LEXINGTON, OH – All the hoopla is behind us. Three rounds of NTT IndyCar Series practice at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, as well as qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (4 p.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio) are behind us.
Here’s the race preview.
How To Watch
Coverage – 4 p.m. ET
Green Flag – 4:05 p.m. ET
TV – NBC
Radio – INDYCAR Radio Network
Online – Racecontrol.indycar.com
Phone – INDYCAR App
Race Distance – 90 Laps/203.22 Miles
Defending Race Winner – Alexander Rossi
Another Blow Out Victory?
For whatever reason, while the competition is as close as its ever been in Indy Car, we’ve seen some downright blow outs this year. Will Power led the first 45 laps in COTA only to see an issue on his final pit stop. If that untimely caution never comes out, Power likely leads flag-to-flag that day. But, Colton Herta was the only other driver to lead and he led the final 15 laps en route to his first career Indy Car win.
The third race of the season in Barber, Takuma Sato led 74 of 90 laps en route to a win.
The fourth race in Long Beach, Alexander Rossi led 80 of 85 laps in his win by 20.2395-seconds.
The sixth race in the Indy 500, Simon Pagenaud led 116 of 200 laps in his victory.
In Belle Isle 1, Josef Newgarden led 25 of 43 laps in his win. Rossi, was the only other driver to lead and he finished second.
In Road America, Rossi led 54 of 55 laps en route to a dominating win by 28.4391-seconds.
At Toronto, Pagenaud led 80 of 85 laps in his victory.
Last weekend in Iowa, Newgarden led 245 of 300 laps in his fourth win of the season.
See a theme? That’s eight of 12 races run that we’ve seen one driver dominate. Last year, Rossi led 66 of 90 laps in his win at Mid-Ohio. Will we see that happen again on Sunday?
Part of the reason for this is track position. These drivers are just so good nowadays and with few cautions flying, track position to key. They’re qualifying up front and the drivers on track are so talented, they’re just not making the mistakes we used to see to give up leads. The pit crews are so good they’re not having slow stops anymore. The strategists are so good, they’re not making wrong pit strategies anymore either.
Combined, all of that leads to four pole winners reaching victory lane this season, all in dominating fashion with seven winners coming from the front row and nine from the first 2 Rows. The furthest back someone has won from in 2019 was eighth in the INDYCAR Grand Prix.
Starting Positions Key
That brings me to my next point – starting spots. Because of few cautions, starting up front will be crucial on Sunday. 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.
Lets tie this all in together shall we? 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.
So, the points above make this very relevant.
“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. The entire top four are Penske-Andretti made and five of the top six overall.
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. They starts 2-3-4-8 on Sunday.
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.
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.
27 Rossi – He’s hungry to make up ground. He starts second and was third in practice on Saturday. Also, Rossi won the race last year in leading 66 of 90 laps and we know he will be aggressive at the start. Rossi, also led all but one lap in Road America too, the last natural road course of the season.
12 Power – He’s hungry for a good result. Power, has three straight podiums in Road America and will get this fourth on Sunday. He was seventh, third and 10th quickest in practice respectively and starts on the pole.
2 Newgarden – I think he gets his second podium in the last three years at Mid-Ohio. Newgarden, was fourth, 11th and seventh respectively in practice and has three top four finishes in his last four natural road course starts. He has a top four in his last three Mid-Ohio starts as well.
22 Pagenaud – He knows he has a good car and he capitalizes on it. Pagenaud, hasn’t scored a podium in his last two Mid-Ohio starts to go along with three finishes on ninth or worse in four natural road course starts in 2019. While he was third and second respectively in practice on Friday, he was 13th on Saturday.
9 Dixon – He charges up to his second straight fifth place finish at Mid-Ohio. Dixon, hasn’t had the strongest of weekends as he was 16th and 15th respectively the last two practice sessions. He only qualified eighth too.