Preview: IndyCar returns to Laguna Seca
IndyCar raced it’s last race at Sonoma Raceway last September, capping a 14 year long run at the venerable wine country venue. Lucky for us, the final race of the season remains in California with the season finale arriving this weekend at the legendary 2.238 mile WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. This is the series return to Laguna Seca, and will be where the 2019 IndyCar champion is crowned after the checkered flag drops Sunday afternoon.
Entering the weekend, three drivers are in contention for the series title, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet) with a 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) and a 42-point advantage on Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Chevrolet).
Newgarden is in the driver’s seat, pun intended in his quest to follow up his 2017 championship with another inscription on the Astor Cup. He needs to finish fourth or better, but it will not be a walk off, with qualifying being vital to determining those with the best chance to win on Sunday. The winner of 14 of the 22 races at the track has started from the pole position making the points awarded for pole and the leading position for the race start the best advantage to win and potentially win a title. Pole position offers a bonus point as does leading a lap and two points for leading for the most laps. In addition to sweeping up all the points possible the season finale is worth double points for each finishing position. A win for Newgarden would give the Captain, Roger Penske his 16th racing championship.
Northern California native, and local favorite, Alexander Rossi is 41 points behind Newgarden. Rossi needs a perfect weekend to earn all the points available and hope that Newgarden doesn’t make it to fourth position or better. 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud is one more point down on Newgarden than Rossi with a 42 point gap. Pagenaud needs a perfect weekend (and bad luck for the other challengers) just like Rossi.
It’s like a Common Core math problem, in that you know how winners are chosen but near impossible to explain how it happens. IndyCar.com has a good breakdown from Arni Sribhen:
If Newgarden finishes …
... 4th place or better: Locks up the championship, putting him 105 (Rossi) and 106 (Pagenaud) points up, which is too much for either of them to overcome.
... 5th place: Without any bonus points, this puts Newgarden up 101 over Rossi and 102 over Pagenaud. Newgarden has the tiebreaker over both (more wins than Rossi and more seconds over Pagenaud), which means they must win and score +2 (Rossi) and +3 (Pagenaud) bonus points over the weekend to steal it.
... 6th place: Without bonus points, it's as simple as win the race, win the championship for Rossi/Pagenaud since Newgarden will only be 97/98 points ahead finishing here and 100 for the win will overcome him. However, that is close enough for Newgarden to secure the championship if he is +3 (Rossi) or +2 (Pagenaud) with bonus points. Again, Newgarden has the tiebreaker on both of them.
... 7th-9th place: Bonus points don't matter. If either Rossi or Pagenaud win, they win the championship.
... 10th place: This is where Rossi/Pagenaud don't have to win the race to win the championship. Tenth for Newgarden puts him ahead 81/82 points, respectively, so If Rossi/Pagenaud finish second and are +2/+3 on bonus points, Newgarden loses the championship.
... 11th place: Newgarden will be 79/80 points ahead, respectively, with tiebreakers. Rossi can break even on the bonus points and win with a second. Pagenaud will need to be +1 on the bonus points with at least a second-place finish.
... 12th-14th place: Bonus points don't matter; second place will do it for Rossi or Pagenaud.
... 15th place: With +2/+3 bonus points, third place will win the championship for Rossi or Pagenaud.
No matter the outcome, the finale is sure to entertain as the drivers will not have been at the track since February testing, meaning that no one in the field has yet gone wheel to wheel through the world famous Corkscrew.
INDYCAR concludes its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 22. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT local) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. local). Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).