Palou wins anticlimactic season finale in Monterey, Power takes championship, a look at how it happened with my takeaways

SALINAS, Calif — A drama filled season ended up little chaos. Alex Palou blitzed the 26 car field in earning his 1st NTT INDYCAR Series victory of the season. The defending series champion entered the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey out of championship contention but despite a 6 position grid penalty, he never flinched.

Palou found himself up to 2nd by the end of the 1st stint and on Lap 19, he was passing Will Power for the top spot. He’d never look back in securing his 4th win in dominating fashion.

Palou crossed the finish line 30.381-seconds ahead of Josef Newgarden to end his 18 race winless drought. In the process, Will Power scored his 2nd career championship while Christian Lundgaard was Rookie of The Year.

“Yeah, we knew it was going to be a tough race even before coming here this weekend because we tested here, and we kind of had good sessions, bad sessions during the weekend,” Palou said. “Yesterday we ended up really good in the warmup. Super happy with the car. Today, this morning, sorry.

“And then yeah, with that engine penalty, we just knew it was going to be tougher, at least the first stint, but to be honest, yeah, our car was on rails today. Didn’t struggle with tire deg like we did at Portland and the last couple of races.

“I don’t know, but man, I’m happy that we ended this way.”

Alex Palou had a heck of a season under the circumstances. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

If Contract Saga Didn’t Happen, Would Palou Have Been A Factor In This?

Word was that Alex Palou let Chip Ganassi Racing know that he wasn’t happy in May and that he was going to look elsewhere since a new contract wasn’t brought forth. That pissed Ganassi officials off. In July, Ganassi announced that they had exercised their option on Palou for the 2023 season. Hours later, Palou said he wouldn’t return and would instead go to McLaren.

That sent shockwaves through the paddock. What was going on?

But if you follow the dots, you’d see that this all started in May.

Palou came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the points lead. That’s because he had 3 podiums in the first 4 races run. In the GMR Grand Prix, he’d finish 18th. For the Indy 500, he was 9th. From the Indy road course on, Palou had 3 podiums in the final 13 races. He had as many in the first 4, remember.

“I think we had the ability and everything we needed for more, so I think we didn’t really maximize the year we had,” said Palou.

“But yeah, anyway, I knew we were going to have years like that, seasons like that. There was a bit more drama than we wanted, but happy to finish here, and hopefully we can start the same way next year.”

Which is why I wonder if this saga never occurred, would he have taken a 2nd straight title?

It’s not like he was terrible in this span. Palou still had 9 top 10’s in those 13 races including 7 of the last 9. It’s just that those lost points and being in the top 10 but not the top 5 to what cost him.

In a series that’s separated in tenths of a second, to cut access off to a current driver could be the difference is what kept him from collecting trophies.

With a dominating win in the season finale, he showed by Ganassi is fighting so hard for his services and why he shouldn’t have looked at leaving. In fact, Palou and Ganassi have each opened the door to him returning in 2023 after all.

Last month, Palou was adamant he was going to be with McLaren in 2023. Now, he’s more non committal.

“Yeah, they’re waiting to see what happens, as all of you guys,” said Palou. Fortunately I don’t have anything to share. I think everything is moving the right direction. I don’t know if it’s going to take one day, one week or one month, but hopefully everything is going to be solved soon. Yeah, as I said, I don’t have anything to say clear, but everything is moving the right direction.

“Yeah, we talk. We talked in Portland. We talked before that. You guys saw, I think, Nashville was it, talked this morning, so..”

When asked if it was about 2023, Palou said, “obviously.”

“Yeah, we’ll see when I know. I wish I could tell you guys, hey, I’m doing this, but I don’t have an answer yet. Maybe tomorrow.”

Will Power this weekend in Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Should We Move Season Finale Around?

Not all races are going to be barnburners. But the final 2 events of the 2022 season were blowouts. Portland was ho-hum with a very anticlimactic season finale in Monterey.

Will Power left little doubt for this year’s title while Alex Palou blitzed the field to win by 30.381-seconds. Which leaves the question, should we change up the season finale?

For the 2nd time in the last 3 years, Laguna Seca played host to the final race of the INDYCAR season. However, in a day and age of competitiveness in the NTT INDYCAR Series and the championship seemingly every year coming down to the final race among multiple drivers, is this track the best suited to host a clinching race?

It’s one that you don’t tend to get a lot of passing on. We’ve seen some dominating performances. So does it move the needle in such an importance race?

You don’t tend to see packed grandstands at this place because well, there aren’t many. The atmosphere from the outside is lackluster. While it’s a fun track and a drivers track, I don’t know that it suits the common fan.

I mean when you think championship you think a big event. Super Bowl. Final Four’s. World Series. NBA Finals. Each venue is always packed. It’s a huge marquee event that lands more eye balls than normal on it.

This one unfortunately doesn’t do it. In the early portion of the NFL schedule, I don’t see this race other than a get the year over with event. Which is why I hope INDYCAR is open to at the very least rotating season finale venues.

This is actually the fifth straight year that a different track has hosted the season finale and brings up a legitimate question, should the last race of the season get moved around each year anyways. I mean we’ve already done it every year since 2018.

In 2018 we ended the year in Sonoma. A year later, Sonoma was replaced by Laguna Seca. For 2020, since we couldn’t go west due to COVID, the last race was held on the streets of St. Pete. Last year, COVID moved Long Beach back to the final race. It’s not back to Monterey. Where should 2023’s be?

Should INDYCAR start allowing tracks to bid on the final race? Could that be an extra stream of revenue coming in?

I mean NASCAR has discussed this the last few years but haven’t ever actually done it. They ended the year in the playoff format from 2004 through 2019 in Homestead. In 2020 they moved it to Phoenix as they’ll end the year out west for this year and next too. Which brought the question up as why aren’t they moving it around like they initially discussed?

INDYCAR due to some unforeseen circumstances has. I mean, look at the Super Bowl. It’s moved around each year. So is the NCAA Tournament. Big championship deciding events are shuffled around each year. INDYCAR has indirectly done that the last five years and makes you wonder if that should stay.

Some current drivers are open to it.

Part of the argument though would be that it makes it an even bigger event. It’s not just another race on the schedule that so happens to crown a champion. The track and the series would build it up. Plus, it doesn’t give a distinct advantage to any one driver each year if a certain track remains as the last race and that driver may or may not be good there.

Indianapolis on the road course makes the most sense of all. It’s your home market. A lot of teams are based here and I can already visualize a week long events in the Circle City including Georgia Street being utilized downtown.

Every 5 years we see “The Road Ends Here” slogan painted all over town for the Final Four. Why can that be the same for the NTT INDYCAR Series. I think you’d get far more people here than you would anywhere else.

Another year maybe mix in an oval like Gateway. Maybe throw in a street course too so you get all the disciplines recognized every three years on a championship hosting level.

This year the final 2 races ended ho-hum….

Where Was Herta?

Heading into this weekend, Colton Herta won both poles, won both races and led all but 11 laps in the last 2 races at Monterey. This week though, he was found more times than not off track. Herta just didn’t seem like himself in qualifying 18th and finishing 11th. He led no laps all day.

Will Power and Tim Cindric – GMR Grand Prix – By: Aaron Skillman

How The Championship Was Won

Team Penske had a brilliant plan on Sunday and it worked to perfection. With all 3 drivers still in the championship race, they knew all they had to do was work 3 different strategies and cover the Ganassi duo and the title would be theirs.

That’s what happened.

Scott McLaughlin face guarded Scott Dixon and pit within a lap or two each time Scott Dixon did. Dixon pit for the first time on Lap 9. McLaughlin did on Lap 10. Dixon pit for a 2nd time on Lap 29. McLaughlin did on Lap 30. Their 3rd stint, Dixon pit on Lap 50 and McLaughlin two laps later on Lap 52. For the 4th and final stop, Dixon pit on Lap 70 and McLaughlin on Lap 71.

There was no separation Dixon could get. He’d finish 12th. McLaughlin was 6th. He was covered and would finish 3rd in the final standings. McLaughlin was in a tie for 4th.

It was then down to the 2 other Penske’s and Marcus Ericsson. The Indy 500 champion just didn’t have the speed it would take to win and brought his No. 8 Dallara-Honda home in 9th.

Josef Newgarden got the Lap 37 break for the lone caution and did finish ahead of Power but not ahead of Alex Palou allowing Power to win the title.

Josef Newgarden Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Race Control Stayed Out Of It

Race Control wanted no part of deciding this year’s championship. More times than not, they swallowed the whistle. Most notably it happened in Mid-Ohio when Kyle Kirkwood had an off on track. Instead of a caution to immediately come out, they let the leaders come back around to have a chance to pit before.

If they didn’t, it would have flipped the field. That drew the ire of some but they didn’t want fields flipped.

A similar situation occurred on Sunday. Callum Ilott stalled on pit exit and instead of a quick caution, they kept the pits open to allow the leaders to get to the commitment line and hit pit lane.

That’s why the race played out like it did. While I get that it’s controversial, I like how they didn’t waver. They were consistent by this rule all year and did so in the end.

The one call that was a no-call that could be brought up was Alex Palou’s unsafe release because that could have in turn gave Josef Newgarden a win in the end. Still, it didn’t matter because it wouldn’t have been enough points for him to win the title because Power would have gained another spot too.

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