For the 17th straight season, the NTT INDYCAR Series championship will come down to the final race. It’s familiar foes too. Chip Ganassi Racing vs. Team Penske. 5 drivers enter, each belong to these two teams.
How do you prepare for this race when the entire Penske fleet is still alive? Isn’t that a disadvantage because how do you work with one another knowing that they’re fighting each other for a championship?
Ganassi has 2 of their drivers not fighting for a title but one is still learning and the other is on his way out with the team.
It’s pretty even.
“Honestly, try to help if you can,” Scott Dixon said on helping Marcus Ericsson. “I’ve been involved in quite a few of these, and it never really comes into play, or at least it hasn’t as much as you would think it would.
“Situations like today with the 3 and the 12, I thought that would have been a no-brainer, but obviously, go to the last one. We’ll have to see where it lies. We always work as a team to achieve the best, and if we can help all of our teammates, we definitely will.”
Mike Hull of Chip Ganassi Racing says that there’s no easy way to help one another on Sunday that it’s best to just let the race and the track come to you.
“I think we just have to race the racetrack and see what happens here,” Hull says. “It still comes down to that.
“It’s a very simple thing: we just race cars. That’s what we do. We race to the best of our ability. We do that as a team.
“For Marcus to help Scott, I think Marcus first needs to help Marcus. If that helps Scott, it helps Scott. And vice versa, if Scott needs to help Marcus on Sunday, he’ll do that. That goes for the other two people on our team, which are Alex and Jimmie.
“We race the racetrack and we try to help each other as much as we can. I thought Tim’s answer was spot on to you earlier about how you can’t manipulate the outcome, how you let the outcome manipulate it for you.”
Tim Cindric agreed.
“When you look at it, each one of those drivers is trying to race for a championship of their own name” he said. “At the same time they realize the way in which they race each other. Whether it’s for the Indy 500 or championship, what have you, they’re going to go out and race. The one that executes the best I think will be the one that wins the championship.
“I think they’ve been successful enough to understand that the shoe’s going to be on the other foot at some point in time. Roger stresses not only in a racing team but within his other companies that if the team is successful, you’re successful.
“That’s going to play out for different individuals in different ways, especially when you’re the driver. That also has to do with the inner competition between teams. Like I said, there’s a different euphoria if you work on the 2 car team and they win versus if you work on the 12 car team and they win, what have you.
“There’s a little bit of that competition in between. Then you have the sponsors obviously that you have responsibilities to.
“When it comes to team orders, that type of thing, people forget that you have other obligations to other people aside from yourself. You have obligations to the driver, to your sponsors, to their families and all the rest on down the line. Those aren’t very obvious things, especially when you’re talking about whether someone wins a race or doesn’t win a race.
“There’s all kinds of different considerations on that front. But we make a choice to have three cars in which we feel like, to start the season or start each race, should have the tools to compete for the win and should have the talent to compete for the win.
“We’ve never really had a program where we’ve looked at any of our series. I’m very fortunate to sit in that position because I understand from a business perspective it’s not always possible to have three top-level drivers, not having to buy a ride, what have you, within your fleet supporting the business model.
“It’s something that I take a huge amount of I guess appreciation for not being in that position, but at the same time it’s almost easier if you have an A and a B driver to balance those things because it’s understood in the beginning what their different roles are.
“It’s a difficult balance, but I think that they work together, the three of them do, as well as any other three drivers. At the same time we call it the red mist, kind of gets in the way on the racetrack sometimes. I can’t say that anybody’s perfect on that front. Everybody is competitive to a certain degree.
“Yeah, I think with a successful team, these guys are going to drive together for a while, so they have to kind of figure it out themselves some days, too. No different than at Iowa, those guys had to race each other really hard, but they had to race each other fair. Both of them put each other in the fence in Iowa toward the end. Nobody’s happy.
“There’s a certain amount of responsibility the drivers have to the team, as well.”
Will Power said the dynamic of he and Josef Newgarden won’t change but Scott McLaughlin is more in a position of help.
“Yeah. I think that he is definitely in a position that he will just have to help simply. I don’t think there will be any question about it.”
It will mark the 10th straight season that the title has gone through them. No other team outside of Penske or Ganassi has won an NTT INDYCAR Series championship since 2013. Furthermore, they’ve combined to have won all but 1 series championship since 2007 (14-for-15). Nothing changed this time around either.
In the Aeroscreen era, they’ve combined to hoist the victory trophy after 32 of the 46 races. Andretti is next with 6 wins, AMSP has 4 while ECR, MSR and RLL each have 1.
In this season alone, Penske had 20 podiums with Ganassi taking home 13 podium trophies. Next best was Andretti with 7. AMSP had 4 while ECR, MSR, DCR and RLL each had 1.
That’s 33 out of 48 belonging to the “Big 2.”
With taking home 75% of the wins (12-for-16) and 69% of the podiums (33-for-48), this duo has separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
So, whom among them wins the title on Sunday?
3 of the 5 have been here before. Between Scott Dixon, Will Power and Josef Newgarden, they’ve combined to win 7 of the last 9 championships. Ericsson and McLaughlin have never been in this position to take home a title in the season finale. Does that become a hinderance to them?
They each realistically need to win though which makes their plans simple.
Still, consistency has paid off in a year that Newgarden has more wins (5) than 3 of the other 4 combined (4). Power and Ericsson each have 1 win a piece. Dixon has won twice. Power nor Ericsson has won since June 5.
One thing that’s clear also is, a veteran revival too.
Last year we had a 24 year old battling a 21 year old for the championship. This year 4 of the top 5 drivers currently in points are each over the age of 30. 2 of which are in their 40’s.
Dixon is 42. Power is 41. Newgarden and Ericsson are each 31. A year after the kids stole the show, the veterans have taken it back. Is this is revival or a one off opportunity?
“I can’t tell you how much experience does play into it, though,” said the 41-year old Power. “Over a season, over even a race, it makes a big difference, and that’s why you see the championship as it is.
“There’s definitely some super quick, young fast guys. What is putting the whole thing together is the experienced bit in my opinion, and you don’t even have to be the quickest guy. You have to be experienced and smart and, obviously, a great team as well makes a difference.”
Another thing is that these veterans showed that qualifying in an era that matters almost more than ever, didn’t really have a ton of merit on this year’s championship. 3 of the 4 have had their fair share of struggles on Saturday’s.
Power is a qualifying master and tied with Mario Andretti for most poles ever. He’s won 4 poles this season alone. Despite that, he’s also qualified 11th or worse in 7 races including a stretch of 4 in-a-row between June and mid-July. Ericsson has been 12th or worse in 9 races himself and having been Row 3 or better in just 3 races all season. He finished in the top 2 in 2 of those 3 instances at that. Dixon has started 13th or worse in 8 races and better than Row 3 just 5 times.
Newgarden and Palou are the only ones who’s qualified really well in Newgarden being in the top 10 in all but 2 starts and Palou having 9 top 7 starting positions himself. However, neither are also leading the points however.
3 of the 5 have more of a realistic shot to where Marcus Ericsson (-39) and Scott McLaughlin (-41) have to realistically win.
“The championship is quite far away now. I go (into Laguna Seca) to win the race,” Ericsson said. “We had a good test there, the car’s been good in the past, and I aim to win, and we’ll see how far that gets us up there. That’s the mindset for the last one.”
Ericsson hasn’t had a top 5 in any of the last 6 races on the season. McLaughlin has 5 straight top 4’s including 4 podiums. It may be difficult to make up that much ground by doing the same thing that he’s done over the last couple of months though.
“It’s just controlling what I can control,” McLaughlin said. “I can’t do much more than that, and I think I’ve done that the last half year. I just go out there and just drive what I’ve got. I think Detroit for me was a big turnaround. I made a mistake I shouldn’t have made, and that was because I was trying to overdo everything and control everything. It was a big mindset change.
“From then on we’ve been really strong. I think we did some graph out there the last eight or nine races. We were leading the championship by 29 points.
“I think what we’re doing right now is building for a massive year next year. I haven’t finished out of the top five or top four for the last six events or something. I’m feeling really strong. There’s no reason why this can’t be great momentum for next year, and yeah, I feel like I’m driving the best I ever have in my whole career right now.
“I feel really comfortable and comfortable with the team. That’s what you need to tackle championships, especially in the series.
“I have nothing to lose, but at the same time I want to do the best job for my team. I don’t need to be a Kamikaze or anything like that, but I just need to focus on what I’m doing and just dot my Is, cross my Ts, and have a good run.
“Ideal weekend is a pole race win. It’s no doubt that I can go to Laguna Seca and win, and I’m ready to do that.”
Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden are each 20 points behind with Newgarden having 3 top 6’s in his last 4 races including a series best 5 wins this season. Dixon has 6 top 5’s over the last 8 races.
“Anything is possible,” said Dixon. I think it can be as simple as somebody having a mechanical issue. That’s the tough part. I think it’s pretty cool that we don’t need any resets or any chase championships or anything like that. It always comes down to the wire in the INDYCAR Series. It’s fun to be a part of.
“I think the one in ’15 with Montoya, it was a very outside chance. Maybe because it was double points. It was 35 maybe or so around that points gap that we needed.
“It will be interesting. It will be a fun race hopefully, and we’ll be, as I’ve always said, trying as hard as possible until we can’t do anything more about it. Yeah, we’ll hope for the best.”
Will Power leads all and has 5 top 6’s, including 4 on the podium in the last 6 starts.
With the Indy 500 paying double points, it’s not like this had an effect on this year’s standings. 4 of the 5 still with a shot at this year’s championship finished outside the top 10 that day.
Colton Herta has won the last 2 races at Laguna Seca. Josef Newgarden has won the last 2 season finales, both are different locations (St. Pete, Long Beach). Can either score a rare hat trick on Sunday?
Honda vs. Chevy?
Now that we’ve come down to the 17th race of the season, the battle between Honda and Chevrolet has gotten much closer. Chevrolet won each of the first 4 races of the season before Honda swept the Month of May at Indy. Chevy then took back over their winnings way at Belle Isle, Road America and Mid-Ohio after to give them 7 wins in the 1st 9 races.
However, Honda has stormed back. Chevy swept the action at Iowa in July but Honda also won Toronto before and Indy again as well as Nashville after.
The score reads 11-5 with 1 race left.
Really, from 2018 through now, Honda has not only evened the playing field, they’ve since taken the advantage. For the first time since Chevy came in for 2012 and beyond, Honda eclipsed Chevy for most wins in a season in 2018 (11-6). They’ve been even the last two years prior to this one with Chevy winning 9-8 in 2019 and Honda having a 7-7 split in 2020. Last year, was 10-6 in favor of Honda.
With the same car this time around, it’s (prior to Portland) Honda 41, Chevrolet 39. In the three year span of the Aerokits from 2015 through 2017, it was Chevy 34, Honda 15.