Photo: Colin J. Mayr/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: 2023 Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

The final oval race of the season could also be championship Sunday as Gateway has a slew of storylines, ranging from silly season to potential history being made.

Championship leader Alex Palou, who is currently dealing with drama behind the scenes with his contract, has a 101-point lead over Scott Dixon and an additional four points over Josef Newgarden.

With three rounds remaining, Scott McLaughlin, Pato O’Ward and Marcus Ericsson are also in the hunt for the championship. Thus, six drivers mathematically have a chance of winning the Astor Cup.

However, if any of those five drivers trail Palou by 108 or more points, their championship quest is over and Palou will lock up his second INDYCAR championship in three years.

It’ll be the first time in the Post-Split Era that the championship trail will be decided early. Something that hasn’t been done in American Open Wheel Racing since 2007 when Sebastien Bourdais won his fourth straight Champ Car title. Under the IRL banner, it was Dan Wheldon in 2005 who locked up the title before the finale.

All Palou cares about right now is not the saga with himself and McLaren — but simply winning the championship for Chip Ganassi Racing and the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge should he win the race. Palou is the only driver who can accomplish this feat as he needs an oval win to earn the million-dollar bonus, but he’ll have to deal with Newgarden.

No driver has had such a dominance presence on ovals in recent memory than Newgarden, who is looking to sweep the oval races this season. Not only it’ll be his 30th career INDYCAR win, but also a three-peat at Gateway.

Time will tell if Newgarden will score his ninth oval win in the last 11 races, but one thing is certain about the buildup to Gateway — silly season has gone full bonaza.

Gone from the grid is Jack Harvey, who parted ways with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing after the Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Replacing Harvey this weekend is Conor Daly, who’ll be driving the No. 30 Honda.

Swedish driver Linus Lundqvist will once again fill-in for Simon Pagenaud at Meyer Shank Racing as this Sunday will mark his oval debut. Last year’s Indy NXT champion is also rumored to have a full-time ride heading into 2024 as Wednesday’s announcement of Ericsson leaving Ganassi at season’s end to join Andretti Autosport ignited those speculations.

Silly season aside, the big mystery is how the Firestone alternate tires fare on an oval as INDYCAR will try it out at Gateway. Adding a challenge for the 28-car field as Sunday’s warzone could see history be made with Newgarden’s oval streak on the line and/or Palou hoping to seal the deal.

By the Numbers

What: Bommarito Automotive Group 500, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 15 of 17

Where: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway – Madison, Illinois (Opened: 1967; First INDYCAR Race: 1997)

When: Sunday, August 27

TV/Radio: NBC & Peacock 3:30 p.m. ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channels 85 & 160)

Track Size: 1.25-mile oval

Race Length: 260 laps, 500 kilometers

2022 Race Winner: Josef Newgarden – No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started third, 78 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

Pato O’Ward – No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

“I like going back to St. Louis. I’ve had a good amount of podiums there in the past, and we were really close last year, so hopefully we can get back on it this year. We’re going back to an oval, which always produces some good racing. This weekend, we have a different tire and a different extra tire, so I think that will keep everyone on their toes on strategy. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top.”

David Malukas – No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing w/ HMD Motorsports Honda

“I feel like I have a connection with the ovals. I feel very comfortable on them, especially having a teammate like Takuma Sato (last year). He is extremely comfortable with ovals, so I’m not at that level yet, but I was able to have a good teacher to get going, and our car is very good on short ovals.

“Coming from this season, we’ve had ups and downs, but thankfully our short oval car has stayed there.

“Things are looking up for Gateway but it’s also a little bit of pressure being put down because it was a really good performance last year, so you have to come in and try to replicate it.

“Either way, though, I’m very excited. I think we have a good opportunity to do something.”

Last Time in Gateway

Josef Newgarden had his work cut out for throughout the 260-lap race as the first half was anything but the Newgarden Show at Gateway.

Instead, it was his Penske teammates Will Power and Scott McLaughlin, and Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward, who had control of the race. But Newgarden began creeping up on the leaders with under 100 laps remaining and he made his presence known to everyone that he won’t go away easy.

All of this came into fruition on Lap 165 when he passed O’Ward for the lead. Then his greatest challenge towards the end of the race was Mother Nature. After making a pit stop, McLaughlin was the leader once the rain arrived at Gateway which brought out the red flag on Lap 217.

Once the race resumed, it was now night time and the action really picked up. Especially when it came down to the final 36 laps as Newgarden made quick business on his “Bus Bro” buddy McLaughlin and regained the lead.

Down in fifth was rookie David Malukas, who had a breakthrough race that night. More so in the closing laps when Malukas was suddenly fighting for a podium, maybe a shot for his maiden INDYCAR win.

On the final lap, Newgarden’s lead over McLaughlin and Malukas was under a second with the latter really showing his muscle. Malukas made a daring pass on McLaughlin for second on the outside line and was cutting the gap of Newgarden, but time ran out.

Newgarden scored his fifth and final win of the 2022 season, and captured his second straight win at Gateway. But all eyes were on “Lil’ Dave” for his mesmerizing drive during the final green flag run with Pancho Carter guiding him to his greatest drive to date.

“Pancho came on the radio. I was trying so hard. They know how to do this. Blocking my line and stuff. Man, this is so hard,” said Malukas.

“But Pancho said, ‘Try going wide in one and two, three and four.’

“One and two didn’t work. They sweeped it. It felt really good.

“I just said, ‘You know, two to go, let’s try it,’ Malukas continued.

“It worked very well. I had that bit of clean air on the front right wing, I was able to get a run. Because the track was so much quicker with it being so much later, I hit the limiter in sixth gear. I couldn’t get a tow or suck on him. We had to go two-wide in one and two. Scary going wide there. Definitely getting some loose ends.

“Overall, so happy that we managed to go back out. We knew from practice yesterday the cooler the track got, the better our car ended up being compared to the others around us. We knew we had a good car going into it. Knew I had a chance.”

For Newgarden, he was both surprised and satisfied with his car’s progress as the race unfolded.

“I was pleasantly surprised and very, very satisfied with my car tonight,” said Newgarden. I thought it was hooked up tremendously once we got about midway through the race. It was a bit processional in the first half.

“Literally every car just went to fuel save. Everyone wanted to try to make the three-stop work. I was surprised at how many people committed. Seemed like the whole field flipped to it. Wasn’t a lot happening then.

“As soon as that caution 150, 155, something like that, when it provided that opportunity to pit again, it changed things up, put people on different strategies. That made it really exciting,” Newgarden continued.

“I thought that our car was able to maximize that strategy opportunity. So I’m real thankful to my team for picking that out. You can’t win this race without nailing calls like that, being good in the pits.

“There was a moment I thought it was slipping away from us, too. Ultimately they made the right calls and did it right and we were able to close it out.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, August 26

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice (11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. – Peacock)
  • Indy NXT Race (3:25 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Final Practice (5:00 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. – Peacock)

Sunday, August 27

  • Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – NBC & Peacock)

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.