Are drivers thinking championship yet heading into Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s an odd question to ask, especially with the biggest race in the world coming up this weekend, but how many drivers are thinking points heading into Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500? I mean, it’s hard to look too far ahead when such a big race is staring you squarely in your face. This is a chance at racing immortality.

Most drivers say that they’re not looking at points until after leaving Indianapolis. Scott Dixon is one of them. He is the current points leader and has won six titles over the course of his storied career.

“For me it’s 100% about the race,” pole sitter Dixon told me. “We’ll deal with the championship after we get through this month.”

His teammate Alex Palou is chasing him in points right now. He enters in second. He says that it’s hard not to look at points because if you do well in the ‘500, then it shapes you up well for a championship later too.

“Yeah, I think so, right? You if win this race, it’s going to make your life easier when you move along the championship,” Palou told me on Fast Friday. “That’s all you focus on, on the race. I think even if it was not Indy 500, you just focus about the race. If the race goes well and you win, everything will come together and will be good.

“That’s what we’re going to try and do.”

See, what makes this race a big part of the championship is, they pay double points on Sunday. It essentially counts as two races. Then, when you leave here, you’re almost halfway through the year already. We’ll cross the halfway point during the next race weekend in Belle Isle. If you’re not thinking points yet, it could be a rude awakening depending on how Sunday goes for some drivers.

“I’ve never been a big fan of the double points at the 500,” said Will Power. “I believe you should never be thinking of the championship when you’re racing to try to win that race. The only reason it started as double points is because the prize money wasn’t there and points was the way to make up for it.

“I don’t believe any race should be double points.”

Power, says that it’s definitely in your head late in the race. You have to make calculated moves as a full time driver in the series because if your move doesn’t pan out, it could cost you not only an Indy 500 win, but a championship too.

“If you’re in the hunt to win it, not that you’re thinking of that, but if you’re fifth and you’re down the last stint, the last 10 laps, there’s no chance to win, you won’t fight as hard. You might consider just taking the points,” he told me.

“Yeah, I just think it shouldn’t be double points, it should be normal points. It should be 100% about the race, shouldn’t be about the championship, in my opinion.

“Yeah, obviously like you said, massive stint in a short period of points coming up here. It will play a huge part in who’s going to be a contender at the end of the year.”

Pato O’Ward told me the same thing. If you’re at the end and you’re running in the top five and in order to move up it’s going to be at the mercy of a risky move, he said you just have to play it conservative because you can’t afford to lose the points. Unless it’s a move for the win, he’s not making it if there’s too big of a risk of losing crucial points.

Josef Newgarden agreed.

“I think it’s still pretty early,” Newgarden said. “Even at Indianapolis. I completely agree with Will. I’ve not been a big fan of the double points scenario, both at Indy and the championship finale, quite frankly.

“Yeah, you’re not thinking of points at Indy until it’s over. Those come in moments. You think about qualifying, you’re always trying to be fast, always trying to be in the top nine shootout because you know there’s points there, but more so because you want to start up front in the race.

“You’re first thinking about doing well in the race, starting up front. Then after qualifying is done, then you think about the points implications. If you had a good qualifying, it helps you in points. If you didn’t have a good qualifying, you worry about what it did to you in points.

“The race is the same way. When you’re in the race, you’re thinking about doing as well as possible in this event. You get one shot at it every year. It’s such a big deal. You’re just trying to win the race.

“After the fact you kind of have to settle with whatever that was. If it was a winning day, it helps you tremendously in the points. If it wasn’t, then you’re feeling horrible about leaving there, being in a hole probably in the championship.

“Yeah, I don’t like it. I think Will brings up a good point. If you’re fifth or sixth, do something strategy-wise to win the event, you may not do that nowadays just because you don’t want to sacrifice the negative of losing a bunch of points if you get it wrong. I don’t like that element.

“For the most part you’re not thinking about championship when you’re in the event.”

Some part time drivers said that they’ve got nothing to lose and would try to exploit that for those that do. They say why not make that risk on a driver needing points knowing that there’s a good chance they’ll back out of it.

For a team like Andretti Autosport, they’re okay with the double points for now. That’s because they need them.

Herta, finished 13th in the GMR Grand Prix and sits 10th in points. The best finisher among the group two weeks ago was Alexander Rossi in seventh for his sixth top 10 in eight starts here, but he’s only 14th in points, 85 markers back. The seventh place run here on the road course was his best result of the year as he’s not had a top five since last September at Mid-Ohio and hasn’t won since 2019.

Ryan Hunter-Reay had a solid day in the Grand Prix in 12th but he’s still 17th in points coming into the ‘500 now. James Hinchcliffe came home 18th as he sits 20th overall in the standings.

They’ll add Andretti and Stefan Wilson for the ‘500. The Indy 500 also pays double points, so if they can have a solid outing next weekend here, then they can certainly get back into the thick of things.

It’s two fold though. The double points are a big way for them to show their might and get back into the thick of things for this championship. On the flip side, if they don’t do well, then they could be down and out by time we get to the halfway point of the year in Belle Isle.

“I think as always you’ve got to take it one step at a time regardless on what track it’s at or how many points are on the table” Hinchcliffe told me. “There’s still a lot of racing to go. For sure none of us are in the championship conversation at the moment but we’ve got a lot of opportunity to get some points and turn this thing around. We didn’t start off great as a team last year, but by the end of the season I’d argue we were the strongest team on the track. We’ve just got to refind that mojo a little earlier in the year than last year.”

Hunter-Reay said this is a great opportunity to stack points but isn’t necessarily a fan of it. He said you shouldn’t get penalized for one bad race but on the flip side, you should see some kind of gain for having a good run in the biggest race too.

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