Above: Spencer Pigot exits turn 5 at Road America
It’s the time of year when every point gained or lost becomes magnified. With 8 races left, points have more value every week. The NTT Indycar Series returns to action this weekend at the most beautiful track in the United States, Road America. The 14 turn, 4. 048 mile track has uphills, downhills, tight corners, and sweeping curves.
Road America returned to the Indycar schedule in 2016 after an absence of nine years. the event has been a great success, with huge crowds. Just four active drivers have won here- Sebastien Bourdais (2007), Will Power, Scott Dixon, and Josef Newgarden.
This weekend is crucial for the drivers chasing Josef Newgarden in the points. Alexander Rossi trails by just 25 points. A win would be ideal for him, but just finishing ahead of Newgarden will help. Simon Pagenaud in third place needs to improve on what has been a consistent showing around sixth or seventh place the last few races to stay in contention. Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato could definitely use a better showing than they had at Texas. The fourth and fifth place drivers are on the verge of dropping too far behind to catch up.
I’m looking at five things to watch for this weekend.
Rossi Needs a Win
Rossi’s best hope of catching Newgarden is to start winning races. Newgarden has won three times this year while Rossi has just one victory. If Rossi can win twice more and Newgarden doesn’t win again, Rossi with three second places would hold the second place tie breaker if they are tied in points.
Rossi’s only win in 2019 was at Long Beach. He has never finished better than 13th at Road America. This could be the year he breaks through. Rossi finished fifth at Barber and ninth at COTA in the two natural road courses to date.
Will RLL Have Another Strong Road Course Weekend?
Rhal Letterman Lanigan drivers Sato and Graham Rahal were dominant at Barber. Sato and Rahal both started on the front row with Sato winning from the pole. Rahal finished 23rd, fighting a throttle issue all day and stopping on track near the end of the race.
Rahal has had three straight top tens, topped with a third place at Texas. Sato won the pole at Texas but finished three laps down after a pit incident on his first stop. If they duplicate their Barber performance, we could see some pints taken from the front runners.
More Newgarden/Cindric Strategy Magic?
At Barber, Detroit Dual 1, and Texas, team strategist Tim Cindric and Newgarden made the correct calls on tire choices and pit stop timing. Each time they got to the front and stayed there. They may have another chance this weekend as there is a chance for rain during the race on Sunday.
They may not need too much strategy, though. Newgarden won last year from the pole. He led 53 of the 55 laps, holding off Ryan Hunter-Reay for the victory. More teams need to watch what they do and follow them into the pits. It seems to be working.
Is This Finally the Herta Comeback Week?
This is becoming a traditional race week question. Colton herta had a brilliant drive at Texas go for naught when he collided with Scott Dixon on lap 228. Herta finished 18th. he had been on his way to a podium finish.
After four straight last or next to last finishes, Herta was 12th in each Detroit race. The winner of this year’s inaugural race at COTA is back on the type of track where he can succeed. Despite the poor finishes, Herta is just three points behind Santino Ferrucci in the rookie standings. Ferrucci has complete all but two laps this season and has been consistently in the top ten lately.
Time for Dixon’s Run?
It’s getting late for Scott Dixon. Dixon has one win just as he had coming into road America last year. What he also has on this year’s resume is two DNFs for crashes, two more than last year. Dixon led the standings coming into Elkhart Lake last year, but finds himself 89 points behind the leader in fourth place. Dixon has been further behind later in a season than this, but it feels like time is growing short for him to make a run. I’m afraid his record of never winning back to back titles will stay intact.
The Wrong Answer
My pick for the win is Ryan Hunter-Reay. He finished second in 2018 after a good battle with Newgarden. Hunter-Reay has been just average so far in 2019, but this was the race that began a strong second half run last year that resulted in two victories.
Reminder- The race is on NBC this Sunday beginning at noon ET. Green flag is approximately 12:43 ET.