How do you race championship drivers over the final 2 weeks of the season?

The entire top 7 of the NTT INDYCAR Series points standings qualified in the top 7 spots for the last race of the season at the World Wide Technology Raceway.

“Yeah, it just shows no one’s letting up, no one will until the end,” points leader Will Power said of that occurrence.

As we head to the final 2 races of the season over the next 2 weeks, there’s still 7 drivers mathematically eligible to win this year’s title.

The narrow gap represents the closest NTT INDYCAR SERIES margin with two races remaining since 2008. Additionally, the 43 points separating the top five drivers in the championship mark the tightest title chase since 2003, when 41 points separated the top five.

If you’re a part of the 7, how do you race each and if you’re not a part of them, how do you race those guys yourself?

“Yep, pretty tight battle to the end. It will be very interesting to see how it unfolds. All you can do is just do your best. Do your best. Can’t control some things, so see what happens.”

Josef Newgarden agrees.

“It’s probably all individual,” said 2nd in points Josef Newgarden. “Everyone has a different approach. We’re racing hard every weekend. It’s INDYCAR, it’s unpredictable these days. As far as the racing approach, it’s different for everybody.

“You got to run hard every weekend. If you’re not running hard, you’re normally getting run over these days. At least that’s what I see.”

What makes this also challenging is the fact they’re all teammates within this. 3 Penskes vs 3 Ganassis. At some point, you’re going to be racing a teammate. How do you approach that?

“I think we’re just going to race like we always do,” Newgarden said of his championship battle now with Power. “It’s kind of as simple as that. We race all year, we race hard. It’s not going to be the first time Will and I have raced together. We’ve had many, many races that have been in lockstep, 1-2, pit strategy, the whole thing. We’ll just fight it out as normal.

“Clearly we don’t want to do something that jeopardizes the whole group because it is bigger than us. At the end of the day we’ve got three cars in the fight still. There’s nothing that matters more than putting a Team Penske car in Victory Lane.

“As much as I want that to be, believe me I do, I will work to be that person, we also have to just make sure we remember that it’s about all of us and it’s about all the effort we put in. We have to make sure one car secures the championship.

“It’s just a balance. We’re just going to race like we always do. Hopefully it doesn’t turn ugly at some point.”

Josef Newgarden races Colton Herta and others this past spring in Barber. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Newgarden says that he doesn’t think that you can change your overall approach too much anyways because there’s a reason to why you’re in this position to potentially win the championship. Why change it up now?

“You’ve got to be on it, you’ve got to run hard. If you’re not on the limit, you’re typically getting left behind,” he says.

Pato O’Ward notes that if you stay up front, you’re more than likely racing among other championship contenders anyhow. However, he’s also in a position that he has to win though too. So how do you balance each respectfully?

“I think I’ve had a little bit of a different experience whenever I’ve fought for the championship,” he says. “But I think now, I mean, if you’re in the area of where you want to be, which is top five every single race, you’re most likely racing the guys that you’re racing in the championship. At that point you know who you’re racing. You’re racing high-caliber guys, people that have been doing it for many years. You just got to race hard.

“At least where I am in the championship, I need to win. I need to win races in order to be able to have a chance getting to Laguna and actually having a shot.

“I guess in that situation it’s a little bit different to what maybe Will and Josef are in. But in reality, I think a lot of the times you’re going to find yourself racing people that you’re actually fighting the championship with.

“I don’t think the approach is going to change much, I guess.”

Alex Palou was one of those victims last year in Gateway but still rebounded for a title. He says that if he wasn’t in the hunt for the title this year, he wouldn’t race the guys that are very hard. He wouldn’t want to ruin a potential championship for them.

“With the experience I got last year. I would not race, to be honest, if I was not fighting for the championship, I would not race the championship contenders just because they are risking something and you’re not if you’re not a championship contender,” he notes.

However, he also says that he doesn’t expect to be raced any differently either and says that with the amount of cars still eligible, that everyone will likely race everyone else the same way.

“Yeah, I don’t expect people to treat us differently,” Palou continued. “The good thing is there’s so many cars that are still in the fight for this championship that everybody’s going to race the same way.”

Power agreed in a sense but feels like the respect will still be given.

“Yeah, I mean, I feel like when it gets down to the last three races, even more so the last two races, the people that aren’t in the championship are aware that you are, and there’s a bit of respect there,” he says.

“But, yeah, you can’t race conservatively. You just can’t. At this point, as tight as this championship is, you got to race how you race. You got to race to get position. You got to race to try and win. That’s the game now.

“I feel like there’s a bit of respect there. I mean, for me, when I’ve been out of the championship, even if it was last year with Palou, at the beginning of Laguna, first lap, I was really careful not to touch him because I don’t want to ruin someone’s championship. It’s just so difficult to get into that position to be a contender.

“I think people understand that in the field. Yeah, race to try not to wreck you, put it that way.”

However, Alexander Rossi notes that he’s going to actually race these drivers harder because he knows that they have to back out of it with more to lose. As a result, he could get a position easier.

“Yeah, 100%. I think you can take advantage of that,” said the Andretti Autosport driver. “That’s one benefit, I guess, of not really — you don’t have to think about points. For us, it’s about the individual racers, and they have to be a little bit more cognizant of that.

“We definitely know that in the back of our heads and we’ll try to use that to our advantage.

“I mean, yeah. I think it’s interesting. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. I think you’re more aggressive with them because you know they probably have to back out. At the same time certainly you don’t want to be the guy that hits them.

“You’re almost more aggressive and more cautious. It’s hard to explain. But, yeah, I think you’re very aware of who they are and what they’re doing around you.”

Colton Herta actually agrees with that assessment too.

“I guess, yeah, similar,” he noted. “I don’t really change the way that I race them. I like to think I’m not, like, smashing people off all the time so it shouldn’t really matter. I shouldn’t have to change anything.

“But it is always a balance. You definitely don’t want to be the guy that takes out the championship leader with three races to go. You kind of maybe keep that in the back of your mind.

“At the end of the day if you have to go for something, you have to do it.”

Marcus Ericsson isn’t surprised. He says you have to be calculated on who you’re racing against at the time.

“I think as a driver, you know who you’re racing, you sort of take into account who you’re racing, something you have to keep in mind,” he notes.

“At the end of the day you need to race your race, you have to be as far up as possible. I think that’s the mindset you have to have. I don’t expect anyone to give me advantages out there. You need to be hard and tough out on track.”

6-time series champion Scott Dixon says that you have to put all that aside and focus on your own race and not get too wrapped up in the moment. You have to treat Portland and Laguna Seca like you would any other race on the schedule he says.

“Yeah, I think you’ve just got to race your own race, treat it like another race. Don’t think about the championship too much. We still have three to go. Anything can happen.

“It’s very tight at the moment, which is great for the series, great for the championship fight. But, yeah, I don’t think you can overanalyze stuff too much.”

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