Going into the final race of the season at Laguna Seca, Josef Newgarden is the odds-on favorite to win the driver’s title, and Honda has a better than even chance of defending the manufacturer title. But neither one of those is locked up by any stretch.
Let’s get this out of the way because it’s more clean-cut:
Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy): His easiest path to his second driver’s championship is to finish in the top 4. Any worse than that and he’s taking a chance. Since Leguna Seca has limited passing opportunities, he needs to start with a good grid position.
Alexander Rossi (Andretti-Honda): His best strategy is to win from pole and hope there are at least three cars between him and Newgarden. He can also win from second if Newgarden finishes worse than 9, and third if Newgarden finishes worse than 14. If Rossi finishes 4th, he has to hope that Newgarden gets taken out early.
Simon Pagenaud (Penske-Chevy): His scenarios are the same as Rossi’s, since they are only separated by one point.
Scott Dixon (Ganassi-Honda): He must win the race from pole and lead the most laps. Then Newgarden must finish worse than 20, and both Pagenaud and Rossi must finish worse than 5.
Having reviewed a few past Indycar races at Laguna Seca, the most like way that Newgarden loses the title is to be taken out on the first lap at the Andretti hairpin. For the challengers, the best way to win the race is to qualify on the front row, pace the race, and hope something happens to Newgarden.
The Manufacturer’s race
Going into Laguna Seca, Honda’s lead has been shaved to just 34 points. We’re not going to go through the scoring system (you can review that in the last post on this topic). Here is the math that matters:
Double points does not apply in the manufacturer’s race. The largest number of points that Chevy can score would be 98. That would be one eligible car winning the race and another finishing second. To combat that, eligible Hondas would have to finish Third and Fourth.
The fewest number of points that Honda can score is 23. That would be the result of the top two eligible Hondas finishing 18-19, behind all the in ineligible cars and the eligible Chevys.
But none of that is likely to happen, because so few of the top cars are “eligible” to score points in the manufacturer’s race. Only full-season cars that have used four engines or less are eligible to score points.
For Honda, the cars that are eligible are: Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Santino Ferrucci, Zach Veach, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Marcus Ericcson, and Marco Andretti.,
For Chevy, the eligible cars are: Simon Pagenaud, Mateus Leist, Tony Kanaan, Spencer Pigot, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton.
The big twist, and why having the lead is an advantage to Honda, is that only three of the cars that are likely to win the race are eligible to score manufacturer points: Pagenaud and Dixon have both won road races this season, and Hunter-Reay won the last race of 2018. All the other cars that have won a race this season are ineligible to score manufacturer points. This includes Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato, and Will Power.
If an ineligible car wins the race, the manufacturer gets five points, but driver points for winning the race and leading laps disappear. For example, If Simon Pagenaud wins pole, leads the most laps and wins the race, Chevy gets 58 points. If Power or Newgarden do the same, Chevy gets just 5. So, if the podium is filled with ineligible drivers (which is very possible), that lowers the potential number of points that Chevy can score.
Chevy’s Best hope is for Pagenaud and Pigot to finish 1-2. If that were to happen, eligible Hondas would have to finish 3-4 to keep the title.
If an ineligible Chevy wins and eligible Chevys finish 2-3, then eligible Hondas have to finish 7-8 or better.
If ineligible cars finish 1-2 and eligible Chevys finish 3-4, eligible Hondas would have to finish 10-11 or better.
In order for Chevy to have ANY chance at all, eligible Chevys must finish 5-6 or better.
In the end, if neither Pagenaud nor Pigot are on the podium, Honda will likely win it’s second manufacturer’s title in a row.