’t by Dixon. In fact, Dixon is 0-for-15 at St. Pete and hasn’t led a lap there since 2012. He does though have seven finishes in his last eight St. Pete starts with two of the last three being podiums.
They don’t call Dixon the Ice Man for nothing. He isn’t known to crack under pressure.
Another underrated points race is the battle for 22nd in the entrant points. See, we have 23 full time teams but only 22 of them get the bonus money for the leaders circle program. With how 2020 has gone, that’s some much needed money on the line.
Entering this weekend, the No. 7 with McLaren was +30. The No. 4 with Foyt was +19. The No. 26 Andretti entry was +15 with the other car (No. 98 entry) +2. The 14 car with Foyt was +1 over the No. 20 ECR entry.
Leaving the weekend, its now a battle between Sebastien Bourdais in the 14 car and Marco Andretti in the 98.
The 7 car was piloted by Helio Castroneves this weekend in favor of the inured Oliver Askew. They maintained with being +30 as Castroneves was an uneventful 20th and 21st respectively.
Charlie Kimball finished a big 13th on Friday and 23rd on Saturday to go from +19 to +29. The biggest jumpers were James Hinchcliffe who replaces Zach Veach in the 26 for the remainder of the season finishing 14th and 13th respectively and going from +15 to +33. He did his job. So did Conor Daly who was 12th and 20th in the two races and went from one point down to 13 points up.
Andretti, had a fire in his No. 98 Honda take him out of a top 10 run on Friday to 25th. He was just 22nd on Saturday and is now -7.
Sebastien Bourdais struggled and was only 21st and 18th over the two days but is +7 still, so mission accomplished on that move.
St. Pete is left with a big fight to be the one not left standing when the music stops.
Power Proving This Generation Is One Of The Best
I wrote on Friday how the future of the NTT INDYCAR Series was on full display in the first race of the Harvest Grand Prix race weekend.
Josef Newgarden has not yet turned 30 still. He won’t do that until Dec. 22. He’s won two championships in the last three years and closing in on a third in the last four in making up 85 points on Scott Dixon in the last five races. He won Friday’s Harvest Grand Prix and was fourth on Saturday.
Alexander Rossi just turned 29 on Sept. 25. He’s won seven times in five seasons including the Indianapolis 500. He finished second on an unseasonably cool Fall day in Indianapolis on Friday and third on Saturday. He has 51 top 10 finishes already in his career too.
Rinus VeeKay just turned 20 himself on Sept. 11. He earned his first career pole on Thursday, led his first career laps (15) on Friday and scored his first career podium as well.
Another 20 year old in Colton Herta earned his ninth top five of his career in finishing fourth on Friday and his 10th top five on Saturday in a runner-up.. 28 year old Felix Rosenqvist rounded out the top five in fifth on Friday.
Two young veterans followed by a rookie and two second year drivers.
The youth movement is on full display in INDYCAR and it was never more evident on Friday afternoon. The future is bright. But, lets not push out the veterans yet either.
Scott Dixon is 32 points and one race away from his sixth career championship. Only AJ Foyt (7) has more.
Dixon, ranks third in career wins (50), two shy of Mario Andretti’s 52 and 17 shy of AJ Foyt’s 67. He has 48 runner-ups, which is second most. He trails Andretti by eight in that category. His 122 podiums are 22 shy of Andretti for most ever. His 173 top five finishes are 21 shy of Andretti for most ever there too.
Then you have Will Power. He earned his 61st career pole on Friday morning which moves him shy of tying Andretti for most ever. He also won his 39th career race which ties him with Bobby Unser for fifth most ever too. He’s four wins shy of eclipsing Michael Andretti (42) for fourth most ever and only Dixon’s 50 would be next up.
These two are generational drivers with some generational drivers coming up behind them. It’s no wonder why INDYCAR is so competitive right now.