Sunday, August 21, 2022

Winners and Losers -- Gateway Edition

 Wow, was that a weird evening or what?

Saturday night's race at WWT Raceway was like a play with more than a few acts. The first act was a bit boring as the track was still hot and passing was difficult. Then, with rain coming, several drivers went off-sequence, leading to a lot of crazy passes because of different tire degradation due to cars being on different strategies.

Lightning and rain followed with 43 laps to go, which led to some Rain Delay Theater, taking the remainder of the race under the lights were a clean, cool track led to several cars coming alive. And of course, the final 43 laps where while only one pass took place up front, down in the field there was some type of craziness that included one young driver making a charge to the front.

So who were the winners and losers Saturday?


Josef Newgarden: It was certainly a Penske Party up front as its three drivers led 218 of the 260 laps, with Newgarden leading 78 on his way to a fifth win of the season. He also tightened the championship and is now just three points behind teammate Will Power at the top of the standings with two races left. The win was also the 25th of his career, tying Gordon Johncock on the all-time wins list and putting him within striking distance of Rodger Ward (26), Johnny Rutherford (27) and Rick Mears (29). Pretty impressive when you consider he is in his age 31 season. But how does he compare with the best in IndyCar history after their age 31 seasons? Check this out:

AJ Foyt -- 32 wins
Scott Dixon -- 26
Mario Andretti -- 30
Michael Andretti -- 29

Of course, all of the drivers listed competed under different circumstances. For instance, Mario didn't begin racing in IndyCar until he was 25, and Michael lost a year in Formula 1. But, the numbers are the numbers, and if Newgarden stays with Penske the rest of his career (duh!) he will finish his career in the Top 5 on the wins list. 

David Malukas: No doubt the absolute driver of the day. Malukas won twice last year at Gateway and looked just as comfortable on Saturday night, leading four laps and charging through the field in the final stint, which culminated in a pass on Scott McLaughlin in Turn 2 on the final lap of the race. That pass, using the high line and showing no regard for his own personal safety (kidding, it was an incredible pass) was highlight material. Malukas has certainly raced his way into a better ride next year if he wants it.

Scott McLaughlin: Remember last year when Scotty was pretty much racing in the midfield, and, by his own admission, having confidence issues? I don't either, because in Year 2 he has shown what made Team Penske sign him in the first place. We all knew he was a successful, smart, and clean racer thanks to his massive success in Supercars, but for a while it was a concern that it might not have transferred to open wheel machines. Forget that, he's the real deal, and the only thing that might keep him from a bunch of wins and a title may be his own teammate, who is just as good.

Scott Dixon: Look who's back...back again. While Dixon finished P8 in Saturday's race, he's still third in points and just 14 in arrears of Newgarden. As usual, he's gained momentum as the season has progressed. In his last eight races since the Indianapolis 500, he has two wins, five total Top 5 finishes and has never finished out of the Top 10. This is just what the guy does.


Will Power: I'm probably being a bit hard on Will, especially the way he dominated the race by leading 128 laps in the early going. But, with his P6 finish he came back to the championship field a little bit, and while he is still the leader -- and my odds-on pick to win the championship -- things are really, really tight as four drivers are within 17 points and anything can happen in the next two races. Power could make it easy on himself and just win the final two races, which he is capable of doing, but at worst he has to podium in both races to grab the Astor Cup.

Alex Palou: His P9 finish probably closed any chance he had to defend his championship, as he sits in fifth and is 43 points behind Power. That's a workable deficit with a little luck, but to win the championship he would need Power, Newgarden, Dixon and Marcus Ericsson to all falter. That's not gonna happen.

Pato O'Ward: A guy finishes P4 and he makes the losers list? Unfortunately, yeah. He really did drive a great race and was solid all night, but he really needed to either win the race to make up some ground. As it stands, he's now 68 points behind and time has pretty much ran out. After his awesome, P2-P1 weekend at Iowa, his P12 at the IMS road course and P24 in Nashville did a ton of damage.

As the season winds down, who ya got for the championship? Follow me on Twitter @15daysinmay and let me know! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Will Power's Career Year

Yep, I'm saying it.

You're probably asking, "wait a minute? Will Power? The guy with 41 wins, 66 poles, a championship and an Indy 500 win? That Will Power?".

Yep again.

As we head to the final four races of the IndyCar season, Power sits in a familiar spot -- on top of the points standings. And if he keeps doing what he's been doing, I think he will still be sitting there when the checkered flag falls at Laguna Seca in six weeks.

There's no doubt that Power is one of the best drivers of his generation, in fact, if Scott Dixon weren't around he would arguably be the best. He's been dominant since he began racing full-time with Team Penske in 2010, and in his first five years with Penske, he finished, P2, P2, P2 and P4 before finally winning his first (and only) IndyCar title in 2014. In fact, other than last year, when he finished ninth in points, he had never had a season where he finished lower than fifth.

It's some pretty consistent stuff -- at least in the points standings. But many of his most successful seasons featured some brilliant driving, and some stinkers too. 

Take 2011, when he won six times and notched a total of eight podiums. He lost the title, though, mainly because he had three finishes of P19 or worse, to go along with two P14 finishes. Dario Franchitti, on the other hand, only had four wins, and while he had a P20 finish at New Hampshire, he only finished outside of the Top 10 one other time that year. 

The next season was the same, as he won three times and had six podiums. But he lost the championship to Ryan Hunter-Reay by just three points thanks to three finishes of 23rd or worse, including crashing out of the final race at Fontana and finishing 24th. Hunter-Reay won that race, and the title as a result.

I'm not going to go season-by-season, of course, but you get the idea. He's won a race in every season since 2007, and has scored a ton of points along the way. But whether it was mistakes or just plain bad luck, he's missed the one thing that is important: consistent, race-to-race consistency.

Maybe last year's 9th-place finish in points was a motivator, but at age 41 Power is putting up the consistency that he's lacked in previous seasons.

Though he only has one win (Detroit), he has a total of seven podiums, plus three 4th-place finishes. Sure, he has two P15s at the 500 and Toronto, and a P19 at Road America, but the consistency he's shown in the other 10 races has been outstanding as he heads to Nashville with and average finish of 6.1 on the year.

For reference, in his title year of 2014 he had an average finish of 6.4.

It hasn't been easy at times, either. While he is no doubt the greatest qualifier in history, and and three poles this year to give him 66 on his career -- one short of Mario Andretti -- he's also had weekends where things didn't go so well.

At Mid-Ohio, Power started 21st and still came back to finish third. In his win at Detroit he started 16th, and at Barber he started 19th and finished fourth. In all three of those races he passed cars and methodically moved his way up the field.

And, despite only leading 188 laps, which without doing the research I'm guessing is a career low, he's completed all 1,723 laps of competition this year. Power has been smooth and he's been fast, and he's putting together the types of seasons Franchitti did when he was winning four championships in a five-year span.

With four races to go on the schedule, if Power wants to win the title, he has to keep up this kind of consistency, because there is really no room for error. He's just nine points ahead of Marcus Ericsson, and 32 in front of Josef Newgarden, with four other drivers within 81 points.

Power has talked a lot about thinking about the "big picture", and how that has helped him be more patient. If he wants to win his second championship, that and his super consistency is what is going to take him there.