By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
After a grueling, love-hate drama string of races, the NTT IndyCar Series had a much needed week off from the madness.
Now they’re getting ready for the final three rounds of the championship trail, beginning with the final oval of 2022 at Gateway. A popular circuit amongst fans, the main headline involves the two protagonist from the crash fest at Nashville.
In the closing laps, last year’s Gateway winner Josef Newgarden and the race’s media darling Romain Grosjean, tangled and it ended the latter’s afternoon.
There was no love loss on the track and on social media. Their heated encounter gave the track an idea by using their quotes from Nashville and Twitter on the backstretch wall.
Time will tell if they’ll fight for position as Gateway has been Team Penske’s playground, winning six out of the last eight non-consecutive races (no INDYCAR races were held at Gateway from 2004-2016 with 2020 being a doubleheader).
Former Penske driver and 2003 Gateway winner Helio Castroneves said it’s hard to count against the organization.
However, there are other drivers that can be a threat to their dominance come Saturday night.
“Team Penske has been doing very well in Gateway. I wouldn’t bet against them, to be honest. And I understand what they do is extremely well-done. It’s going to be interesting,” Castroneves explained.”
“I don’t have a favorite, to be honest, because obviously I like all of them: Will (Power), Josef, Marcus Ericsson, and (Scott) Dixon is back on the game. Probably Pato (O’Ward) still I believe has a chance.
“Very much open for those guys. Whoever make less mistakes, that’s one is going to be the winner.”
Newgarden has won the last two installments and hungrier to go for the three-peat to put him back into the title fight once again.
Meanwhile, Scott Dixon’s bid for title No. 7 remains at large. With two wins under his belt, Dixon trails Will Power by six points and as long the title picture includes him, it’ll be a fight until the absolute bitter end.
The six-time champion looked no further than the 2015 title fight with Juan Pablo Montoya. Dixon beat the accomplished Colombian for the Astor Cup via a tiebreaker after Montoya led the entire trail until the finale at Sonoma.
“You’re in it until you’re not. I’ve been in many situations — I think probably the biggest one like that was with Montoya,” said Dixon. “I think it was double points back then, but we were 60 points out or something. Maybe more. That’s the point. You are never out of it until you are. We’ll keep digging.”
While there’s no more double points after the Indy 500, the fight for the title is on the minds at those who are still in the fight.
The contenders will become narrower pending on the outcome of the race. As the field of 26 strong look to navigate around the 1.25-mile circuit, hoping at night’s end, it’s their time to shine at the top step of the podium.
By the Numbers
What: Bommarito Automotive Group 500, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 15 of 17
Where: World Wide Technology Raceway – Madison, IL (Opened: 1967; First INDYCAR Race: 1997)
When: Saturday, August 20, 2022
TV/Radio: USA Network / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211) 6 p.m. ET
Track Size: 1.25-mile oval
Race Length: 260 laps, 325 miles
2021 Race Winner: Josef Newgarden – No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started third, 138 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet (23.7206 seconds, 189.709 mph – August 25, 2017)
From the Driver’s Seat
Helio Castroneves – No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda
“The place is very challenging. I do remember a special turn one, dictates the entire lap because of the shape of the circuit. No, it’s exciting.
“Last time I’ve been there not driving, obviously I notice how many people still going, still enjoying. It’s big props to the promoters to be able to captivate and capitalize on the entire people. Great that the community is all behind. Really important to have promoters like that.”
Last Time in Gateway
The final oval race of the championship trail had its chaotic action all throughout the night last August.
Not only it marked the oval debut of Romain Grosjean, but he wowed the fans in attendance and the viewers around the world with his efforts. No matter the track position, the purple colored No. 51 Honda made daring moves that established veterans can pull off with ease.
Grosjean would stay out of trouble and finished 14th whereas championship leader Alex Palou ended up out of the race on Lap 65. The second straight retirement following a mechanical failure at the Brickyard the race before.
Coming into Turn 1, it was Chip Ganassi Racing turmoil as both Palou and Scott Dixon were involved in a three-car crash. Joining Ed Carpenter in the race retirement line.
The accident put Dixon well behind in the points that a seventh title was all but gone that night. Palou’s insurmountable lead in the points was non-existent as Pato O’Ward took the championship lead from him at the end of the 260-lap contest.
O’Ward’s night was strong, but wasn’t able to catch Josef Newgarden, who ended up scoring the victory at Gateway.
At that point, Newgarden’s win felt more of getting helped due to accidents and an all around effort from Team Penske. But noted the win certainly put him back into the championship picture.
“It’s about time we got something to come our way a little bit. That’s what it felt like,” said Newgarden after his Gateway win.
“A win helps a lot. The team did a great job. Will was super quick this weekend. I thought Scott McLaughlin did a great job for us. He came and tested here. He’s a rookie that never has driven on ovals before this year. He helped develop a lot of the things I ran on the car here.
“Everybody did a great job of pitching in. We had great cars. The circumstances have played favorably into helping us get back into this race, which is what we’ve been working towards. I feel really confident about where we’re going.”
At season’s end, neither of the top-two finishers could match Palou’s turnaround in the final three rounds.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, August 19
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Final Practice (7:00 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, August 20
- Indy Lights Race (4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. – Peacock)
- Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. – USA)