16 of the 17 NTT IndyCar Series races for the season are in the books, leaving the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday, Sept. 22 left to determine the championship.
Realistically, three drivers remain in contention with Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet) holding a 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) and a 42-point advantage on Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Chevrolet). Scott Dixon’s (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda) bid for a sixth series championship effectively was lost last weekend at Portland International Raceway when a failed battery mid-race knocked the Chip Ganassi Racing driver out of the lead of the Grand Prix of Portland. That comes after a radiator problem early in the race a week prior in Gateway.
Newgarden is in the enviable position, but he is no sure thing to win his second title in three years given the double number of points offered for the finishing positions at this event. Regardless of how others fare, Newgarden becomes the champion if he finishes fourth or better in Monterey. Newgarden has many other paths to the championship if Rossi or Pagenaud don’t win the race.
All three drivers have been in contention in previous seasons. Pagenaud won the title in 2016 and Newgarden in 2017. Rossi finished second to Dixon last year. The difference: None of them have raced at Laguna Seca at these stakes.
An Indy car race was last held on the 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course in 2004, and it wasn’t the finale. The last time an Indy car season ended at this circuit was in 1996 when Jimmy Vasser clinched the title with a fourth-place finish.
All teams will have the opportunity to test there on Thursday, Sept. 19, which makes it a four-day event weekend. With nearly 10 hours of pre-race track time available, all contenders should be on level footing, although Rossi considers that his home track since he has raced there many times in junior categories.
“It’s essentially a new circuit,” Newgarden said. “We don’t really know what it’s going to bring and that’s just more of a variable. I think it’s a wild card if anything.”
Team Penske is seeking its third title in four years, fourth in six years and 16th overall. Andretti Autosport, which has four season titles, is aiming for its first since 2012.