SALINAS, Calif – We know that four drivers remain in contention to take home the Astor Cup trophy on Sunday. Josef Newgarden leads Alexander Rossi by 41 points. Simon Pagenaud is third with a gap of 42 markers. Scott Dixon is fourth, 85 points out. Realistically, this is a three man battle for the title.
Scott Dixon has scored the most points on natural road courses this season (199) which is 17 better than second (Will Power), 20 more than Rossi, 29 more than Newgarden and 39 more than Pagenaud. I just don’t think even with double points that it’s going to be enough. He has to hope for all three ahead of him to have bad luck and finish in the bottom of the running order. I just don’t see it.
Dixon, can win Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (2:30 p.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network) but would need some major help to win his second straight championship.
Dixon, starts second, which helps with 18 of the 22 race winners in Laguna Seca coming from the front row. Eight of the last 12 races on natural road courses saw the winner come from the front row too.
But, what about the other three? To me, it could be more interesting than you think. Newgarden, has held onto the points lead for all but one race this season. He’s finished outside of the top 10 just three times. But, what if I told you that two of those results outside of the top 10 were on natural road courses? What if I told you that Newgarden’s finishes on natural road courses are only – second, fourth, 15th, third, 14th and seventh respectively. That’s just three top five finishes in six tries. That would certainly open the door for Rossi or Pagenaud.
The problem for Rossi is, he hasn’t been much better and he hasn’t led a lap since June 23. Rossi, has scored just one podium in his last five starts on the season too. While he dominated in Road America and finished third in Portland, his other results on natural were ninth, fifth, 22nd and fifth respectively.
Rossi, starts third but was only fifth, ninth, 24th, 23rd and 10th respectively in practice. I don’t think he has race winning pace right now.
Pagenaud, well he may be in the catbirds seat soon. He’s outscored everyone over the last six races. He’s out finished Newgarden in four of the last six races run. His problem is, since his win in Toronto, he’s only been on the podium once as well. He was sixth, eighth, sixth, fourth and fourth respectively in practice and rolls off sixth, worst among the top four on Sunday afternoon.
Newgarden, hasn’t exactly been tearing it up lately in terms of competing for race wins as he’s left the door open, it’s just that Rossi and Pagenaud haven’t been able to do anything about it. Now, the opportunity is there, can they capitalize or will Newgarden earn his second championship in three years.
All four start in the top six on a track that rewards track position. 11 of the last 12 races on natural road courses saw the race winner come from the top eight. 29 of the last 32 Indy Car races overall saw the winner come from the top eight. 13 of the 16 this season have been won from the top six.
I think Dixon can win and Herta can steal points. Newgarden, is a solid top five car from there, so he’s the safe pick if he can avoid any disasters.