Who Will Win the Championship?

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First of all, a quick update on my wife Susan. She finally came home last Saturday after spending 53 nights away from home, either in hospitals or physical rehab centers. She is much improved, but is still not 100% physically. But at the first of this month, she was not able to walk at all. Now, even though she is a bit wobbly at times – she is able to move about the house quite easily. Unlike Hospital X, the doctors at Vanderbilt were able to find and successfully treat the infection that had been festering in her liver since April. She finally seems to be on the road to recovery.

In fact, she feels so good that we have finally planned the long-promised non-racing vacation. Since we’ve been married, most of our fun trips have been added on to trips to IndyCar race tracks. In October, we will be headed to Florida for a week in a beachside condo with no racing involved. Fair warning; I will be taking off that entire week and at least the Monday following, as we will be taking a full break from reality and the real world. Our only decision each day will be what kind of seafood to eat.

Thanks to those who have been asking about Susan, as we emerge from one of our worst summers ever. If you recall, her hospitalizations started back in May, on the Tuesday before the Indianapolis 500. From May 24 through last Saturday (Aug 27), Susan has spent only eighteen nights out of the hospital or rehab. That’s pretty much what I call a lost summer. At least she was able to go to Road America, during her short time out in the real world. Hopefully, the hospitalizations are over for a while and she can continue to gain strength for our trip in a few weeks. Now, on to my not-so-brilliant analysis of the IndyCar championship…

The NTT IndyCar Series is heading into the final two races of the season this weekend. There have been times recently, when the championship could have been determined in the penultimate race of the season. That won’t be the case this year.

There are currently seven drivers who are still mathematically alive for the 2022 IndyCar championship. Realistically, there are only four that still have a good chance of hoisting the Astor Challenge Trophy following next weekend’s race at Laguna Seca. Those four are points leader Will Power, Josef Newgarden (-3), Scott Dixon (-14) and Marcus Ericsson (-17).

While Alex Palou, Scott McLaughlin and Pato O’Ward are still technically alive, I think you’d have to consider them longshots. Not only would they have to win or place second in the next two races, everyone in front of them would have to falter. I don’t see that happening, so as we try to guess the future – I am only going to focus on the Top-Four drivers in the championship.

If you listen to the experts, most of them are crowning Josef Newgarden to win his third championship since he joined Team Penske six seasons ago. Except for a disappointing 2018 season that saw him finish fifth, Newgarden has finished first or second every season since joining Team Penske. Many people that make their living on such things are banking on Newgarden to overtake his Penske teammate, Will Power, in the final two races to push him over the top.

That could very well happen, but I am not so sure. There is a reason that Power is leading the points with only one win, while Newgarden has five – consistency. Through the fist six races of the fifteen that have been run so far – Newgarden either won or had mediocre to bad performances. He began the season with a very forgettable sixteenth place finish at St. Petersburg. That was followed by two wins at Texas and Long Beach. At Barber, it was a so-so result to begin the Month of May, as he finished fourteenth. At IMS, Newgarden finished twenty-fifth in the GMR Grand Prix and thirteenth in the Indianapolis 500. Following the Month of May, Newgarden was a distant fifth in points, fifty-two points behind leader Marcus Ericsson.

It was after Indianapolis that Newgarden came alive. Since then, he has amassed three more wins and except for his crash at Iowa due to a faulty suspension, he would have had no worse finish than tenth. But his Iowa crash while leading, relegated him to a twenty-fifth place finish on a day that he probably would have won. His collapse and subsequent hospitalization put his participation in the next race in doubt, but he was approved by doctors to race the next weekend at IMS and earned a fifth-place finish – his best finish in three races at IMS this season.

He earned a sixth-place finish at Nashville and won two weeks ago at Gateway. With the season he has had since the Indianapolis 500, I can see why the experts are saying Newgarden will win the championship.

Being from the same hometown, I am naturally a big Josef Newgarden fan, and I’d like to see him do it. While my heart says Newgarden will win his third championship, my gut says it won’t happen – not in 2022, anyway.

I also don’t think it will be Marcus Ericsson. Ericsson has had a solid season, but not one of championship caliber. If you ever needed validation for my long-held belief that double-points should be done away with – just look at Ericsson’s 2022 season. Marcus Ericsson won the Indianapolis 500 fair and square. Even if Sage Karam did not bring out the yellow on the last lap, Pato O’Ward and Tony Kanaan were not going to catch him.

But Ericsson was a true benefactor of double-points from the Indianapolis 500, because all of those that he is now trailing in the points race had bad days in the Indianapolis 500. Power finished fifteenth, Newgarden was thirteenth and Scott Dixon most likely would have won had a self-inflicted mistake not relegated him to a twenty-first place finish. Don’t forget that double-points means a double-whammy if you have a bad day. Had the Indianapolis 500 paid the same points as every other race, Ericsson would not be in this discussion. The fact that those three drivers are still ahead of him with double-points bears that out.

Don’t get me wrong – Ericsson has had a very solid season. After a slow start that saw him finish ninth at St. Petersburg, twenty-second at Long Beach and twelfth at Barber; Ericsson has had only two races out of the Top-Ten. Unfortunately for him, those were the two most recent races on the schedule – Nashville and Gateway, so momentum is not on his side. In fact, he has had only one Top-Five finish since Road America – and that was a fifth at Toronto. He is definitely fading and I don’t expect him to turn things around in the last two races of the season.

Ericsson has never been here before at this point in the season. Not only is he fading, he was the only driver out of thirteen to crash at a test on Monday at Laguna Seca. I haven’t seen the crash, nor do I know what happened. But you have to wonder if Ericsson dropping from first to fourth is making him press a little too hard right now. I suspect Ericsson is currently sitting in the same spot where he will be when the season concludes.

That leaves Will Power and Scott Dixon. This is a tough one to decide. In year’s past, I would have said that Power would fade at the end because he has had a history of throwing away championships. But that was a decade ago. However, before this season, Power appeared to be a driver on the decline. Since 2017, which coincided with Newgarden’s arrival – Power has finished fifth, third, fifth, fifth and ninth in points. That’s not bad (except for 2021), but it’s not great either.

But this seems to be a new Will Power this season. He has seemed to mellow just enough that he now looks at the big picture, rather than have a win or bust mentality. The result has been a very consistent season, that has allowed him to lead the championship with just one win over his nearest competitor with five. But he really needs another win in one of these next two races.

Power won at Portland in 2019, and followed that with a second-place finish at Laguna Seca that same season. Power also led last Friday’s test at Portland, that included nine drivers from team Penske, Andretti Autosport and Foyt.He needs to do that again this weekend, because he has three others on his tail if he falters.

As for Scott Dixon, he has been here many times before. He has come away with six IndyCar championships, but he also has two second-place seasons and five where he finished third – meaning that he doesn’t always win the championship when he is within striking distance. Dixon has had a strong second half of this season, but he has two eighth-place finishes in his last three races. He cannot afford any more mediocre outings if he wants to win his seventh championship this season.

When I started typing this out, I was convinced that my prediction to win the championship was going to be Scott Dixon. But as I began looking at each driver and the seasons they have had and especially their last few races; I’ve almost talked myself into Will Power holding on to win his second championship…almost.

Sometimes I have to go with my gut, over my head and even my heart. My heart says Newgarden, while my head says Power. But I am going to stick with my gut prediction. Scott Dixon will win the 2022 IndyCar championship over Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson – and in that order. We’ll see.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Who Will Win the Championship?”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Portland will be especially key, I think, because I still expect Herta to wave his magic wand at Laguna Seca. Even a 10 point gap to the leader after Portland could be really hard to make up.

    Power has the best performances at the remaining tracks, Newgarden the best momentum, and Dixon the deepest championship battle experience. Ericsson seemingly has no advantages, but he’s surprised us before. I’m still going with Power, but Portland will be telling.

  2. Talón de Brea Says:

    So glad you’re working your way back, Susan. There’s no place like home …

    We’ve got quite a competitive championship race this year, George. Thanks for the coverage and commentary during less-than-ideal times for you two.

    Let’s not forget that the final two races could be won by strong drivers not near the top of the standings — that’s how deep the talent is these days. If one of the top contenders takes both of the last two races and wins the championship, he will really have deserved it.

    Here’s hoping for some good racing and minimal “chicanery” at Portland …

  3. Mark Wick Says:

    I am happy to see the report about Susan. I hope you both really enjoy your vacation.
    At for the final two races, I predict the results will be interesting.

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