Close points race, chasing history in the spotlight at IMS
History could be written this week in a place steeped in history.
Team Penske’s Will Power, who leads NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers with five career poles for races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, can match Mario Andretti’s all-time pole record by winning the prize NTT P1 as fastest qualifier for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix. Andretti has won 67 poles in his INDYCAR career; Power’s total is 66.
Additionally, six-time series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing can take another step towards becoming the winningest driver in the sport by heading to victory lane this weekend. At the Honda Indy Toronto on July 17, Dixon tied Andretti for second place with 52 wins; another win earns Dixon the job all to himself. AJ Foyt holds the record with 67 career wins.
And then there is the battle for the season championship. Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing returns to IMS with the series lead, but his advantage over second-placed Power is slim. Eight points separate these two drivers, with a total of six drivers, including defending series champion Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing, separated by 44 points with five races remaining.
One of the top six is Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, whose availability for the two-day event at the No. 2 PPG Penske Chevrolet team remains uncertain following an incident at the July 24 race at the Iowa Speedway. He was cleared by INDYCAR medical authorities to participate in Friday’s opening practice and will be reassessed after that session. Newgarden was leading the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google in a bid to sweep the weekend’s doubleheader and climb to the top of the points standings when his #2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet spun and slammed into the wall. Newgarden and Dixon are tied for third in the standings, 34 points off the lead.
Iowa Race 2 winner Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP is the fifth driver in the championship hunt; he is fifth, 36 points behind Ericsson.
Here are five things to watch for this weekend.
Power Eyes All-Time Record
Andretti has held the pole record for nearly 36 years since passing Foyt. When the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner last qualified in 1993 at Michigan Speedway, it looked like no one would match that mark. Power was only 12 at the time.
Power, now 41, achieved Andretti’s record fast and furiously, winning eight poles twice in one season (2010, 2011) and winning a pole in each of the last 14 seasons. During that span, the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driver has averaged 4.3 poles per season, and he has three this season, capped off by a pair earned last weekend at Iowa Speedway. .
Statistically, Power is the fastest qualifier of his generation. Among the drivers for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix, Helio Castroneves (#06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) has 50 series poles – his tally ranks fourth in the sport’s history – and Dixon (#9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) comes next among active drivers with 28 poles. No other driver participating this weekend has more than 16.
Power isn’t just fast on qualifying days, either. His 41 race wins rank fifth all-time, and his next win will tie Michael Andretti for fourth place. Dixon holds the record for consecutive seasons with at least one race win, with 18, but Power is second with 16. Both have won a race this season. In total, Dixon won races in 20 seasons, another record. Castroneves won in 17 seasons, Power 16.
Power also has his eyes on something bigger than statistical marks: he wants a season championship to go with the one he won in 2014.
“It’s going over the wire, man,” he said. “Better bring your ‘A’ game or I’ll take it from (the) young dudes.”
Dixon hides, again
It must be the summer weather that invigorates Dixon, who has won 30 of his 52 races after the calendar shift in July. Twice he won three races in a row in the seventh month of the year.
Dixon finished fifth and fourth in the Hy-Vee INDYCAR race weekend, reducing his deficit to the series leader by 10 points. He cut 35 points this month.
See if Dixon has a shot at winning that championship as the season heads to the West Coast in September for the final two races. In seven seasons of his career, Dixon has won one of the last two races.
Dixon didn’t have Power’s level of success on the IMS road course, but he was still good. He won the July 4, 2020 race and posted three second-place finishes on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile course, the highest mark of any driver ever employed by Team Penske.
However, recent races at the IMS road course haven’t been as strong for Dixon. His average result over the last five starts is 10.5, with no result higher than eighth.
“Last time we were (on the IMS road circuit) it was more of a breakaway in qualifying,” he said. “I think the pace was definitely there, but you only have two laps to do it. I started my first lap badly, then I spun on the second. If you don’t do it right (in qualifying), you’ll be at the back of the pack (he started 21st).
Grosjean aims for a strong IMS comeback
Romain Grosjean (#28 Honda DHL) is one to watch this weekend given the confidence pocketed at Iowa Speedway.
Surprisingly, it was Grosjean, who had never raced on the short oval, who achieved the best finishes among the Andretti Autosport drivers every day. Consider that Michael Andretti’s organization won seven of the track’s first nine races with five different drivers.
Grosjean finished seventh and ninth in both races after qualifying 10th for each.
“I’m very proud of the whole weekend,” he said. “With Helio (Castroneves) and Simon Pagenaud and (Alexander) Rossi and (Colton) Herta, they have so much more experience on the ovals than they can represent the best car (in the organization).
“I’m really happy. With some better pit stops (in Saturday’s race), it would have been better (than finishing seventh).
Second-year NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Grosjean is eager to return to the IMS road circuit, although he didn’t do as well at the GMR Grand Prix on May 14 as he did at last year’s two races on the circuit. He won the NTT P1 award for the first race and finished second in every race in 2021.
Close battle of the recruits
Out of the championship pursuit spotlight is a two-man contest for the Rookie of the Year series.
The split between Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (#30 Shield Cleansers Honda) and Dale Coyne Racing with HMD’s David Malukas (#18 HMD Honda) narrowed at Iowa Speedway, although both drivers earned the best result of a rookie driver. Lundgaard finished 10th in Race 1; Malukas finished eighth in Race 2.
Lundgaard takes a four-point lead in the Gallagher Grand Prix, and both have been top rookies in five races this season. Both pilots also had success at the IMS.
Lundgaard got the job with RLLR in part because he qualified fourth in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race on the IMS road course at this event weekend in 2021. He finished 12th in the August 14 race. . He finished ninth in this year’s GMR Grand Prix after starting eighth.
Malukas, who won an Indy Lights road race presented by Cooper Tires at IMS in 2021, had the best result among rookies in this year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge at IMS. He finished 16th and felt he deserved rookie of the year over seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who qualified 12th but finished 28th after late contact in the turn 2. He and the team seem to have used that as motivation for the rest of the season.
“Since (the) May, the team has flipped a switch,” Malukas said. “We have a kind of chemistry together. I know what I expect from the car, and the team knows what I expect from the car, and everything is falling into place… everyone is smiling.
Rookies Callum Ilott (#77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet), Devlin DeFrancesco (#29 PowerTap Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) and Kyle Kirkwood (#14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet of AJ Foyt Racing) have shown flashes this season but are deeper in the ranking. Ilott was the first to finish the GMR Grand Prix, finishing seventh, while Kirkwood paced all rookies in the Long Beach street race in 10th.
Dream Weekend Schedule
This weekend schedule is just about everything a North American motorsports fan could ask for as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES joins the NASCAR’s Cup Series and Xfinity Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
On Friday, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES opens the action with its first practice at 9:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award will take place at 1 p.m. Practices for the Xfinity Series will take place at 3:05 p.m., with Series Qualifiers following immediately.
On Saturday, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has pre-race practice at 8:15 a.m. ET with the 85-lap race airing on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at noon. The Cup Series practice begins at 9:35 a.m., leading directly into qualifying at 10:35 a.m. The Xfinity Series takes its green flag, also on NBC, at 3:30 p.m. The Verizon 200 at the Brickyard for the Cup Series is set for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. (ET), live on NBC.
Tickets for the weekend can be purchased at IMS.com.