Now that Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy) achieved his expected double victory at Iowa and Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda) scored his unexpected podium in Iowa Race 2, where do we really stand in the championship race with five races left?
Let’s start off with the bit that no one in the media is harping on because they want to keep up the facade that “anyone can still win”:
Only three drivers have a realistic shot at the Indycar Championship
Yes, mathematically every driver down to Conor Daly has a chance, but most of them only have a chance if Palou misses the last five races entirely. Does not start.
This is where we stand:Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda): 477 Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy): -80 Scott Dixon (Ganassi-Honda): -120 Marcus Ericsson (Ganassi-Honda): -147 Pato O’Ward (McLaren-Chevy): -148 Scott McLaughlin (Penske-Chevy): -148
Let’s Look at the chances of Marcus Ericsson, Scott McLaughlin, and Pato O’Ward. They are 147 and 148 points behind Palou with five races to go, so they have to beat Palou by 30 points in every race. In other words, for one of them to win the championship they have to win EVERY RACE and Palou has to finish 10th or worse in EVERY RACE . That’s just not going to happen. So we don’t have to worry about any of them until they win two or three in a row of the last 5 races.
Scott Dixon has to be crazy good to stand any chance of winning
Scott Dixon is 120 points behind his teammate so he has to beat Palou by 24 points per race. This could be done by winning every race with Palou sixth or worse in every race. Not impossible, but extremely unlikely.
Newgarden winning the championship is merely very unlikely
As expected, Josef Newgarden has consolidated second place, 80 points behind Palou and 40 points ahead of Scott Dixon. Newgarden must outscore Palou by 16 points per race. Simple, right? Not so fast. Consider: Newgarden just scored 106 points in two races to Palou’s 60. That’s 23 points per race. Can he do that every week? He can probably gain a reasonable haul at Gateway, but the other four races are one street course and three road courses. Given that Honda has lost only one of those (Barber, where McLaughlin won), how likely is it for Josef Newgarden to win any of them? Also, Newgarden said after Road America that Penske’s package for smooth road courses is not great. Two of the remaining courses are billiard table smooth ( IMS and Laguna) and Portland is not very bumpy. So what is the best case scenario for Newgarden? I surmise that the best case scenario for Newgarden is to win Gateway and finish second in the other four races. Newgarden then ends up with 611 points. In order to beat 611, Palou needs an average finish of 6th for the rest of they season. He has an average finish of 2nd for the first 12 races. Last season, Palou averaged 30 points per race in the last five races. If he does that this season, Newgarden would need to win THREE of the remaining five races, and finish second in the other two. Another point to consider is that Ganassi has three other cars. You can bet that strategically, one of them will be assigned to cover every move Newgarden makes to reduce Newgarden’s points by one more place at each road course race.
With that in mind, let’s look at the next few races:Nashville: Newgarden has never finished ahead of Palou and never fished on the podium. Plus, Palou has finished ahead of Newgarden in Every street race this season. Add to that Palou has only finished behind one Penske car in one street race this season. Prediction: Palou is likely to expand his lead. Indy Road Course: Palou crushed the field in the GMR Grand Prix in May this year (Newgarden was 27 seconds back in 7th). Palou also won at Road America, which after its repave this year is more similar to the Indy Road Course than it has been in the past. Prediction: Palou extends his lead. Gateway: This is Newgarden’s race to lose. If anything bad could happen to Palou, this would be the race. Prediction: Newgarden pulls closer. Portland: Palou won the race in 2021. Newgarden finished ahead of Palou in 2022, but only finished 8th. Newgarden has never finished better than 5th at Portland. If Newgarden does not win the race, it’s over. Prediction: Palou covers Newgarden and clinches the title. Laguna Seca: Palou dominated the race last season when the pavement was old and slippery and then won the Road America race on new, grippy pavement. It looks good for Palou on a track he excels on that has recently been repaved. Prediction: Palou Coronation.
The likely timeline is that going in to Gateway, Palou has expanded his lead out to around 100 pts. We can assume that Newgarden wins Gateway and Palou finishes 10th, getting the lead down to 70-ish points. That makes Portland a win it or bin it race for Newgarden. All Palou has to do is stay close to clinch the title.
Note that both Palou and Newgarden will have to take a fifth engine before the end of the season. Taking a new engine on a road/street course results in a six-place grade drop, while taking a new engine on an oval results in a nine-place drop.
Honda still leads the manufacturer’s race, but Newgarden’s double victory at Iowa cost Honda a lot of points. Honda now leads by 35 points, which is about one race.
The complication in this race is that the drivers most likely to win races down the stretch may not count in the manufacturer’s race. Cars that have used more than four engines don’t count for purposes of determining the winner of the engine manufacturer’s title.
Drivers that are likely to be taken off the board include:
Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy)
Scott McLaughlin (Penske-Chevy)
Ryan Hunter-Reay (Ed Carpenter-Chevy)
Helio Castroneves (Meyer-Shank-Honda)
Scott Dixon (Ganassi-Honda)
Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda)
Marcus Armstrong/Takuma Sato (Ganassi-Honda)
David Malukas (Coyne-Honda)
Colton Herta (Andretti-Honda)
Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti-Honda)
Jack Harvey (Rahal-Honda)
Shank Number 60 Honda
That means that Chevy will be leaning hard on the McLaren team (Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, Alexander Rossi) and Honda’s fate may be determined by the performances of Marcus Ericsson (Ganassi-Honda), Graham Rahal (racal-Honda), and Christian Lundgaard (Rahal-Honda).
A lot may depend on when Dixon, Palou, Herta and Kirkwood take their 5th engines. The engines are designed to last four-to-five races, and I would presume that most of the Honda runners would take new engines at the Indy Road Course race or Gateway.
Big Machine Grand Prix of Nashville, August 6, Noon Eastern time on NBC .