PLYMOUTH, Wisc — Josef Newgarden lost 40+ points when his No. 2 Chevrolet had a mechanical failure on the final restart with three laps remaining in Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix. He’d go from being 51 points down entering the weekend, to 50 back after winning the pole, to 42 back at the time of the restart to 88 arrears following a 21st place result.
He becomes the lately victim to lead the most laps in a race but not to win. We’re up to six in-a-row now which is the first time since 1978 that a feat like that has happened.
Scott Dixon led 163 of 248 laps in Texas 2 but he finished fourth. Romain Grosjean led 44 of 85 laps in the GMR Grand Prix but came home second. Conor Daly led 40 of 200 laps in the Indy 500 but came home 13th. Last weekend in Detroit, Will Power led 37 of 70 laps but was only 20th due to his car not firing under red flag. Newgarden led the first 67 laps but didn’t lead the final three and was runner-up. On Sunday, Newgarden led 32 of 55 but finished 21st.
At Road America, we’ve seen some dominance anyways. Power led 46 of 50 laps in his win in 2016. Newgarden led 53 of 55 laps in his 2018 win. Alexander Rossi led 54 of 55 in his 2019 win. Pato O’Ward led 43 of 55 in Race 2 last year but was second.
We’ve also only had one pole winner earn a win all season as that happened with Colton Herta’s domination in St. Pete back in the second race of the season. Pole winners this year have now finished fourth, first, fourth, fourth, second, 17th, third, second and 21st.
Alex Palou capitalized on Newgarden’s misfortunes and stamps his name as the legitimate championship front runner now. He’s proving that his start to the year isn’t a fluke.
“I’m just a normal person, that I had a dream of becoming a race car driver, had some luck,” said Palou after his second win of the season. “Lots of people was helping me and had lots of dreams, and yeah, was able to be racing in Europe, then in Japan, because that was what I had, and then I was lucky enough to come here in America last year.
“One of my dreams, a part of being a race car driver, was to live at some point in America. I didn’t know where, when or why, just wanted to live here and to experience living here.
“Yeah, I’m enjoying it a lot here.”
Palou, has five podiums in nine starts in 2021 including seven top fives overall. That’s why he’s opened up a 28 point lead over Pato O’Ward in the standings with both now having won twice this year. As to if he feels jaded that O’Ward, not him, is getting all the attention despite Palou having better stats this year, Palou said, “I mean — no. I’m not that kind of guy that likes to be like all the time like oh, yeah, this — so no. I’m actually happy that they talk so good about Pato and about Colton going to Formula 1. I’m like, yeah, just take them to Formula 1 and leave me here alone.
“Yeah, I’m happy to see that, and I’m really calm here and I’m super happy to be here. But yeah, I’m not that type of guy that is all the time.”
They have the same amount of wins (2), top fives (6) and top 10’s (7). The only difference is the podiums in which Palou leads 5-4. Palou also lead in laps led too 108-75.
The difference in the points?
25 different drivers have led at least one lap all season which is astonishing. Also is the fact that we’ve had seven different winners from five different teams hailing from seven different countries in nine races run. The only drivers with multiple wins?
Palou and Pato.
“Yeah, it gives me a lot of confidence, really,” Palou said of his second win of the season on Sunday. “Like four podiums this year, four or five, which it’s amazing. Yeah, it gives me a lot of confidence to get that second win. You need wins to — I don’t know, you get a different energy, and all the crew gets to be in Victory Lane, get all the photos, so it’s awesome for all the group, and yeah, gives confidence enough to do it again.”
Palou heads to what he calls his second favorite track next in Mid-Ohio. He feels like he’s in a great position at the moment to succeed here.
“Yeah, it’s amazing. I think I’m in like the best position,” he said. “I’ve been super lucky in my life to be able to be here. That was my dream, like not 10 years ago, it was like two years ago that I was in Japan looking at all the races in INDYCAR and asking myself if there was a chance I could be here. It’s not like it’s been work that’s been in the works for like 20 years. It’s been like super recent.
“So yeah, I’m super happy to be here, and it’s crazy, I’m coming from a really small town. I don’t know how many people, but I can name some of the people, like it’s super small, and it’s amazing to be here.”
O’Ward isn’t at his best in Mid-Ohio though. He was 11th and ninth last year as with how he ran at Road America this weekend, that’s about par for the course on their natural road course program at the moment. He was also 15th in the GMR Grand Prix in Indianapolis and fourth at Barber too.
Does that open the door back up for Scott Dixon? He has six wins in Mid-Ohio.
Dixon remained in third in points as he had a Scott Dixon type of day though on Sunday at Road America. Dixon, qualified 13th and remained right around that 10th spot all the way until the final pit stop. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was the first on pit road on Lap 39. That move was the move of the day if you ask me.
He went from around 10th to in fifth place on the final restart with three to go. With Newgarden’s troubles, Dixon propelled to fourth at the finish to earn his 179th career top five result. He did go from -36 to -53, but this was a typical day that Dixon has and is how championships are won in the end.
The thing is for Dixon, he had six top two results in his first eight starts last year. In the last 15 races run, he only has one. He also has just three podiums in that 15 race span, which is why instead of being closer in points, he’s 53 down.
“I don’t know what he’s going to do. I know what I would do if I was in his position, and that wouldn’t help me,” Palou said on his fight with Dixon now for the championship moving forward. “But yeah, I think he’s at the point like he won six championships, so he doesn’t have to show anything, and he wants the team to be up there. If I go well, he’s going to go well, as well, because that means we have a good car.
“I don’t know if going into the last race and we are matching points, maybe then he’s not going to talk to me, like that would be obvious. But yeah, I hope that happens. That would be amazing for the team.”
Newgarden’s escapade is listed above as he sits fourth. His Penske teammate of Simon Pagenaud went off strategy in the end on Sunday and it didn’t work. He went from a sure top 10 to 18th and falls from -56 to -94 heading to the off week.
Rinus VeeKay didn’t lose any positions in points as he will be sixth with Colton Herta going from -97 to -107 following his runner-up.
Marcus Ericsson is eighth after a sixth place run but is 110 points out. Graham Rahal is ninth (-121) while his RLL teammate of Takuma Sato is 10th (-143). Will Power is two points out of 10th in 11th (-145).
Next up is Mid-Ohio to where Power and Herta split wins last year and feel like momentum is now on their side.
“This will be a big confidence boost for everybody,” Herta continued. “Fourth place last week in Detroit and then come here and get a second, we’re definitely on the ball. We’ve just got to keep doing it.”
For Power, he has five podiums in his last six tries at Mid-Ohio including three of which in the top two.
“Yes, I do. Even Detroit last week, sixth I was really happy with coming from 21st or 20th or whatever it was,” Power said on building momentum now. “And yeah, I was really happy to get my Fast Six this weekend, and I thought this morning if I can get a podium, I’ll be really happy. So finished on the podium and start heading in the right direction.”
But, with only one guy within 50 points of Palou as he essentially has a full race lead on everyone else, is this his championship to lose now?
“I mean, we take a look at the points, obviously, every race,” Palou said. “Like we need to know where we are, if we are good or if we are bad. But that’s not changing our motivation or our work ethic. Even if we win, we’ve got to continue to be performing to be P1, otherwise we’re not going to last too long there. Three races, I think it’s a lot of races. I think until the last race, this championship, it’s not going to be decided.
“Even if you think a lot about the championship, you have to be here to score those points to still be there. I’m going to look at the points tomorrow, but yeah, I was in the lead after the 500 by 36 or 37 points, and two days later I was one point back.
“There’s a lot of movement on points, and it’s going to keep it going until the last race, I think.
“Yeah, lots of stuff. I’m not going to say it because probably my competitor are going to listen. But yeah, I learned a lot of stuff, and you win championships by winning races and then staying consistent. If you have a car to finish second, you finish second. You don’t have to go and try and win that and end up in the fence.
“There’s going to be days where we have a car to finish fifth, and that’s the best we can do, but when we have a chance to win, we have to take that. That’s what I think that Scott has been doing for the past years, and he’s the best at it, as we can see.
“But yeah, it’s tough. It’s tough to be consistent here in INDYCAR. It changes so much. Just one lap in qualifying can get you from like P15 to Fast Six, and that changes all your race or even one strategy.
“It’s tough to be consistent. But yeah, we’ve been good so far.”