SALINAS, Calif – The biggest topic surrounding this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (2:30 p.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network) is obviously the championship. Josef Newgarden and his Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud will fight with Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) and Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) to be the one to hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy on Sunday afternoon at the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Newgarden, leads Rossi by 41 points, Pagenaud by 42 and Dixon by 85.
While the “other” 20 drivers in the field are cognizant on what those four are trying to accomplish, they also need to run their races too. See, Newgarden and Pagenaud have a teammate in Will Power who’s goal is to do anything that he can to make sure one of his Penske teammates wins the title. Dixon, has rookie teammate Felix Rosenqvist with the same aim.
Rossi, has four teammates at his disposal in Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Conor Daly trying to ensure that Rossi has the support.
That’s six drivers trying to help, which leaves 14 others running their own race.
All the drivers trying to “help” have said the same thing, the best way that they can help is to go out and win on Sunday. A win would steal points for a championship rival. In fact, I think someone other than one of the championship foursome can actually win Sunday too.
Colton Herta was second and first respectively in the test on Thursday. He was first and third on Friday. He earned the pole on Saturday. Rosenqvist was third in each session on Thursday, second in both practices on Friday and quickest on Saturday. Power, was seventh and second respectively himself on Thursday, fourth and eighth on Friday and third on Saturday. He starts seventh.
Power, has also won two of the last three races on the season. Rosenqvist and Herta have been at their best on natural road courses like the one we’re racing on this weekend.
Last year, Hunter-Reay wasn’t championship eligible and won. The year prior, Pagenaud was eligible and even won the race but Newgarden did enough to allow him to still be crowned champion. In 2016, Pagenaud won at Sonoma again and won the title as a result of that. But, that and Scott Dixon winning the season finale and the championship in 2015 only two times since 2010 that a driver won the season finale and the title in the same season.
In order for Dixon to win the championship, he has to win on Sunday. While Rossi and Pagenaud have paths to win the title by not winning the race on Sunday themselves, realistically, they need a win still.
But, if Herta, Rosenqvist or Power steal the victory outright though, it helps Newgarden even more.