Preview For Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (4 p.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network)

The NTT IndyCar Series wraps up a three week string of races on three different type of circuits on Sunday in Mid-Ohio. This weekend’s Honda Indy 200 (3 p.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network) should be another huge race in terms of the championship.

With only five races remaining in the 2019 season, the battle for the Astor Cup is getting really good. Here’s the race preview.

Few Cautions

Don’t expect to see many stoppages on Sunday afternoon. The race at Mid-Ohio has been really clean as of late with nine of the 12 races since 2012 having two or fewer cautions. In fact, we had zero last year and only one in 2017. 2016’s race saw just two yellow’s.

On the season, we’ve had three or fewer in three of the last four races to go along with natural road courses in 2019 having   – one, one, three and zero cautions respectively.

Starting Positions Key

Because of few cautions, starting up front will be crucial. The last three Mid-Ohio winners have come from the front row, two of which on the pole. On the season, nine of the 12 races have seen the winner come from the top 2 Rows. On natural road courses, the winners have started – 4th, 1st, 8th and 2nd respectively.

Top 4 In Standings Shining

Want to win in the NTT IndyCar Series, you need to be on top of your game. There are now fluke winners here. Just look at the last nine races on the season – all nine of them had the race winner be in the top four of the current points standings.

Yes, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon have combined to win every Indy Car race since Long Beach. They’ve also won the last three races at Mid-Ohio as well.

All four are on top of their games right now and in an intense title race for the Astor Cup. With how this season has gone, expect one of which to win on Sunday afternoon.

4 Natural Road Course Races Run, 4 Different Winners

We’ve run on four different natural road courses in 2019 and in all of them, we’ve seen a different race winner by four different teams.

Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing) won on March 24 in COTA. Takuma Sato (Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing) won on April 7 in Barber. Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 11. Then, Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) won at Road America on June 23.

Will we see a fifth straight?

Natural Road Courses Will Shape Championship

Out of the final five races of the 2019 season, three of which are on natural road courses. As said above, we’ve had four different winners from four different teams already.

Plus, look at how the standings can swap too.

Scott Dixon (131) leads all drivers in points scored on natural road courses in 2019. But, he’s 99 points out of the lead. With three races left on them, can he close the gap on Josef Newgarden (123)?

Takuma Sato (116) is third best so far while Alexander Rossi (116) is actually fourth. Simon Pagenaud (106) has the fifth most scored.

Dixon, has been the most consistent with two runner-ups and a fifth place run in four tries. He’s won this race five times too.

Newgarden, has a runner-up and a third place effort to go along with a fourth place run as well.

Rossi, has just one podium which was his dominating win in Road America. Other than that, he’s finished ninth, fifth and 22nd respectively.

Pagenaud, won at Indy but that’s his lone top five.

This could get interesting.

“Big 3” Once Again Teams To Watch This Weekend

I wrote about this last weekend for Iowa, but here we are again with the “Big 3” Indy Car teams being the ones to beat for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200. Combined, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport have won the last nine Indy Car races on the season. In Mid-Ohio, the site of this weekend’s race, they’ve won in three straight years and 11 of the last 12.

With how this season has gone, expect a Penske, Andretti or Ganassi car to pull into victory lane on Sunday afternoon.

Ganassi Has Been Strong In Past But Not As Of Late

It’s hard to believe that Chip Ganassi Racing has just one victory all season and only two in the last 13 months. But, can CGR’s duo get the organization back to victory lane in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200?

Ganassi won seven times at Mid-Ohio in an eight year span between 2007 and 2014. But, that was the last time that they’ve won on the 2.25-mile Ohio road course.

Scott Dixon has won this race five times but the 2014 win was his last. Since that victory, Dixon has finished fourth, 22nd ninth and fifth respectively. Despite that, he could get back on track this weekend. He’s coming off of two straight runner-up finishes on the season and has two runner-ups in his last three tries on natural road courses in 2019.

Felix Rosenqvist could be quick too. He’s impressed in his two Mid-Ohio starts with Ganassi before. Plus, on natural road courses, the rookie has finished in the top 10 in three straight including getting better in all three too – 10th to 8th to 6th. Trends say he will finish fourth or better in his No. 10 Honda on Sunday.

Watch Out For Team Penske

Chip Ganassi Racing won seven of eight in Mid-Ohio at one point, Team Penske has picked up the slack in winning two of the last three. Also, they’ve won two straight on the season and six of the last eight overall.

To me, the Penske’s are the favorites to take the checkered flag first on Sunday.

Josef Newgarden won this race in 2017 and was fourth last year. He has three straight top 10 finishes in Mid-Ohio. He also has three top four finishes in four tries on natural road courses this season and has scored the second most points (123) on these types of circuits in 2019 too. Furthermore, the Tennessee native is coming off of a win in the wee hours of the morning last weekend in Iowa to go along with having four consecutive top four finishes on the year and six in his last seven tries.

Simon Pagenaud has scored the fifth most points (106) on natural road courses but does have the most points scored on the season overall (342) since the start of the Month of May. Pagenaud, has four straight top 10 finishes on the season and nine in the last 10 overall. He won this race in 2016 and has seven straight top 10 finishes at Mid-Ohio as well.

That leaves Will Power who’s reeling after having two straight races filled with mistakes. But, Mid-Ohio is where Power can turn it back on. He’s watched his teammates win seven times in 2019, six since May alone and two straight. Mid-Ohio, could be his turn.

Power, has three straight top three finishes and was runner-up on the last natural road course in Road America last month.

Can Mid-Ohio Be The Starting Point For Rossi’s Championship Bid?

Alexander Rossi had a bad weekend for his standards last week in Iowa. He started sixth and finished there in his No. 27 Honda. While a sixth place finish in a very competitive NTT IndyCar Series should be celebrated, it isn’t for a driver that’s among the best in the series today.

See, Rossi knew that Iowa would be his Achilles Heel in this championship. He said it after his third place finish a week prior in Toronto. Iowa, has never been one of his strongest tracks. He knows that. His team knows that. Heading into last weekend, the Andretti Autosport driver had never finished on the lead lap there before and had just four combined laps led also. Well, he left Sunday morning with still four total laps led around the .894-mile bull ring and almost finished off the lead lap again.

He went from making up 21 points in the standings over the last two races to losing it all and more as he now trails Josef Newgarden by 29 points heading into this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. That deficit was 25 heading into Road America last month, then down to four leaving Toronto.

But, despite a dominating performance at Road America on June 23, a race that he led all but one lap in, can Rossi sustain his natural road course dominance?

Prior to his Road America whooping, his best finish on a natural road course this season was fifth in Barber. He finished ninth at COTA and 22nd in Indy on the road course. Those results aren’t going to cut it. In COTA and Indy, he led zero laps. At Barber, he led just three.

Luckily, Mid-Ohio is a place he dominated at a year ago. Rossi, led 66 of 90 laps en route to a dominating performance in this race last year. He started on the pole and left little doubt who would win.

If he can do that again this weekend, then maybe this is the start of him making up ground on Newgarden again.

Newgarden, won this race in 2017 but that’s his only Mid-Ohio podium in seven tries. He finished fourth last year.

Then, it’s to Pocono where Rossi led 180 of 200 laps in a dominating win last year too. Newgarden, does have four straight top five finishes on the Tricky Triangle but has never won. Rossi, finished second in both the Indy 500 and at Texas too while Newgarden was fourth and first respectively himself.

After that, it’s to Gateway where Rossi has finished sixth and second respectively and Newgarden first and seventh himself. But, Gateway is a short oval and Newgarden just dominated one in Iowa.

From there, it’s the final two races of the season – both on natural road courses. First up is Portland, a place where Rossi finished eighth and Newgarden 10th in 2018. Then, it’s to Laguna Seca to wrap up the season, a place neither has raced on in an Indy Car prior.

So, with three of the final five on natural road courses and another on a short oval, Rossi needs to hope that they gain on them.

Plus, once upon a time, Penske thought that they had struggled on natural road courses this season. Their gains on street courses and all the time that they spent on finding improvement on them, cost him in natural road course development.

Newgarden, does have three top four finishes in four tries on them in 2019, but Power and Pagenaud have  just one top five themselves.

Can Hunter-Reay Stop The Bad Results

The 2019 season has been feast or famine for Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. Through the first nine races, Hunter-Reay scored seven top eight finishes in his No. 28 Honda. But, over the last three races, he’s struggled mightily.

The American finished 11th in Road America, 16th in Toronto and 17th last weekend in Iowa. Now, can he reverse that trend in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200?

I think so actually.

First off, it’s not like the past races have been strong tracks for Hunter-Reay. In Toronto, Hunter-Reay has one top 10 finishes in his last nine starts. In Iowa, his advantage that he once had is long gone thanks to the patches on the racing surface. Since his second straight win at Iowa in 2015, he’s finished 22nd, 3rd, 19th and now 17th respectively.

Second off, Mid-Ohio is a good track for him. He has two consecutive top 10 finishes to go along with five in his last seven tries.

This could be the place he needs to turn this season around for the good.

Veach Eyeing Momentum Again

In 2018, this was the point of the season in which Zach Veach got hot. In Mid-Ohio, his homestate’s track, the Ohio native scored a 10th place result in his No. 26 Honda. Now, the Andretti Autosport driver returns looking for another top 10 effort.

Last weekend, no one was more happy to see weepers on the .894-mile Iowa Speedway than that of Veach. See, if not for those pesky weepers, then Veach likely would have never started Saturday’s rain delayed Iowa 300. See, Veach’s Andretti Autosport crew noticed a fuel cell leak on his No. 26 Honda before he even hopped in the car.

The NTT IndyCar Series officials had the teams grid their cars but while Veach’s car was on pit road, they noticed a problem. So, back to the garage they’d go. The command was supposed to happen any time around 10:10 local time. But, the weepers didn’t allow that. So, at 10:36 p.m. locally, Veach’s car would come out to pit road – exactly 10 minutes prior to the official command to fire the engines.

Crisis averted. Now, time to climb from his 20th starting position.

He’d do just that. As other dropped, Veach steadily improved. By the end of the race, Veach was in the top 10. When it was all said and done, he brought his No. 26 Honda home seventh for his third top 10 of the year but this being his best finish of the season.

Even more impressive, he was the second best Andretti driver all night.

“Tonight was relieving in a little way, but there’s still a lot more to be done,” said Veach after scoring his eighth career top 10 result. “I can’t thank my Gainbridge crew enough. We had a puddle of fuel in our pit box after we pushed out to the grid. They identified exactly what it was and worked extremely quick and got me back to the grid with the 10-minute call to get suited and strapped in. Really, this is for them. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have had tonight. It was one of those where you had to be the most aggressive person to get the spots.”

Rahal Heads Home With Hot Streak

It’s no secret, if Graham Rahal can win anywhere other than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is the place he absolutely adores. Rightfully so too. Mid-Ohio, is Rahal’s home track. It’s the place where he has fond childhood memories and one that he admits is the site of his biggest Indy Car win in 2015.

Now, he returns again hoping for another memory – a two-time winner.

He’s got a great shot too. Rahal enters Sunday’s race on a hot streak with six consecutive top 10 finishes and eight in his last nine starts on the season in his No. 15 Honda. Also, he has five straight top 10 finishes at Mid-Ohio as well including four top five finishes among those five top 10’s.

So, when the checkered flag falls on Sunday’s Honda Indy 200, Rahal’s name should be found at or near the top.

Power Closing In On 4,000 Laps Led

Will Power heads to Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 reeling. See, the Team Penske driver made two mistakes on the streets of Toronto and would finish 18th. Last weekend in Iowa, he had a podium car but made a costly error coming to pit road for his final pit spot of the night. He’d get penalized as a result and finish 15th.

Both days he had good cars and both he left with finishes not indicative of that. Now, he heads to Mid-Ohio not wanting to end this three race skid with a bad taste in his mouth.

Power, has three consecutive top three finishes in Mid-Ohio to go along with four straight front row starting spots too. Plus, starting up front could lead to laps led, something that he hasn’t done a lot of lately.

Power’s 49 laps led in Iowa were his first circuits out front since leading three laps in Belle Isle. He only led seven in the Indy 500. Since Barber, Power has led just 61 laps overall.

But, all he needs to lead on Sunday is the last one. Furthermore, if he can lead at least seven, then he’d have 4,000 for his Indy Car career.

That would be remarkable as he’d join just 10 other drivers to accomplish that feat.

Career Lap Leaders

Mario Andretti – 7,595

Michael Andretti – 6,692

AJ Foyt 6,621

Helio Castroneves 6,037

Al Unser 5,802

Scott Dixon 5,521

Bobby Unser 4,863

Dario Franchitti 4,579

Paul Tracy 4,256

Tony Kanaan 4,071

Will Power 3,993

Sunday could be a history making day for Power.

Dixon Rising Up Indy Car Rankings

Scott Dixon always says, he doesn’t get too high on the high’s or too low on the lows in the NTT IndyCar Series. The reason? Everything always evens out. See, when he had good cars but didn’t get the finishes that he wanted earlier this season, he knew that there’d be races that he didn’t necessarily have a great car but would come away with finishes he didn’t deserve too.

Look no further than what just happened at Iowa during the wee hours of Sunday morning. Dixon, was a 15th to 18th place car. They kept tinkering with his No. 9 Honda and nothing worked. He just didn’t have it.

But, when it was all said and done, despite being a couple of laps down and in 18th place at one point, there Dixon was finishing runner-up. How?

Strategy.

Dixon stayed out and ran a longer stint on the final one and was benefited by an Ed Carpenter crash in Turn 2. At the time, there were only nine cars on the lead lap. Plus, Dixon would get fresh tires, 15 laps newer to be exact, than the contenders in front of him.

On the final restart, up Dixon went. He climbed to a runner-up for the second straight weekend. Now, can he close this three week string of races with another top two? Mid-Ohio is the place for it to happen.

Dixon, has five wins on the Ohio road course but none since 2014. He’s been just pedestrian since with two top fives but none of which resulting in a podium. I think that changes on Sunday.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has scored more points on natural road courses in 2019 than anyone else. He’s finished runner-up on two of these tracks too to go along with a fifth place run in the last race on one of these types of circuits at Road America.

If Dixon can, he’d be shooting up the ranks.

His last two second place finishes in consecutive weekends give him 45 for his career. Only Mario Andretti (56) has more runner-ups in Indy Car. But, combine his 45 second place finishes with his 45 wins and you get 90 top two finishes in 316 Indy Car races. That’s 28-percent of the time, he’s finishing either first or second.

Andretti, has 108 top two finishes but he also made 407 starts. That’s a 27-percent mark.

Foyt, has 97 top two finishes in 369 starts (26-percent).

Michael Andretti has 76 in 317 starts (24%).

Helio Castroneves had 71 in 346 starts (21%).

Al  Unser had 70 in 320 tries (22%).

Bobby Unser had 65 in 259 tries (25%).

Al Unser Jr. had 64 in 329 career starts (19%).

Bobby Rahal had 61 in 264 starts (23%).

Dario Franchitti had 60 in 265 starts (23%).

Paul Tracy had 53 in 281 starts (19%).

Rick Mears had 51 in 202 starts (25%).

Gordon Johncock had 50 in 261 starts (19%).

Also, Dixon now has 112 podiums in his career, seven shy of tying Foyt for second all-time and 32 behind Andretti. His 162 top five finishes trails Andretti by just 32 there as well.

Translation? Dixon is soon to be the best there ever was.

162 top five finishes in 316 races is absurd. That’s over half of his starts.

Andretti’s 194 is a 48-percent rate.

Michael Andretti is a 44-percent rate (139 of 317).

Foyt’s 149 is a 40-percent rate.

Castroneves’ 141 is a 41-percent rate.

Unser Jr. also has 141 but in nearly 20 less starts (43%).

Unser Sr’s 140 top fives is a 44-percent rate.

So, as we head to Mid-Ohio, Dixon is not only chasing a championship, he’s chasing the record book too.

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