BELLE ISLE, Mich – “The one that got away.” That’s how most of the NTT IndyCar Series points leaders are saying about this weekend in Detroit. See, we all knew that the Indianapolis 500 and the doubleheader on the streets of Belle Isle would make or break the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship. Indy, awarded double points. Belle Isle, was two straight races paying full points in each.
Essentially, this was a four race span in seven days.
Heading into the Indy 500, the looked like this –
Josef Newgarden 182
Scott Dixon -6
Alexander Rossi -36
Simon Pagenaud -44
Takuma Sato -50
Leaving Belle Isle, it looks like this –
While it looks somewhat similar, it has changed in bunches in between.
Newgarden, was in full control of this points battle before being involved in a crash on Lap 32 when he, James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi were invovled in a three car incident in Turn 3.
Hinchcliffe, had just exited pit lane and was ahead of Newgarden and Rossi. On cold tires, Hinch tried to keep the duo behind him. Rossi, looking inside while Newgarden looked inside himself. Unfortunately, Newgarden and Hinchcliffe ended up in the barriers while Rossi who half spun kept it going and went on to finish fifth.
Newgarden, initially was taken to the infield care center but later rejoined the race 21 laps down. He was frustrated because he knows he could have possibly given it away.
“He cut across the track pretty aggressively but I can’t fault him fully,” Newgarden says of the incident. “I mean we were all trying to do that. It was just a judgmental error on my part. I honestly don’t even know if the lane was even there. I would have passed him but I had to check up in the brakes when he came across Hinchcliffe. I don’t even know the etiquette there. Where’s the etiquette on blending into the racing line? I’m just not even sure. We all got debris on our tires to some degree. It’s not going to be favorable being down there.”
Newgarden and Rossi were heading towards top five finishes at the very least. Heading into the second Dual, Newgarden had four top two finishes in 2019 and a top four in every race minus one. Sunday, was another day he likely would have finished in the top four again.
Instead, he’s credited with a 19th place finish.
What about Rossi. He narrowly kept his No. 27 Honda running and would come away with another top five finish, his fifth in the last six races. But, it also cost him a shot at a win though as he gave up some points on Saturday. He still made up 21 points since the 500.
Simon Pagenaud entered this weekend with the points lead but he leaves 25 points out. That’s because he finished sixth in an uneventful day on Saturday and 17th on a crazy day on Sunday.
Pagenaud, qualified bad on both days. He started 13th and 14th respectively. But, on Sunday it came back to bite him. He was punted on the opening lap from behind by Tony Kanaan which damaged his gear box. His team would have to take his car behind the wall to fix it before rejoining the race 13 laps down. That could have been a championship saving move. He went from finishing 21st to 17th.
While he didn’t lose any ground between Saturday and Sunday with him being 25 points down after both days, he still says this one got away from him too. He had the fastest lap of the race and had a car to contend if he didn’t crash.
Then you have Dixon. He earned his 45th career Indy Car win on Sunday. That come a day after earning his first DNF in newly two years (Texas 2017) when he made a mistake on Lap 24 on Saturday while running third and finished last in 22nd. From last to first in 24 hours.
But, Dixon has had a rough go of it. Leaving the INDYCAR Grand Prix, he had four podiums in the first five races of the season. He was six points out of the lead. Then, in a double points race in the ‘500, he started a career Indy 500 worst 18th and finished just 17th. After that was the last place result on Saturday. He lost 86 points in two races.
But, he gained 40 of them back by a victory on Sunday. That’s because of how Newgarden, Rossi and Pagenaud all left the door open for him.
You also have to count in Takuma Sato too. He leaves Belle Isle 61 down but was heading towards a top six result before having a cut tire on a late race restart.
This two week stretch was huge for the championship and one that will be the reason for who wins the championship in September and who doesn’t.