Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) preview

SALINAS, Calif — Nearly 7 months have passed since the NTT INDYCAR Series debuted their 2022 season on the street of St. Pete. 17 race daunted ahead. 16 races later as the dawn has set on the season, 5 drivers remain in contention to hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy later on today. While they belong to 2 different organizations (Penske, Ganassi), 4 of the 5 hail from different countries.

A pair of New Zealand natives with both named Scott (Scott Dixon, Scott McLaughlin) will hope to catch fellow Land Down Under native Will Power (Australia). A Swede (Marcus Ericsson) and an America (Josef Newgarden) are also in the hunt.

Someone has to win it.

Also, you have farewell’s. This will be Alexander Rossi’s 114th and final start with Andretti Autosport before moving on to Arrow McLaren SP. One driver hoping to join him is defending series champion Alex Palou who’s had a tumultuous championship defense season. Back in July, Palou made the shock decision to want to leave his championship winning team for McLaren Racing. He thought then that he had the power to do so. Ganassi said not so fast.

The outcome of his future will be decided in the courts. Palou is winless this year and went from a championship hopeful to a more than likely finish of outside the top 5 in points as a direct result of this decision.

If he can join McLaren, it won’t be in Formula One or Formula E but rather in the seat of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. However, Ganassi seems to be the favorites to keep him which means he’ll either be back in this seat he’s in now or not in one at all.

Palou was quickest in final practice on Sunday morning with a new engine as the team and Honda officials elected to change engines overnight. He’ll go from 5th to 11th at the start.

Felix Rosenqvist has an option with McLaren only through September 30. If McLaren can’t find a direction for him between now and then, he’s free to go elsewhere and by all accounts that’s the likely destination for him because I don’t see the Palou vs. Ganassi saga ending in the next few weeks and Zak Brown doesn’t want to block Rosenqvist from looking elsewhere.

It may force him to buyout Palou which leaves the 10 ride with Ganassi open.

David Malukas is no longer in the running for that seat as his dad and Dale Coyne each expect him back in his No. 18 Dallara-Honda again. Callum Ilott and Rinus VeeKay took their names out of the hat and re-signed with their teams too.

So what does Ganassi do. They have the 10 seat and the 48 that they’re trying to figure out.

Jimmie Johnson says Carvana is behind him but he’s not sure what he wants to do yet in 2023. Is it full-time? Is it ovals only? Does he want a mixture of sports cars, NASCAR and INDYCAR? Everything is on the table.

So here we are though, on the dawn of the final 95 laps turned of the season in the closest championship battle among 5 cars in nearly two decades.

The points leader starts on the pole. 2nd in points starts on the last row. 3rd in points starts 13th. The two needing wins roll off 8th (McLaughlin) and 10th (Ericsson). All have an extra set of tires on Power.

How much does Andretti’s cars play a role. Romain Grosjean finished 3rd last year here. He starts 4th. Rossi starts 3rd and has been in the top 5 of every session this weekend. Colton Herta has led all but 11 laps over the last 2 years here but has had a baffling weekend in multiple off course excursions and was bounced in the first round of qualifying. He doesn’t seem engaged in a weird way and how much of that is the curosity of his future here.

Herta is on Alpha Tauri’s list of drivers for 2023. He needs a Superlicense to be eligible. He’s 8 points shy of doing so. In the meantime, Linus Lundqvist just won the Indy Lights championship on Saturday and does.

He’s not on their radar. If Herta can get a waiver, he’ll go overseas. If he can’t, then he’ll continue out his Andretti contract and still be a McLaren test driver.

That’s why Andretti is also wondering how much of their roster will be back in 2023.

Nevertheless, 2 hours span between now and the final race taking the green flag. Buckle up, because it’s going to be a wild one.

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