Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Preview- Trio Chasing Newgarden Needs to Gain More Ground

Photo: The first two rows on the pace lap at last year’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500

The clock is ticking. Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon are running out of time to catch Josef Newgarden. They are closing, but Newgarden has done well enough, other than his misstep at Mid Ohio, to keep the group at slightly more than arm’s length. Dixon has been gaining ground steadily. He has won once and finished second three times over the last four races. He needs to maintain that level of performance to have a chance of catching Newgarden

Rossi has crept close and then fallen back. His first lap incident Sunday could have hurt worse than it did. His last four races showed a fifth, a third, a sixth, and the 18th at Pocono. He needs another win to close the gap. Pagenaud has been steady

also. He has a win in the last four races to go along with  third,  sixth, and  fourth place finishes.

Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 is the third NTT Indycar Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway just outside St. Louis since Indycar returned in 2017. The racing has been fun and attendance has been the best at an oval outside of Indianapolis.  Chris Blair, executive vice president and general manager and track president Curtis Francois, understand how to promote a race. Saturday night’s crowd should again be in the 30,000-40,000 range.

The first race involving Indycar machines was in 1997 under CART sanction during the split. The first three races were the day before the Indianapolis 500. They were scheduled to prevent the CART drivers from participating in the 500. The race moved to September in 2000. In 2001-2003 the IRL held races at the track. Indycar returned in 2017.

Team Penske has dominated the past two years. Will Power won the pole in 2017 and Newgarden and Pagenaud battled for the win. Newgarden won with a pass going into turn one late in the race. There may have been some contact between them.

In 2018 the grid was set by entrant points after rain washed out qualifying.  Will Power won the race, taking the lead for good with eight laps left. What will this year bring? No driver has won this event more than once. Who has the best finishing average of the two races? Scott Dixon.

Dixon finished second in 2017 and third last year. If his trend of the last four races continues, he has to be a favorite for at least a podium spot.  Power, comes into the weekend not only as the defending winner at this track, but also with the momentum of his first victory of the season last Sunday at Pocono. can Power get on one his patented winning streaks?

Rossi and Newgarden I think are under the most pressure. Newgarden has seen his lead over fourth place Dixon dwindle to 52 points. He leads Dixon by 98 going into Mid Ohio. Newgarden is 35 ahead of Rossi and 43 in front of Pagenaud. I think the winner will come from the top four in the points or Power.

Rossi is unde pressure because he can’t afford another bad race. He has two wins this year while Newgarden has four. he need to win two of the last three races to possibly take the title to the second tie breaker. Rossi holds that edge.

Breaking the First Lap Curse

Both races this track have had a first lap, second turn incident. This is a tradition that needs to end in 2019. In 2017 Tony Kanaan spun and Ed Carpenter hit the wall. Last year Sebastien Bourdais hit the turn 2 wall just after the green flag. We’ll see if Sunday’s accident has any influence on how the field drives on the first lap.

A Closer Points Battle

i think the points battle gets even closer after Saturday night.  My prediction is Dixon will win, and Rossi and Pagenaud also close their gaps to Newgarden. I’m not wishing or predicting anything bad for Newgarden. All four drivers should finish in the top ten.

The race  coverage begins at 8 pm Eastern on NBCSN with the green flag around 8:30.

Friday look for my Quick Thoughts after qualifying as well as practice session reports. Saturday morning I will have a pre race post followed by  post race Quick thoughts Saturday night.