Analyzing the 2021 IndyCar Championship Picture before Long Beachby Jack Gaffney September 24, 2021 0 comments
It feels like the season opener for the 2021 IndyCar Campaign was not too long ago back at Barber Motorsports Park. Now the season ends this weekend with the annual Grand Prix of Long Beach. America’s top open-wheel racing series has had the title come down to the wire every year dating back to 2005. That was when the late great Dan Wheldon clinched one round early at Watkins Glen.
2021 continues a long streak of close title fights, this year with a pair of new faces. A pair of international young guns in Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward lead the way in first and second place. Both look to become first-time IndyCar Champions from their respective countries, Spain and Mexico, In addition, either driver would become one of the youngest drivers in IndyCar history, dating back to World War II.
Behind them is Team Penske’s ace Josef Newgarden. The 30-year-old Hendersonville, Tennesee Native looks to win his third IndyCar title in the last five years. Although a long shot, his experience gives him an advantage on Palou and O’Ward, and thus should not be counted out. Now that the participants are out in the open, here is how each man can clinch the title this Sunday Afternoon, and a refresher on the points system.
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IndyCar Points Breakdown
In years past, the IndyCar season finale has joined the Indianapolis 500 as being a race where point values were doubled. As of last season, that is no longer the case. With that in mind, here is how the points system works. For what it is also worth it is a 28 car grid for Long Beach.
|IndyCar Points System|
|Pole Award: One point|
|Leading At Least One Lap: One point|
|Most Laps Led: Two points|
IndyCar Title Combatants
No. 2 Josef Newgarden- Team Penske
2021 Stats- Wins: 2, Poles: 3, Top Fives: 7, Top Tens: 12, Laps Led: 337, Current Points: 469
At the beginning of the year, it did not feel like Newgarden would be in this position. In spite of a poor start, he has given himself an outside shot at this year’s championship. The Nashville, Tennessee native has had a strong second half of the year. He is currently on a streak of six consecutive top five’s in addition to a pair of wins.
While far down in the points, a comeback of this magnitude would not be new. Back in 2015 when Scott Dixon won his fourth title, he came back from 34 points down in the final race of the year, albeit with double points. If Newgarden were to come back from 48 points down, it would be nothing short of one of the biggest sports miracles this side of the ’86 US Hockey Team. For it to come to fruition here are his two scenarios.
Newgarden Clinching Scenarios
First Scenario: Secure maximum points. Palou secures six or fewer points. O’Ward finishes second or worse with only one bonus point.
Second Scenario: Secure 53 points. Palou secures minimum points. O’Ward finishes second or worse with no bonus points.
No. 5 Pato O’Ward- Arrow McLaren SP
2021 Stats- Wins: 2, Poles: 3, Top Fives: 9, Top Tens: 11, Laps Led: 118, Current Points: 482
O’Ward’s second full-time season in IndyCar has been as good as expected. On the other hand, more than a few poor results may cost him this championship when it is all said and done. Most recently at Portland, he had some sort of engine issue that was costing him major time losses. Outside of that and a few other races, O’Ward has been rock solid more often than not. Additionally, he has an easier road to a championship comeback than Newgarden, with a variety of different scenarios.
O’Ward Clinching Scenarios
First Scenario: Secures maximum points. Palou scores 18 or fewer points.
Second Scenario: Wins with three bonus points. Palou scores 17 or fewer points.
Third Scenario: Wins with two bonus points. Palou scores 16 or fewer points.
Fourth Scenario: Wins with one bonus point via leading final lap. Palou scores 15 or fewer points.
Fifth Scenario: Finishes second with two bonus points. Palou scores eight or fewer points.
Sixth Scenario: Finishes second and leads most laps. Palou scores seven or fewer points.
Seventh Scenario: Start on pole, lead one lap, and finishes second. Palou scores six or fewer points.
Eighth Scenario: Finishes second in addition to leading a lap or securing pole. Palou finishes 25th or worse.
No. 10 Alex Palou- Chip Ganassi Racing
2021 Stats- Wins: 3, Poles: 1, Top Fives: 9, Top Tens: 11, Laps Led: 137, Current Points: 517
Palou’s car owner Chip Ganassi has said for years that he likes winners. Like many Ganassi greats before him, Palou fits that bill nicely. The pride of Barcelona, Spain, in just his second year in IndyCar, has been a force. In addition to picking up three wins, Palou has finished in the top 10 all but four times this season. Even more impressively or oddly enough, he has done all of this only leading 137 laps. As a result of his spectacular sophomore campaign, Palou’s path to the title is a relatively smooth one,
Palou Clinching Scenarios
First Scenario: Finish eleventh or better.
Second Scenario: Secure at least 19 points.
IndyCar Tiebreaking Procedure
However uncommon, tiebreakers have happened in IndyCar championship battles in past years. Most recently was the 2015 season with Juan Pablo Montoya and Dixon, where the latter won the title by winning his third race in the finale in Sonoma. With the points tied up at 556, a two-win year for Montoya was not enough in the end.
In the event of a tie this weekend, O’Ward will, in short, be a day late and a dollar short. Palou would own the opening wins tiebreaker, followed by second-place finishes tiebreaker.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images