Who wins Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (3 p.m. ET, NBC, lNDYCAR Radio Network) as well as the championship too

The 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season finale is here for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). So who wins the race and who wins the championship?

It’s not necessarily going to be the same person.

Over the last 5 years in INDYCAR, the winner of the season finale wasn’t the season champion. 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? It all comes down to qualifying on Saturday afternoon. 

43 of the last 45 races (96%) on natural road courses like Laguna were won by a top 10 starter. 36 of the 45 (80%) were won by someone from the Fast 6. But if you narrow it down further, 9 of the last 10 races (90%) were won by a front row starter.

The last 4 Laguna Seca winners each came from the front row with 3 from the pole. 21 of the last 23 visits here were also won from a top 3 starter (15 from the pole, 4 from 2nd). 22 of the 23 were won from a top 6 starter in general.

Race Picks:

  1. 28 Grosjean – I think he goes for a walkoff win on Sunday. He finished 3rd last year and on a track that suits him. He was 3rd quickest on Friday too.
  2. 12 Power – I think he just does enough to get by to win his 2nd career champions.
  3. 27 Rossi – He’s been 4th in practice on Friday, 2nd on Saturday and starts 4th too.
  4. 9 Dixon – Why not? He came from 16th to 3rd last week, why not 13th to 4th this week?
  5. 3 McLaughlin – A top 5 for good measure to close the season out with.

Championship Picks:

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?

  • Power leads the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship with one race to go for the fifth time in his career. Power previously led the championship with one race to in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. He won the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in 2014.

Point differential: The 20 points that separate Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon is the sixth closest margin with one race remaining since 2008. The 41 points separating the top five drivers in the championship is the tightest title race since 2003, when 30 points separated the top five. The average deficit with one race to go since 2008 is 25.86 points.

CHAMPIONSHIP WITH 1 TO GO (2008-2022)

YEARLEADERSECOND LEADCHAMPION
2008Scott DixonHelio Castroneves30Scott Dixon
2009Scott DixonDario Franchitti5Dario Franchitti
2010Will PowerDario Franchitti12Dario Franchitti
2011Will PowerDario Franchitti11Dario Franchitti
2012Will PowerRyan Hunter-Reay17Ryan Hunter-Reay
2013Scott DixonHelio Castroneves25Scott Dixon
2014Will PowerHelio Castroneves51Will Power
2015Juan Pablo MontoyaGraham Rahal34Scott Dixon (-47)
2016Simon PagenaudWill Power43Simon Pagenaud
2017Josef NewgardenScott Dixon3Josef Newgarden
2018Scott DixonAlexander Rossi29Scott Dixon
2019Josef NewgardenAlexander Rossi41Josef Newgarden
2020Scott DixonJosef Newgarden32Scott Dixon
2021Alex PalouPato O’Ward35Alex Palou
2022Will PowerJosef Newgarden20?

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.

At this point, each driver can say this or that had an affect on the outcome of their championship fortunes. If only Will Power would have won more (1 win). If only Scott Dixon wasn’t speeding by 1 mph on pit road for his final pit stop in the Indy 500. If only Josef Newgarden didn’t crash while leading late in the race at Iowa. If only Scott McLaughlin didn’t have a mini slump between both Indy races and Belle Isle. If only Marcus Ericsson would have turned more top 10’s into podiums.

However, each can say they had their only faults and each can say they had their own swings of fortune.

It just seems like everything is lining up for Power this weekend. I’ll take the favorite.

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