MADISON, Ill — Coming out of the month long summer break, I wondered if this NTT IndyCar Series championship would be Chip Ganassi Racing’s to lose. They had three of the top five drivers in the standings with Alex Palou pulling away from the field at that point.
Then, all hell broke loose for him.
He had a six spot grid penalty for the streets of Nashville which took him from third in the starting lineup to ninth. He’d only finish seventh as a result. A week later in Indianapolis, he was running fourth but blew an engine late in the race. His points lead went from over 50 points down to 21 entering Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500.
The hits kept coming though. Due to another engine change, Palou was facing a nine spot grid penalty this weekend at the World Wide Technology Raceway which relegated him down to 21st. The door was now open. Pato O’Ward rolled off fifth. Scott Dixon was in Row 4 while Josef Newgarden Row 2. Marcus Ericsson started alongside of O’Ward.
But, following the first round of pit stops, Palou drove all the way up to the top 10 in 10th. He was back in the hunt again. Unfortunately for him, that Lap 65 caution has turned this championship upside down again.
Rinus VeeKay slammed on the brakes entering Turn 1 while trying to slow up in enough time to not get into Scott Dixon. With Ryan Hunter-Reay slowing Dixon up a bit, VeeKay couldn’t get woed up in enough time and ran into Dixon who then got into Palou.
“We did what we had to do,” a disappointed Palou said following the crash. “We came from 21st to 10th. We just got hit.”
The points race is wide open again. That’s due to Palou’s recent misfortunes. He had five podiums in six races entering Nashville. In fact, he had six total podiums on the season including two of which being wins to go along with seven top fives.
Pato O’Ward at that point had two podiums in his last six starts including four on the season and six top five finishes.
That was the difference in their gap between them in points.
Same for Dixon. He had only scored two podiums all season going to Nashville. What was keeping him in striking distance was his six top fives.
Josef Newgarden was in a similar boat. He had four podiums but just five top five results too.
With Palou being seventh, 27th and 20th respectively the last three weeks and Dixon 17th and 19th the last two weeks, the door is wide open for O’Ward, Newgarden and Ericsson.
Leaving Road America, Palou led O’Ward by 28 points and Newgarden by 88. Leaving Nashville, it was 48 and 75 points respectively. Now, it’s Palou trailing O’Ward by 10 points heading west with Newgarden down 22 and Dixon 43.
O’Ward was fifth in Indy and runner-up in Gateway. Newgarden, now has three podiums in the last five races including now a win and Ericsson with seven straight top 10 results including five of which in the top six puts them back in the hunt.
For the Leaders Circle fight, despite not showing up and racing this weekend, the No. 45 Honda entry for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing stays in the money in 22nd. They lead the No. 7 with Arrow McLaren SP by a mere four points heading out west.
RLL committed to running a third entry for this 45 car this past week with Hy-Vee pledging a full time sponsorship for it. The question now is, do they show up to race the final three races since $1 million is on the line?
The No. 06 with Meyer Shank Racing is 24th (-31) while the No. 59 Chevrolet for Carlin is -32. AJ Foyt Racing’s No. 4 Chevrolet is last among full time teams at -40.
For the teams on the good side of the bubble, the No. 48 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing is now just +7 while the No. 18 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan is +14 after being +23 last week. The No. 29 Honda for Andretti Autosport dropped from +36 to +28 while the second AJ Foyt Racing car on here in the No. 14 Chevrolet made a big jump in leaping from +24 two weeks ago to +45 following a fifth place run on Saturday night by Sebastien Bourdais.