Sunday, September 11, 2022

Ranking The Contenders

In boxing back in the day, the last three rounds of a 15-round fight were called the "championship rounds". Beaten, exhausted and probably questioning why they got into this line of work in the first place, the final rounds where when fighters dug deep within themselves and found the mental toughness to finish the fight.

The bell to the final round has five drivers answering it. They have all reached this point in different ways, but, as always, the IndyCar season always delivers multiple drivers with championship hopes at the end of the season. Wait, how does this always happen? Oh yeah, it's the best racing series on the planet.

So who will be holding the Astor Challenge Cup later on today at Laguna Seca? Let's look at the contenders:

Will Power (503 points): I'm going to admit this straight out that I want to see Power win his second championship. As I argued a few weeks ago, this is the best overall season in his long open wheel career, and it should end that way. Though he has just one win on the year, and has only led 318 of the possible 2173 laps this year, he has been consistent, completing every lap this season while picking up 11 Top 5 finishes. His pole yesterday was the 68th of his career, breaking a tie with Mario Andretti for the most ever, and it also gives him a free run from the start while the other contenders are back in the field.

Josef Newgarden (482 points, 21 points behind): I think Power will be the champion, but Newgarden is the Driver of the Year, with five wins, 7 Top 5 and 11 Top 10 finishes. Most seasons would find him running away with the points, but he's had several bogeys as well, finishing P25 at the Indianapolis 500 and crashing out (not his fault) while leading in Race 2 at Iowa and finishing P24. He's got the biggest hill to climb today, as a spin in qualifying relegates him to the 26th starting position.

Scott Dixon (482, -21): Who's surprised to see Dixon still in the hunt and looking for his seventh IndyCar title? I don't see any hands in the air, so let's continue. His season has been crazy consistent as well, as he has only one finish outside of the Top 10 this year. But that one was a biggie, as it was P21 at the Indy 500, which on a double-points day cost him dearly. What's crazy is that he was the car to beat that day until he was penalized with 25 laps to go for a pit speed violation. He actually scored one more point than Power did that day (33-32), but even a Top 5 finish would've garnered him 37 more points, which would have him in the driver's seat today. Like Newgarden, he has some work starting P13, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the podium later this afternoon.

Marcus Ericsson (484, -39): You can argue all you want about double points at the 500, because here's why it matters: in winning his first Indy 500, Ericsson scored a whopping 109 points, which represents 22.5 percent of all the points he scored this year. Other than a P22 finish at Long Beach, his season has been very respectable, but his two podiums and five total Top 5 finishes falls below the marks of the rest of the guys on this list. But hey, when you win the 500, it's been a helluva season.

Scott McLaughlin (482, -41): Amongst the other contenders, McLaughlin has the best look at Power at the start, as he goes off P8 on the grid. He also has the most work to do. In order for McLaughlin to be standing at the final bell, he needs to win the race while the rest of the event goes totally off the rails. Still, what an incredible season: three wins, seven podiums and three pole positions. What cost him was a bad run between the Indy road course and Detroit, where he finished P20, P29 and P19. It was great to see that he was rewarded with a long-term contract from Team Penske as the result of his first two years in the series. Looking at all of the young talent in IndyCar, people have wondered who was going to be the next superstar out of that group. Turns out it's probably going to be a 29-year-old Kiwi who is also the Australian Supercars GOAT. Dude is great, and he's only getting better.

So that's how it lines up today at Laguna Seca. Have a great race everybody!

No comments:

Post a Comment