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

Can Rossi Keep Momentum Going With 1st Win Since…Road America In 2019

Alexander Rossi is hot. He went from 20th to 5th in the Indy 500 and 11th to 2nd just a week later in Belle Isle. Now, he’s on the pole to end a 3 year drought of top starting spots. His last pole came in Belle Isle during the 2019 season.

Now, can he snap his 44 race winless drought next?

His last win came when he led 54 of 55 laps at Road America in 2019. With the way he’s driving now, I feel like if he doesn’t win then the doubt may start to creep back in again.

I feel like his confidence is as high as its been in the last few seasons. With being quickest in practice on Friday and now on the pole on Saturday, if he doesn’t win on Sunday does it hurt this momentum?

Josef Newgarden will start 2nd in Sunday’s INDYCAR race at Road America. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Can Penske Pick Up 1st Natural Road Course Win of 2022?

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.

Newgarden was 8th in practice on Friday, 5th on Saturday and qualified on the front row 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. He was 6th and 9th respectively in practice and starts 9th.

Will Power is just hoping to get a top 10 and not slide back too far in points as he’s coming off of a win last Sunday and has 6 top 4 finishes in 7 tries this season but could easily fall to 4th in points after being the only one in the top 11 in points not to make it out of the first round of qualifying. 4th place in points is Alex Palou and he’s only 14 back of Power. He starts 3rd.

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. The Spaniard qualified 3rd on Saturday and was 5th and 3rd respectively in practice this weekend too.

Can Anyone Top The “Big 3”

Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have combined to have won six of the last seven races here with Andretti taking the other. They all three combined to go 1-2-3-4 last year and have taken wins in 6 of the 7 races run in 2022 in general.

On Friday, the trio swept the entire top 8 of the speed chart. On Saturday, they had 9 cars in the top 10 in session 2. For qualifying, they swept the entire top 5 and took 8 of the top 10 starting spots.

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 means it’s basically down to Pato O’Ward (6th) and his AMSP teammate of Felix Rosenqvist (8th) as the only ones who could knock them off.

Can Alex Palou go back-to-back Sunday in Road America? Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Honda vs. Chevy

Honda went 1-2 in practice on Friday. Chevy went 1-2 on Saturday. They split the difference in qualifying with each having a representative on the front row. So, who wins on Sunday?

Honda has won each of the last 4 races at Road America but are 0-for-5 outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this season.

However, they’ll have 4 of the top 5 starters on Sunday with Josef Newgarden being the lone Chevrolet representative in the top 5 of the lineup. Can he hold the Honda’s off?

Chevrolet went 4-for-4 to start the 2022 season off with. Then they went 0-for-2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. Last week the visited the victory circle again in Belle Isle. They’re 5-for-5 away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but 0-for-2 on it.


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