NEWTON, IA — Marcus Ericsson led Will Power by 35 points entering this past weekend’s NTT INDYCAR Series doubleheader at the Iowa Speedway. 6th place at the time was Pato O’Ward who sat 75 points arrears himself.
Leaving the .894-mile track?
44 points now separate 1st from 6th. Ericsson did what he had to do on a track that doesn’t suit Chip Ganassi Racing well. They won 2 of the 1st 3 years here but have been 0-for-14 since. So for a driver who started outside the top 10 both days and his main competition sharing the front row for each race, for him to come out with a points lead is a blessing.
“I’m happy with our day, our weekend,” Ericsson said. “Two top-eight finishes. Still in the championship lead. Coming into this weekend, even though not saying it, we were a bit worried because we knew that Penske is very strong here. We haven’t been very strong here in the past.
“Yeah, with that in mind I’m really happy with my race today.”
Power cut a decent chunk from his deficit. He gained 27 points on Ericsson and heads to Indy 8 points behind now.
“Yeah, great weekend points-wise,” the Team Penske driver said. “Would have loved to have got a win here. Tough competition, man. You can’t let up one bit.
“Yeah, the car was really good. I probably could have been more aggressive in that second-to-last stint because it seemed like there’s a lot less deg. Must have cooled or the track took a lot of rubber or something. The track was really fast.”
Power is 0-for-16 at Iowa despite having scored 6 poles here. He led 23 laps on Saturday and 80 more on Sunday. However, he also had no wins to show for it. That’s okay though as only 1 pole sitter in the 16 race history of Iowa Speedway has ever won here before.
So to minimize mistakes and to be on the podium both days, Power is happy. He says that they have to keep doing what they’ve been doing and wins will come.
“Yeah, just doing what I’ve been doing. Simple as that,” he says. “We’ve been executing, not really doing anything special. Get on top of the qualifying thing because we cannot have what we had in Toronto. Definitely got the pace.
“Yeah, putting it together for the next – how many left – five. It’s getting down to the wire, man. Better bring your A game or I’m going to take it from you young blokes.”
Ericsson is putting the pressure on everyone. He offers a glimmer of hope on qualifying days but closes that door quickly shut with a top 10 on Sunday’s.
“Yeah, I’m hoping that this is a good weekend for us to catch Marcus because he’s very tough,” he continued. “He’s not the best qualifier, but he’s probably the best racer in the series, in my opinion. Just over the years watching him race, he’s one of the toughest guys. Like he’s very, very good at starting back there and making his way all the way to the front.
“Yeah, try to get some points on him. He’s no joke. He’s tough to beat.”
His 19 top 10’s in his last 22 series starts is putting a squeeze on everyone. However, he too feels like he has to win again in order to take home the Astor Cup championship trophy.
“I think I probably need to win at least one more race,” he said. “That’s sort of my mindset. But at the same time, I think we have the best consistency in the field so we just need to keep doing that. If we keep being consistent, inside the top 10, even since the month of May I think we’ve been in the top eight every race.
“We need to be there all the time, then we have some strong tracks coming up, try and grab a win or two would be nice to try and close up the championship.
“But it’s going to be tough. We just need to maximize every weekend, yeah. That’s the name of the game, right?”
They have a fight on their hands from Scott Dixon who now has 5 top 5’s in his last 6 starts and O’Ward.
“I think the biggest thing is because everybody that’s fighting for the championship is having good weekends,” O’Ward said. “No one is having bad weekends.”
He feels like they’ve thrown away from good finishes to which they could have a points lead right now. The bad start to the year (12th, 15th), the bad luck in the GMR Grand Prix (19th) and the engine troubles in Road America and Mid-Ohio (26th, 24th) have him at a defict that could be less.
“For us, we’ve thrown away and we’ve given away an easy hundred points just either whether it was a strategy or if it was I won’t mention the other ones,” he said. “We’ve just thrown away a lot of points that would have put us in a way better position of where we are right now.
“I have no other choice but to try and claw back. We can just be more risky than others. I really don’t care. Four, five and six for me doesn’t really change anything. I don’t care for sixth or fourth. We need to go for one and two because we’ve already got a four and a three.
“The only way to do that is to win because you’re not going to get those points by being consistently in the top five. I think if you’re in the lead, it would be a different story, but we’re not.”
One driver who’s fading is defending champion Alex Palou. He has 1 top 5 in his last 8 starts and with the drama surrounding his immediate future in 2023, I question on if he can turn things around quick enough.
That’s why I feel this is a 5 horse race for the title. Josef Newgarden has 4 wins but 5 finishes outside the top 10 has him in a tie with Dixon for 3rd.