INDIANAPOLIS – Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network) at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will be the 13th race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season. In saying that, it means that counting this weekend’s race, there are only five races remaining in the season.
That means the championship battle is in full focus. For a few weeks, it looked like it would come down to a battle between Josef Newgarden vs. Alexander Rossi. Then, Simon Pagenaud went on a hot streak in Toronto and made up 22 points on them.
But, after last weekend’s race at the Iowa Speedway, it’s still looking more and more clear that this will be a Newgarden vs. Rossi final race. Still, I’m not making the mistake and counting Pagenaud out even though he’s 58 points behind. I’m not counting Scott Dixon out despite being 98 points down either. The man is a magician as he somehow came away with a runner-up last weekend in Iowa with a 15th to 18th place car.
I think 98 points is a lot to make up in five races, but it’s Dixon and I never, ever, ever count him out until it’s over.
Will Power leads his Penske teammates early in last Saturday night’s Iowa 300 – INDYCAR Media Site
Will Power is fifth but 165 points behind which I feel is far too much to make up. Takuma Sato is 11 points behind him while Ryan Hunter-Reay is almost 200 points out, so with how these three have driven the last couple of weeks, I think they’re out of it.
Power, finished 18th in Toronto and 15th in Iowa. Sato, finished 22nd in Toronto and 20th in Iowa. He has one top 10 in his last five starts on the year and even that was a 10th place run in Road America. Hunter-Reay’s last three finishes are 11th, 16th and 17th respectively.
While there are some strong tracks for each over the final five races, I just feel like they’re too far out to realistically have a shot of hoisting the Astor Cup championship trophy in Laguna Seca.
So, lets focus on the top four and see where it takes us.
Josef Newgarden wins the Iowa 300 at the Iowa Speedway last Saturday night – INDYCAR Media Site
We know that Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport have won the last nine Indy Car races on the season. The current top four (these drivers mentioned) have won all nine of those races. So, for the five races remaining, lets just say for the sake of these stats, that one of these drivers wins at each.
So, who wins where?
We know that three of the final five races are on natural road courses. We’ve had four races on these tracks in 2019 with four different winners from four different teams. I’ll go with that trend continuing this weekend. Here’s why.
First up is Mid-Ohio on Sunday afternoon. Penske, Ganassi and Andretti have won in 11 of the last 12 years there including three straight. With their streak this season, we know one of them likely will win for a 10th straight trip to victory lane.
Rossi, led 66 of the 90 laps last year and is coming off of leading all but one lap on the last natural road course in Road America. But, Scott Dixon is lucky to come off of two straight runner-up finishes and heading to one of his better tracks. It’s only a matter of time before the Iceman turns luck into a dominating performance.
Mid-Ohio I have a feeling is the place.
Scott Dixon drives his No. 9 Honda around the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last season – INDYCAR Media Site
Dixon (131) leads all drivers in points scored on natural road courses in 2019. He’s finished runner-up in two of the last three. He drove literally from last to a top five in Road America without any cautions to help. Dixon has won this race five times. Why not a sixth on Sunday?
With that being said, I do feel like Rossi will come away with a podium, likely a runner-up. Newgarden, won in 2017 and was fourth last year. He has four straight top four finishes on the season. Averages state a third place run on Sunday for a Dixon-Rossi-Newgarden podium. Dixon, doesn’t make up a lot of ground while Rossi makes up five points. Pagenaud, has seven straight top 10 finishes in Mid-Ohio including a win in 2016 but was fourth in 2017 and eighth last year. He has three finishes of ninth or worse in four natural road course starts. I think he finishes in the top five but doesn’t challenge for the win.
Then, it’s to Pocono where Rossi shines. 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. Power, has three consecutive top two finishes at Pocono but has to settle for a third place run this year. So, who wins? We’ve seen what Pagenaud can do after long breaks. He won the IndyCar Grand Prix after a break. Two weeks later, he wins the Indy 500. After a two week break before Toronto, he won. Now, after another two break, he wins again. Rossi, comes home second for a third straight time on a superspeedway while Power finishes third. Newgarden, finishes fourth for a finish that looks like Indy but sub Power in for Sato. Dixon meanwhile, has never finished worse than ninth but has two podiums. He’ll come home sixth for the third time in four years.
After that, it’s to the final oval of the year in Gateway. Penske has won both races there and gets a third. This time, it’s Pagenaud’s turn with Newgarden winning in 2017 and Power in 2018. Why not a third different Penske driver? Pagenaud, has a third and fourth place finish respectively at the St. Louis area race track and gets his fifth win of the season as he’s heating up. Dixon, makes up some ground with a runner-up for his third straight Gateway podium. Rossi, rounds out the podium with a third place run while Newgarden comes home one spot behind in fourth. Rossi, gains three more points to cut the deficit to 13.
Now, it’s onto the final two races – both on natural road courses, both with not a lot of recent history. Portland came back on the schedule last year and Laguna Seca is back after a lengthy hiatus.
Remember that stat from natural road courses above? Well, we’re out of different organizations to win but lets make it a new driver?
Newgarden, has veins of steel and powers his way back into victory lane with a much needed win. Rossi though, finishes runner-up while Pagenaud comes home third. Dixon, finishes fourth.
Heading into the season finale at Laguna, it’s Newgarden leading Rossi by 23 points and Pagenaud by 40.
Penske, has won three races in-a-row on the season and five of the last six. Andretti, has one win in the last 12 races now.
But, Rossi in front of his home town fans has a magnificent weekend and wins the season finale. Dixon, has a great drive for Honda to give them a 1-2 finish and Rossi the championship. Newgarden, has to settle for third while Pagenaud comes home fourth.
The win, despite coming second fiddle to Penske over the final few months, propels Rossi into a new contract with Andretti and an extension from between Honda and Andretti for years to come.