Too close to call as seven-way IndyCar title fight enters final two races

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Since the reunification of major, American open-wheel racing in 2008, there has never been a scenario where the IndyCar Series championship has been clinched before the final race of the season.

Sebastien Bourdais was the last driver to do it pre-split in ’07, while the much-missed Dan Wheldon was the last to do it in the current IndyCar series two years before that.

That run of consecutive title-deciding season finales is as good as guaranteed to continue this season. There are still two races left to run over the upcoming two weekends, but it would take a bizarre set of circumstances for current championship leader Will Power to clinch the title at Portland International Raceway this Sunday.

Power leads his Penske team mate Josef Newgarden by three points, while Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson are within 14 and 17 points of Power respectively in a series which awards 50 points to the winner. After Portland, the championship will be decided at Laguna Seca Raceway on 18 September, and any of these four drivers have a strong chance of lifting the Astor Challenge Cup as the 2022 IndyCar champion.

Power has a slim, three-point lead with two races left
There are still seven drivers mathematically eligible for the IndyCar title. But there is a clear gap between the top four drivers and the next three, comprising reigning IndyCar champion Álex Palou, Scott McLaughlin, and Pato O’Ward.

It’s not impossible for Palou to overcome his current deficit of 43 points to Power and win back-to-back series titles, but it is very unlikely. Palou’s consistency – five podiums, and ten top-10 finishes – is a trait that’s kept him within reach of the title, despite the fact that he’s not won a race all season.

But he’s the defending Portland winner, and followed that up in 2021 by finishing second to Colton Herta at Laguna Seca. He needs to replicate those results – at minimum – to have an outside shot at winning his second championship in IndyCar, and that alone likely won’t be enough.

On the other hand, if Palou can’t overhaul Power, Newgarden, Dixon and Ericsson over the final two races, it’ll make whatever potentially grim outcome that results from his ongoing court case with Ganassi feel a little less awkward, if he’s left without a ride – in F1 or IndyCar – in 2023.

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There’s no shame in McLaughlin falling just short of championship contention, as he’s improved considerably from his first to second full season in IndyCar. He’s developed into a driver who can realistically contend for championships in the near future, and ahead of the two permanent circuits which will settle the championship he already has a road course win this season at Mid-Ohio.

McLaughlin took his second win of the year at Mid-Ohio
But with a 54-point deficit he is an outside bet for the title. The month of May at Indy didn’t pan out the way he’d hoped, and it damaged his title prospects after the opening rounds.

Likewise, O’Ward and McLaren SP increasingly look ready to disrupt IndyCar’s Ganassi-Penske-Andretti triopoly, with multiple wins including one at Barber Motorsports Park. Outside of that victory at Barber, O’Ward’s road course record in 2022 has been blighted by back-to-back technical failures at Road America and Mid-Ohio. After crashing out on the streets of Nashville, it’s somewhat of a surprise that O’Ward is only 58 points back with two races left.

The last time any driver has come back from a points deficit this big with two races left was Dixon in 2015, but none of these drivers will have the benefit of a double points finale the way that Dixon did seven years ago.

Dixon has been a marvel of consistency all season long, and only since the summer break have observers really taken notice. The only time he’s finished outside the top 10 all season was when he threw away an Indy 500 victory by speeding in the pits – a costly championship error at the only race which pays double.

Were it not for that, Dixon could be heading into Portland with a chance to clinch his record-equalling seventh title. Dixon would no doubt gladly trade one of these IndyCar championships for a second likeness engraved on the Borg-Warner Trophy, but at the end of the day, trophies are trophies – and he put himself right back in the championship conversation with victories on the streets of Toronto and Nashville.

When it comes to championship reversals, three of Dixon’s six titles have been won after trailing with two races left in the season – not only the double-points finale 2015 season, but also in 2003 and 2013.

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Of the “big four” title contenders, Ericsson is the only one who hasn’t already won an IndyCar title. He’s also the one driver whose late-season form might be the weakest.

Indy 500 winner Ericsson has slipped from the points lead
It’s not that he’s been poor since his breakthrough Indy 500 victory and the huge windfall of championship points that came with it. Ericsson is a steady top 10 finisher, and that’s kept him near the top of the table. But after finishing second at Road America, he’s not returned to the podium since (a technical problem during qualifying for the recent road course event at Indianapolis didn’t help) – and with Dixon, Newgarden, and Power’s form, that hasn’t been good enough to keep him ahead in the standings.

Newgarden, frankly, has been unbeatable when on form. No other driver has won this many races in a season since Simon Pagenaud in 2016, and no other driver on the grid has led as many laps this season. And there’s always the potential for Newgarden to add more wins in these last two races.

Since the Indy 500, the only blemish on his racing record has been an unexplained crash while leading in the second race of the double-header at Iowa Speedway. If not for that, he would have cruised to a weekend sweep.

One of his five wins this year has come on a permanent road course, at Road America. He’s already clinched a championship at Laguna Seca in 2019, but he’s yet to finish on the podium either there or at Portland (though he did clinch his first title with a second-place finish at Sonoma Raceway in 2017).

All that remains to be seen is whether Power, who previously overcame the stigma of being IndyCar’s perennial “nearly-man” by winning his first crown in 2014, can complete another successful reinvention of himself in 2022. No one has more podium finishes or poles than Power. After being cast away as a driver whose championship years were over, he’s been leading the points ever since the Brickyard Grand Prix at Indy.

Power’s biggest threat is likely team mate Newgarden
While he’s only won one race all season, at Detroit, he’s also finished every lap of every race, even in his worst outings like Toronto, Road America, and the Indy 500. Power is the only other title-contending driver who’s won at Portland, and he finished second in his first trip to Laguna Seca in 2019.

It’s a matter of when, not if, he wins his record-setting 68th pole position. And if it comes at either of these last two venues, he will be in a strong position, as Portland and Laguna Seca are among the trickier IndyCar courses to overtake on.

One would be hard pressed to find an unworthy champion among these four prime championship candidates, or even the three long shots. It would be a disappointment if these last two races delivered anything less than a memorable finish to the 2022 season.

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RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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  • 11 comments on “Too close to call as seven-way IndyCar title fight enters final two races”

    1. Should be a great finish, which is ending way too soon. Go Newgarden!

    2. Realistically, Ericsson (no disrespect – he’s been having a season of his life) is in the mix only because of Indy 500 double points, otherwise he’s be in the same boat with Palou, McLaughlin and O’Ward. This is coming down to Power, Newgarden and Dixon, and regardless which one of the three gets it it will be well deserved!

      1. Yes, and what a joke it is for double points to be awarded at a single event. Yes, Indy 500 is the biggest race of the year, but awarding double-points is absurd. It’s gimmicky. It’s akin to the stupid fan-boost in Formula E. I absolutely hate it.

        1. I disagree – they invest a huge chunk of time, effort and money at the 500 and the field is larger.

        2. I disagree with regards specifically to the Indy 500. It’s only one of 2 events in motorsport that are bigger than the championship it represents(the other being Le Mans). It defines the series and a series of factors make it a more difficult event to win than others. I agree that arbitrary double points like in a final race of the season, or the short-lived “triple crown” in Indycar are stupid. But if any event deserves to be double points at all it’s the Indy 500.

          1. @ajpennypacker Sorry didn’t quote you ^

        3. 500 miles is 800 km, that’s almost 3 times the “normal” Grand Prix distance (300 km), i have no problem with this being awarded more points that a regular race. I am merely pointing out that Ericsson hasn’t really shown the same kind of form as the other main title rivals across the whole season, that his one-off Indy 500 result is a bit of an outlier and based on this i don’t expect him to be a factor in the last two races either (i might be proven wrong though).

          There is some precedent in IndyCar history for extra points at 500-mile events, it is not entirely arbitrary – up to the early 1980’s the points were awarded on the basis of race distance so a win at a 100-mile event was worth 20 pts, increasing by 20 for each additional 100 miles until the maximum of 100 pts for a 500-mile races. Besides, Indy 500 with all the history is in fact a Championship in itself, one can argue that the winner of Indy 500 is more celebrated than that years IndyCar champion.

    3. Why is Colton Herta always talked about when he’s not even contending for the IndyCar championship?

      1. He’s bloody fast and (even bloodier) inconsistent.
        On his best day he’s fastest of anyone while on his 2nd best day he’s fastest of anyone and crashes.
        Because of Indycar scoring system, consistent top8 drivers like Dixon, Power and Palou are still in the running while guys like Herta aren’t

      2. Andretti’s team has been way off this year. Herta is the real deal, but he needs an Andretti Autosport team of a different better vintage or join Ganassi or Penske to achieve his full potential.

        I also wonder if he were to break up with his father would it help or hinder him?

        1. I would say Herta would probably benefit from a breakup with his father. The theory being that subconsciously he can treat racing as a fully professional endeavour and not having to worry about complaining about his dad over the radio, having it repeated on loop and get asked tedious, click bait style questions on it afterwards.

          Also agree that Andretti have had a nightmare this year in general, Mid-Ohio was something else!

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