Title Battle Thickens Following Watkins Glen
Following Josef Newgarden’s bad early strategic move and an overzealous move to exit pit road late in Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship fight has changed drastically.
After starting on the inside of row two, he ran just outside the top-10 throughout the event. However, after the incident, the Tennessean’s 18th-place effort is the worst finish posted by the Team Penske pilot, since carding a 20th at the Indianapolis 500 in May.
With only the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma left on the slate, what seemed to be a comfortable 31-point lead when the green flag flew in upstate New York, is now reduced to only three.
As Newgarden succumbed to adversity, four-time series champion Scott Dixon delivered the clutch performance Sunday that has earned him the nickname: the “Iceman.” After the New Zealander also lost ground early in the 60-lap distance at New York’s Thunder Road, Dixon recovered to secure runner-up honors at a venue where he has won on four previous occasions.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s team leader, however, was not the lone beneficiary on Sunday. Newgarden’s teammate Helio Castroneves moved to just 22 points out of first with a fourth-place finish. Simon Pagenaud, a victim of the winning pass completed by the Tennessee-prospect at St. Louis, also is back in play with the double points offering at Sonoma, after placing fourth.
Although the battle for the championship is essentially a four-man race, others a little further down the points table could also claim a top-three showing with a win or podium at Sonoma. One is perennial road course ace Will Power, who heads to Sonoma 72 out of first, but only 46 behind third. Another is Alexander Rossi, who returned the confidence shown by Andretti Autosport re-signing him for the 2018 campaign, by taking the checkered flag first at the Glen on Sunday.
As for what could happen at Sonoma, my views on Newgarden have changed considerably in seven days. The negative vibes that haunted Dixon in July and August are now squarely on his own shoulders. The No. 2 Chevrolet pilot, has finished no better than sixth in his any of his five attempts at the hilly, Wine Country-based layout, plus he has taken three placements of 20th or worse.
Dixon meanwhile, has shown the same muscle at Sonoma, that he has likewise at the Glen. Although he settled for 17th a season ago, the Iceman won the Go Pro Grand Prix in both 2015 and 2016. The former of those pair of triumphs earned him enough points to take his fourth series title.
While Newgarden looked like a sure-fire champion in the last few events, Dixon appears ready to take what would be a record fifth IndyCar championship.
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