A Championship On the Line...
If it's September and unseasonably warm (OK, really hot) in northern California, it can only mean one thing. The GoPro IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma is just around the corner. For the third consecutive year, Sonoma Raceway will host the final race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season and crown a season champion.
Last year a Penske team car won it all. This year, the same could happen, but with a different driver. In 2016 Simon Pagenaud put together a dominant season and sealed the deal in Sonoma. Now, another Penske driver leads the championship headed into Sonoma. Josef Newgarden, in his first year with Penske, showed immediate talent and pace and has four season wins. His points lead (3 points ahead of Scott Dixon) should have been a bit greater, but a bizarre incident at Watkins Glenn allowed others to close the gap.
Newgarden has 560 points, Dixon 557, Helio Castroneves 538 and Simon Pagenaud 526. Will Power, Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal also remain mathematically alive in the battle, but their chances depend on the misfortune of most of the top 4, though its not impossible since Sonoma is a double points race.
Coincidentally, Newgarden was at the opposite end of the title challengers spectrum at Sonoma two years ago. When the challengers came to the State Capitol two years ago for a pre-race weekend press junket, there was lots of good natured ribbing by all as he was the last in line of those who were in the running...theoretically/mathematically at least. This year, he's at the sharp end of the spear, and we wish him the best as he battles some big names and talents.
Watkins Glen allowed Scott Dixon, a four-time series champion to pull to within 3 points of Newgarden to set the show down in Sonoma. It's not only a battle between two drivers but the teams they drive for. Penske and Ganassi are the modern titans of American racing, and will look to further add to the trophy collections.
Helio Castroneves, a 20 year veteran of IndyCar could win his first ever series title. Castroneves is a four time Indy 500 winner but has never won the season championship. After 20 years, Sunday could turn out to be his first championship and last race in IndyCar as speculation and rumor has existed all season that Castroneves would retire from IndyCar and move to Penske’s sports car effort.
Whatever the outcome a worthy champion from among the contenders will emerge and Northern California will again be on the racing map. The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma airs live at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.