MADISON, Ill — The NTT INDYCAR Series heads to the Gateway to the West for Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (6 p.m. ET, USA, INDYCAR Radio Network). It’s a fitting place to stage the 3rd to last race of the 2022 season. The World Wide Technology Raceway is tucked into the shadows down the St. Louis arch and once the checkered flag drops on Saturday evening’s race, the series heads west for the final 2 events of the season.
It’s been a chaotic race for the title to which it seems like no one wants to truly take it. Scott McLaughlin controlled it early out of the gates. Alex Palou took it from him after McLaughlin went through a rough drought of finishes in May and early June. Then Palou had a contract saga of his own and had 1 top 5 in a 9 race span between May and July.
Will Power took over but Marcus Ericsson was too consistent and won the year’s biggest race to strangle it away. Power took it back after scoring 4 podiums in a 5 race span. Ericsson had 4 top 8’s in that run but Power’s podiums helped him take it back.
Then Power went out and finished 11th in Nashville. Ericsson was 14th. That opened the door to one of the hottest drivers in the sport now to Scott Dixon. The 6-time series champion has a top 10 in all but 1 race all season. No one has more than his 13 top 10’s. Only Power has more top 5’s (10-8). But what Dixon is doing is taking those top 10’s and turning them into top 5’s.
Dixon had 7 top 10 finishes in the opening 8 races to the season. However, just 2 of those 7 were in the top 5 and neither finish being better than 5th. In the last 6 races, he has 6 top 10’s but 5 of which are now in the top 5 including 2 of them being wins.
That’s allowed him to close a 44 point gap that he faced at Iowa to being 6 points down now. McLaughlin has taken a similar hot streak approach with 4 top 4 finishes in his last 6 starts. He’s up to 6th in points and well within striking distance of a top 5 finish in the final standings.
But he wants more. The goal is a top 5 but he has a very real chance at a title. Think about it, the door is open now.
The Ganassi cars are expected to have their ceiling be a top 5 this weekend in Gateway. The Penske cars should shine which helps McLaughlin who finished 3rd in Race 2 at Iowa and 4th here last year. Will Power was on the podium for both Iowa races and 3rd the last 2 times out in Gateway himself. Josef Newgarden has won each of the last 2 Gateway races and should have swept both events at Iowa.
This is your team to beat.
Then we head west to where the tide shifts to Honda.
McLaughlin has 3 top 6 finishes in 5 natural road course starts this season and was 9th last year in Portland and 12th in Laguna. He feels like his car will be even better. Power has 4 top 3 finishes in 5 tries but was 13th last year in Portland and 26th in Monterey. Newgarden has just 1 podium and 2 top 5’s in the same natural road courses this season and 10th, 5th, and 5th in his 3 Portland starts and 8th and 7th in his pair of Laguna tries.
Newgarden may have won 4 times this season and has a very real shot at No. 5 on Saturday, but he also has 5 finishes out13th or worse this season too which could open the door for a surging McLaughlin.
Then you have Palou who can make a sizeable comeback even with the drama surrounding his future. He has 2 runner-ups on natural road courses this season. He had 3 wins on them last year including Portland. He was 2nd in Monterey.
So here’s his path. Win both. Power and Newgarden replicate their west coast races from last year. Then you have the Andretti Autosport factor to where they steal podiums and top 5’s at both west coast races and finish between Palou (for his case) and McLaughlin (for his case) and the rest.
It’s not like any of the Andretti guys are going to just let a Penske or Ganassi car go by them. They’re still racing for pride here and had 3 of their 4 cars in the top 6 towards the end of the last race at Nashville which was 8 days after a race they should have finished 1-2 at in Indy on the road course.
These final 2 tracks are good ones for them as well.
At Portland, Rossi finished 3rd and 2nd in each of his last 2 starts. Herta was 4th and 8th. Then in Laguna Seca, Herta has dominated each of the last 2 Monterey races in leading 83 laps in 2019 and 91 last year. Rossi qualified up front last year but was pushed off track early. He was 6th in 2019. Grosjean finished 3rd with his ride a year ago.
One could make a case that the Andretti trio could sweep the podium that day.
Which is why this championship is not only far from over, but keeps getting tighter and tighter. I don’t see that changing especially this weekend.