Josef Newgarden is the only repeat winner of an NTT INDYCAR Series race all season. He has 3 trophies to his credit with wins at Texas, Long Beach and the last time out in Road America. However, those are also the only 3 podiums that he’s had all year too. That’s the main reason that he sits 32 points out heading into the 9th race of the year on Sunday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for which I expect fireworks to occur not just in the Ohio night sky on Saturday and again on Monday night but on Sunday afternoon too. This is also the site of his 1st win of the 2021 season as the Tennessee native has a pair of top 2 finishes in his last 3 starts on the Ohio road course.
Is he due for his 3rd Mid-Ohio win this weekend for the 2nd straight year that the Honda Indy 200 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) has been held of the Fourth of July weekend?
He hopes so in order to keep afloat in the points. Marcus Ericsson finished runner-up to Newgarden last July and 5th in 2021 and leads the standings for the 2nd time this year. The Swedish driver has 4 top five finishes this season too but the double points win at Indy has the Chip Ganassi Racing driver entering the midway mark of the year with dreams of becoming the first driver since Dario Franchitti to win both Indy and the title in the same season.
Ganassi once had a stranglehold on Mid-Ohio but has since let it lapse. Ganassi, at one point, had 7 wins in an 8 year span here by three different drivers. They’re 1-for-8 since and 0-for-3 on natural road course races this year at that. However, they did have the 2nd place finisher in 2 of the 3 races and the 2nd place finisher here last year too.
Are they due?
Ericsson is consistent while Scott Dixon and Alex Palou are hoping to rebound.
Palou had 3 podiums in the first 4 races run this season including a pair of runner-ups and held the points lead as a result.
Then, the bottom has dropped out.
Despite qualifying 2nd for the GMR Grand Prix, Palou got off course and finished 18th, 1 lap down. For the Indy 500, he qualified 2nd again but was caught out by a caution while coming to the pits. With them being closed, he had to go through without stopping. While running on fumes, he eventually had to pit for emergency service and ruined his day. He did rebound to finish 9th but it took him from 1st to 3rd in the points that month.
In Belle Isle, he qualified 18th and finished 6th. At Road America, he qualified 3rd for his 5th top 3 start in the last 6 races but had a run-in with his teammate on Lap 3 and would finish last (27th).
Palou has went from the points lead with 3 podiums in 4 races to 0 top 5’s in the last 4 to drop to 47 points out in 5th.
Can he rebound Sunday in Mid-Ohio?
By being winless in the first 8 races, this is the longest winless drought to start a championship defense season since Scott Dixon’s year in 2014. He was 3rd last season.
Dixon has just 1 win in the last 30 races run and hasn’t visited victory lane in over a year. He does have 6 career wins at Mid-Ohio but only 1 podium in his last 8 tries there too and just 1 podium all season at that
We’re still ignoring Will Power who is 2nd in points and has a top 4 in all but 2 races run this year. He has 5 top 4 finishes in his last 7 Mid-Ohio starts and entering with fire in his eyes following being punted in Road America by Devlin DeFrancesco. He’s 27 points behind Ericsson in a championship race that’s seen the top spot change hands after each of the last 6 races.
Power held onto it after the GMR Grand Prix but Ericsson took it away after his Indy 500 win. Power won a week later in Belle Isle and snatched it back. Ericsson then wrangled it away in Road America. Does it swap hands again?
Alexander Rossi may be the hottest driver in the sport with 3 straight top 5’s and a pair of podiums in consecutive races. He has a 44 race winless drought but 5 straight top 5 finishes at Mid-Ohio including 3 podiums in that span.
The “Big 3” has won the last 7 Mid-Ohio races and 7 of 8 this season.
The last time someone not of these three organizations got a trophy here was SPM in 2018.
2020 Race 1: Penske-Penske-Andretti
2020 Race 2: Andretti-Andretti-Andretti
2018: Andretti-SPM-Penske *
It’s been since 2015 since someone not of them won the race but that’s the only time in the last 16 years that it’s occurred.
Can anyone new break into their stranglehold on Sunday?
They better qualify well. Each of the last 3 Mid-Ohio pole sitters have won the race. We’ve had 8 different pole sitters in as many races run this year. 6 of the last 7 were won by a front row starter. The other?
36 of 38 Mid-Ohio races were won by a top 8 starter.
95% of the last 42 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.
Qualifying is key.
So is Chevrolet power. They’ve won 2 of the last 3 Mid-Ohio races and are a perfect 6-for-6 away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this season. Honda’s only wins came on the 2.439-mile Indy road course and 2.5-mile oval.
They put 4 cars in the top 5 in Road America but didn’t win. They’ve won 3 of the last 5 races of their self sponsored race in Mid-Ohio.
“Oh no. No way yet,” Grosjean told me on if he’s met expectations yet for 2022. “We’ve had rough luck. Texas and here in the GMR Grand Prix. The Indy 500 didn’t come out way. The Detroit weekend you can put on me. So no really not where we really wanted. But there’s a second half left.”