5 things I’m watching going into this weekend’s Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Team Penske

They have their own storylines between the three of them so might as well combine this into one grouping. I wondered last week if Penske could get back to their winning ways. After starting the season off 3-for-3 in terms of victories, they left the Month of May – 0 for their last 3 including a winless trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Could they get back on the wagon in Belle Isle?

They did in fact. Josef Newgarden won the pole for them on Saturday with Will Power winning the race a day later. Now, can they pick up another victory Sunday afternoon in Road America?

They’re 0-for-2 on natural road courses this season but 3-for-3 on street courses and 1-for-2 on ovals. This is their lone weakness.

They were just 4-6-14 in Barber and 3-20-25 on the Indy road course. However, they’ve had a good past in Road America though.

While they’ve not won on the 4-mile Wisconsin road course since 2018, they should have at least ended that string last year via Newgarden who started on the pole and dominated the day (led 32 laps) before his engine failed him on the final restart while leading.

That’s why he’s a topic this week on if he can get redemption this weekend similar to how Power did so last.

Power’s engine wouldn’t refire after a red flag in last year’s race at Belle Isle while leading. It was a fluke and kept him from victory. He was so excited last Sunday to make up for that in winning this year’s version.

In 2021, Newgarden had the win well in hand before a late race caution. On the restart, Newgarden’s car wouldn’t go and he fell like an anchor.

He’s only had 1 top 10 (4th last week at Belle Isle) since winning back-to-back races this past spring at Texas and Long Beach. At Road America, he led 53 of 55 laps in his 2018 win, was third in 2019 and runner-up in 2017 too.

Speaking of turning things around, that’s exactly what Scott McLaughlin needs to do too. After a season opening pole/win combo and a runner-up in Texas, he’s went from 3 top 6’s in the opening 4 races and being 2nd in points to 10th in points following results of 20th, 29th and 19th respectively. He calls this next stretch of tracks among his favorites at Road America and Mid-Ohio and is expecting a swift turn around.

Power is hoping to keep both out of the victory circle and be the 1st driver to keep a points lead since McLaughlin did so in Races 1 and 2. He has a top 4 finish in all but 1 start this season and was on the podium here last year.


Alex Palou celebrates his win last year at Road America – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Alex Palou

This has been a strong start to Alex Palou’s championship defense. He’s just 14 points back in the standings in 4th place after 6 top 10’s in the first 7 races run. His average finishing position right now is 6.7. Last year his average finishing position at this time of the year was 7th.

However, he had at least accumulated a win by now too at this point a year ago as well. He’s winless in all 7 races this time around which ironically enough, if he doesn’t win on Sunday in Road America, would mark this the longest winless drought to start a championship defense season since Scott Dixon’s year in 2014.

Dixon won the 2013 title and in 2014 he didn’t reach victory lane until the 15th race at Mid-Ohio that year. Also, this would only be the 5th time since 1996 that the defending champion didn’t have at least 1 win in the next season by the completion of the 8th race run. 1 of those 5 times was Dario Franchitti going to NASCAR in 2009 instead of coming back to try to win a 2nd straight.

Last year it only took Dixon three races to win at Texas. Josef Newgarden won the 6th race of the 2020 season at Iowa. Dixon won the 8th race of the year in Belle Isle a year prior. The 2 years prior, both Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud won in their 4th races at Barber and Phoenix respectively.

Champions And How Long It Took To Win The Next Season

2022 – Alex Palou 7 races and counting

2021 – Scott Dixon – won the 3rd race at Texas

2020 – Josef Newgarden – won the 6th race at Iowa

2019 – Scott Dixon – won the 8th race in Belle Isle

2018 – Josef Newgarden won the 4th race at Barber

2017 – Simon Pagenaud – won the 4th race at Phoenix

2016 – Scott Dixon – won the 2nd race at Phoenix

2015 – Will Power – won the 5th race in the Indy Grand Prix

2014 – Scott Dixon – won the 15th race at Mid-Ohio

2013- Ryan Hunter-Reay – won the 2nd race at Barber

2012 – Dario Franchitti – won the 5th race in the Indy 500

2011 – Dario Franchitti – won the season opener at St. Pete

2010 – Dario Franchitti – won the 6th race in the Indy 500

2009 – Scott Dixon – won the 3rd race at Kansas

2008 – Dario Franchitti – went to NASCAR

2007 – Sam Hornish Jr. – won the 7th race at Texas

2006 – Dan Wheldon – won the season opener at Homestead

2005 – Tony Kanaan – won the 8th race at Kansas

2004 – Scott Dixon – winless

2003 – Sam Hornish Jr. – won the 12th race at Kentucky

2002 – Sam Hornish Jr. – won the season opener at Homestead

2001 – Buddy Lazier – won the 6th race at Pikes Peak

2000 – Greg Ray – won the 7th race at Phoenix

1999 – Kenny Brack – won the 4th race in the Indy 500

1998 – Tony Stewart – won the season opener in Disney

1997 – Scott Sharp – won the season opener in Loudon

This would almost be ironically enough, unprecedented for Palou to go this long without a win. In this same time frame, only Dixon in 2004 went winless in the season following a championship winning one. He was the 2nd longest in 2015 with Sam Hornish Jr. taking 12 races in the 2003 season to get his 1st win.

Can Palou avoid this stat by winning on Sunday?

He is the defending race winner at Road America and all 3 of his INDYCAR wins came on natural road courses. He was also runner-up at Barber back in May too.


Scott Dixon hasn’t won in over a year but it seems like that could be ending soon. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Other Winless Streaks

Speaking of winless streaks, with the parity this season (7 pole winners in 7 races, 6 different winners in same 7 races) do we see one end on Sunday or do they extend another week? Scott Dixon hasn’t won in his last 20 starts but he enters with so big momentum in leading 95 laps in the Indy 500 and finishing 3rd a week later in Belle Isle. Dixon also has 5 top fives including two wins and a third place effort in his last 6 tries at Road America.

Alexander Rossi is another one. He’s not won since this race in 2019 (44 races ago). He was also third in the second race of 2020 and seventh last year. Rossi has a pair of top 5’s in the last 2 starts including a runner-up finish last Sunday in Belle Isle.

What about Felix Rosenqvist? He’s not won here (31 race drought) since his last start in 2020 (he missed 2021 due to injury) and has 3 straight top 10’s on the season.

Graham Rahal (80 race drought) is back peddling into Road America but this is a place that’s always been kind to him. His six Road America finishes – third, eighth, sixth, fourth, seventh and 11th respectively. This could be his weekend.

Simon Pagenaud (32 race skid) has 3 straight top 10’s on the season and 5 top 11’s in his last 6 starts including a runner-up on the Indy road course.

What about someone like Takuma Sato? He’s not won since the 2020 Indy 500 (30 race drought) but has five straight top 10 finishes here and driving a car that Romain Grosjean finished fifth in in 2021. He qualified on the front row last week in Belle Isle.

Do you take someone from this list of an already winner of this season in Scott McLaughlin, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Pato O’Ward or Colton Herta?


Josef Newgarden celebrates his pole run last year in Road America – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Qualifying

We talk about the importance of qualifying is in the NTT INDYCAR Series these days. Track position is everything here this weekend too. Other than 2020, the previous four races and last year’s here were won by a top five starter including three of which from the front row. 95% of the last 41 series races on natural race courses were won by a top 10 starter including every race with the exception of the wet one in Indy since the 2018 season finale.

If you break it down, 78% of the same races were won by a driver in the Fast 6 including 16 of the last 18 coming from 7th or better.

6 of the 7 races at Road America (86%) since 2016 were won by a top 7 starter.

That’s why qualifying is so key on Saturday as the race arguably will be won then.

So who’s been the best qualifiers this year?

Lets break it down among some key notables.

For Penske, Scott McLaughlin was 1st, 9th and 10th on street courses this season and 4th and 11th on natural road courses. He started 17th in Road America last year. Josef Newgarden was 9th, 2nd 1st on the same street tracks and 7th and 3rd on the natural terrain tracks. He’s qualified in the top 2 Rows in 5 of the last 6 tries at Road America though too including 3 of the last 5 from the pole. Will Power was 19th in Barber but on the pole at Indy for the GP. He does have 3 starts of 11th or worse though in his last 4 races on the season but has been in the top 8 for all 7 Road America starts including 6 of the 7 in the top 5.

Pato O’Ward has qualified much better in going from 16th to 10th to 11th to 2nd to 5th to 7th to 5th again. He was on the pole here in 2020 but his other 3 starts have been 10th or worse. Being in the Fast 6 on both natural road courses this season though leads me to believe he’ll be there again. Same for his teammate Felix Rosenqvist who’s qualified 18th, 8th and 7th respectively at Road America. On natural road courses this season, he’s qualified 6th in both. He would have 6 straight top 8 starting spots if not for a penalty last week in Belle Isle.

Rinus VeeKay qualified on the pole in Barber and was quick all weekend there.

What about the Honda’s?

Dixon has not made the Fast 6 on a road/street course all season. He’s also made the Fast 6 in Road America just once in his last 5 tries too. His best 2 qualifying efforts were on ovals. He was 7th in St. Pete, 16th in Long Beach and 9th at Belle Isle. For the natural road courses, he was 13th in Barber and 21st in the Indy GP. He qualified 13th here last year. His teammate Marcus Ericsson (17th,13th, 16th, 18th at Road America) hasn’t either. He qualified 8th in literally all 3 street course races in 2022. In Barber and Indy he was 12th and 18th respectively. Alex Palou was 3rd and 2nd on like tracks on natural road courses this season, 3rd and 5th in his last 2 Road America starts and is the top Ganassi driver I think on Saturday.

Romain Grosjean was 5th, 6th and 12th in the 3 street courses but 8th and 10th in the 2 natural road courses. Colton Herta was 3rd, 1st and 7th on the streets and 10th and 14th on the natural road courses. At Road America, Herta has 3 front row starting spots in 4 tries and 7th in the other. Alexander Rossi has 2 Fast 6 appearances (2018, 2019) at Road America, 2 top 10 starting spots all season and 1 was at Barber. 5 of his 7 qualifying attempts have seen him start 11th or worse with each of his last 5 Road America starts being 4th, 2nd, 11th, 10th and 9th respectively. Devlin DeFrancesco hasn’t had a final round appearance all season.

Simon Pagenaud’s best qualifying performances were on street courses (2 top 6’s in 3 tries and 3 top 10’s) but on natural road courses he was 24th and 20th. He has 2 Fast 6 appearances at Road America and the 4 times being eliminated in Round 1. All 4 happen to be in his last 5 tries at that. His teammate Helio Castroneves qualified on the pole here in 2017 (his last start at Road America).

RLL has been a mess in qualifying again but this will be a tale on if they can improve. Jack Harvey has qualified 19th, 2nd 9th and 3rd in his 4 Road America stats but none of which was with RLL. For Graham Rahal, outside of being 14th last year, he qualified 6th, 6th, 9th, 5th, 4th and 5th respectively prior.

Graham Rahal told me during the Indy 500 test in April that if RLL could figure out their qualifying woes, then they’d be a lot better. Their race pace is great. This team is always in the top 10 with their cars on race day. It’s the fact that it’s always a battle to get there and always having to come from behind to score top 10’s in the problem. If they started closer to the front, maybe they’d find victory lane more.

Rahal said that the reason they struggle in qualifying is because in the race, you don’t push the cars 100%. The RLL cars are great going 90% which is great for race pace. It’s when you have to get that extra 10% out of them, they become sketchy.

A week after having 2 of their 3 cars start in the final 3 spots for the Indy 500, all 3 will made up the bottom 8 spots in Belle Isle.

Rookie Christian Lundgaard started 19th in his No. 30 Dallara-Honda. He’s qualified 15th, 25th, 20th, 14th, 8th, 31st and now 19th respectively in 2022. Harvey started 20th in his No. 45 Dallara-Honda. He’s qualified 23rd, 21st, 15th, 9th, 32nd and now 20th himself.

Rahal would come from 23rd in his No. 15 Dallara-Honda last week. He’s qualified 11th, 27th, 13th, 9th, 12th, 21st and 23rd. At one point in Belle Isle, Rahal qualified in the top 10 in 7 straight races. He’s been in the top 10 just once in the last 7 there.

My early Fast 6: O’Ward, Rosenqvist, Newgarden, Power, Herta and Palou.


Will Power came from 16th to win Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in Belle Isle. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Championship Battle

Will Power took the points lead back in May after the GMR Grand Prix. Marcus Ericsson took it away after his Indy 500 win. Power, took it back following his Belle Isle triumph last Sunday. That was the 6th straight race we’ve seen the points lead change hands. Does it happen again on Sunday?

With only 14 points blanketing the top 4 drivers, there’s a good chance it can.

Power holds a slim 3 point lead over Ericsson while Pato O’Ward sits 12 points back in 3rd. Alex Palou (-14) and Josef Newgarden (-47) round out the top five.

Power has 6 top 4 finishes in the 7 races run this season in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet and was on the podium here last year. Palou won this race a year ago and only did so after Newgarden’s engine failed him on the late final restart. If that doesn’t happen, 3 of the top 4 finishing spots in last year’s race go to 3 of the top 5 in this year’s standings entering it.

Out of the last 6 years at Road America, at least 3 drivers each race would score a top 5 there and would later finish in the top 5 at seasons end in points. In fact, the eventual season champion has finished on the podium in each of the last 5 years here (2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 1st).

Right now, 10 of the top 11 in points belong to Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and Arrow McLaren SP. Penske and Ganassi have combined to win 13 of the last 14 series titles including 8 straight. Andretti won the other.

In fact, if you go all the way back to 2003, Penske, Ganassi and Andretti have won every series championship. O’Ward (3rd) and his AMSP teammate of Felix Rosenqvist (9th) hope to sneak in and steal this year’s away from them.

O’Ward has 4 top 5’s in his last 5 starts on the season and has 3 top 10’s in his last 4 starts at Road America including a runner-up in the middle. Rosenqvist won here in 2020, his last start on this track at that since he was injured last season and is coming off of a pair of top 6’s in Indy and a last to 10th run in Belle Isle.

Palou and Newgarden had good points days in Belle Isle to salvage top sixes while Scott Dixon (-53) and Alexander Rossi (-74) are heating up.

Dixon led the most laps (95) in the Indy 500 and the only reason that he didn’t win was due to a speeding penalty on his final stop. Rossi went from 20th to 5th in Indy and 11th to 2nd in Belle Isle. While Rossi hasn’t won in his last 44 starts and Dixon in his last 20, expect both to end those droughts in this next 3 race stretch.

Rossi’s last win came at this very track in 2019. He has 2 podiums in his last 4 Road America tries. Then it’s to Mid-Ohio to where he has 6 straight top 6 results including 3 podiums in his last 5 tries. After that we go to Toronto to where he has 2 podiums in his last 3 efforts there too.

He’s steadily improved in poitns too going from 27th to 18th to 13th to 15th to 11th and now to 7th.

Dixon has 5 top 5’s in his last 6 at Road America, 6 wins at Mid-Ohio and 3 wins at Toronto including 2 straight top 2’s there.

Team Penske and Ganassi have won six of the last seven races in Road America with Andretti taking the other. They all three combined to go 1-2-3-4 last year.

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