INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions 2022 championship edition

Will Dixon Ever Get No. 7 If He Doesn’t Do So On Sunday?

Scott Dixon is showing no signs of slowing down. While he flashes glimpses of maybe this being it, Dixon quickly then shows why you can never question him. However, if he doesn’t win the championship on Sunday, will he ever any time after?

There’s no doubt that his career is winding down. I mean he’s been doing this for two decades now. His wins aren’t coming quite as often. But he still finds himself in a position for his 6th straight finish in the top 4 of points and 16th time in the last 17 years. Do that long enough you’ll find titles. But can he keep doing that?

His first three titles came in five-year increments. 2003, 2008, 2013. Then, he exploded with championships won in 2015, 2018 and again in 2020. That’s three championships in a six year span including 2 of the last 5. Can he pick up another this year?

Dixon, has reached victory lane just three times in his last 38 starts.

What’s crazy is, from July 2019 through August 2020 (Gateway 1), Dixon had 11 podiums in a 15 race span. Among those 11 top three finishes were five wins and five runner-ups. Over the last 38 races, Dixon has had just 3 wins (Texas 1 in 2021, Toronto, Nashville), one runner-up (Nashville 2021) and only 10 podiums.

That’s why he’s in the position that he’s in today.

The thing is, despite being in this position, it’s not like his season has been all that “off.” Dixon still has 20 top five finishes and 33 top 10’s. The only thing absent has been turning those top fives results into podiums.

But, the thing also is, if cautions and/or bad luck came differently too, Dixon may not be behind either. He may be the one in the drivers seat instead.

For Texas 2 last year, Dixon was well in control of a weekend sweep until Jack Harvey brought out an ill timed caution for him while he was leading. Same thing in the Indy 500 when Stefan Wilson’s pit road crash on the opening sequence cost Dixon dearly. He hadn’t pit yet and ran out of fuel while coming to pit road. His car wouldn’t refire and he’d lose a lap as a result of trying to get it going again. After dominating the Month of May, he’d finish 17th instead. He was caught in a crash not of his doing in Gateway last year too while running in the top 10.

Just think of where he’d be if those three instances went differently. This year, think of what happens if he doesn’t speed on his final pit stop while leading the Indy 500.

That’s why I say that if luck flipped its script for Dixon, he’d be on the verge of a historic weekend. This could be him going for No. 8 while leading the charge in the process.

Time is against him though for that 8th. Just 10 times has someone won the title at 41 years of age or older. Three drivers were 42. One was 43 and four more were 44. No one was 45 while two drivers won at 46.

Among the drivers to be crowned a champion at 41 years old and up, only one came since 1990. With his stats declining this year and the trends not being on his side, this is a legitimate question.


Josef Newgarden celebrates his Gateway win last month. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Who Wins The Championship?

It’s the 17th straight year that the NTT INDYCAR Series championship decider has come down to the last race.

So, who wins?

The last 19 champions have hailed from the Penske, Ganassi or Andretti camps. Penske and Ganassi have the only drivers left to make this 20 straight.

The last time a team other than the “Big 3” won a championship was Panther in 2002 with Sam Hornish Jr. 

On top of that, only 13 times since 1960 has the champion been under the age of 27. Once was last year with Alex Palou. The others are Jacques Villeneuve (1995), Louis Meyer (1928), Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Scott Dixon (2003) and Hornish Jr. (2001, 2002).

The other telling tidbit is Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon have won 4 of the last 5 championships and if you count Simon Pagenaud (2016) and Will Power (2014) these four drivers have won every title minus last year since 2013.

Are we ready to add a new name to the mix other than Palou?

The last time a driver leading the points this time of year with one race remaining that didn’t win the championship after the season finale concluded was in 2015. Juan Pablo Montoya was 34 points up on Graham Rahal but Scott Dixon, who was 47 points behind, ended up winning the race at Sonoma as well as the title.

The kicker there was, that race paid double points. They don’t do that anymore. The last time someone came from behind to win the title in the final race with normal paying points was 2012. Ryan Hunter-Reay was 17 points down heading to Fontana that year. Will Power crashed and Hunter-Reay triumphed. That was the final time in a four consecutive year streak that saw the second placed driver entering the season finale ended up taking home the Astor Cup trophy after. Dario Franchitti did it the previous three times with entering the last race 5 points behind Scott Dixon in 2009, 12 points arrears to Will Power in 2010 and 11 points away from Power again in 2011.

If you go back to 2008 though, it’s only happened five times in a 13 year span. None of which other than the double points year exceeded 17 points.

Last year O’Ward was 35 points behind. Newgarden was 48. This year it’s 20 points between Power and Newgarden/Dixon and 39 points behind is Ericsson. McLaughlin is 41 points back.


Do You Have To Win The Season Finale To Win The Championship?

This isn’t NASCAR. Every year since 2014, the NASCAR champion had to win the season finale to take home the crowd. Over the last 5 years in INDYCAR, the winner of the season finale wasn’t the season champion. However, with such a close margin between the ones going for this year’s title, does that change?

Simon Pagenaud was the last to do so in 2016. Scott Dixon did it one year prior in 2015. Every year since though there were 2 drivers celebrating after the season finale, the race winner and the champion.

Do you have to win Sunday’s race if you want to win the title?


Will Championship Go Down To The Final Lap?

We’ve seen some wild moments in the championship clincher but after witnessing how this season has gone and how close the points gaps are entering this weekend, one could make a case that this year’s title will go down to the final lap on Sunday.


Is This A Successful Season For Penske Or Ganassi Camps For The 1 That Fails To Win The Title?

Team Penske has 3 drivers in the top 6 of points including taking a combined 8 wins this year. They’ve dominated the standings for much of 2022 and looked like the organization to top for the championship.

Then Chip Ganassi Racing emerged with 3 combined wins including the Indianapolis 500. They also have 3 drivers in the top 6 in points. 1 of the 2 is going to take home the title and a case can be had for each. However, only 1 can have it so for the one that doesn’t triumph, does this season get classified as a success?

Ganassi had all that drama with Alex Palou but they did get an Indy 500 win from Marcus Ericsson and an Indy 500 pole from Scott Dixon. He saw his cars stay competitive for almost every race and if he doesn’t win the title, that can’t sting all that much. However, he’s also won each of the last 2 championships too so this would be the first time since 2019 that he’s came home after the season finale without some championship hardware.

For Penske, they didn’t win at any of the races in Indianapolis and if they dominated the points lead for much of this season and don’t win the title I can see where this would leave a sour taste in their mouths.

 

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