Marti Update: Marti is in rehab and is showing tremendous improvement. She may be able to come home around the end of the month,, which seemed unlikely a week and a half ago. Thanks for your continued thoughts and prayers
Sunday’s race is the last one of the year on NBC. Next week’s season finale will be on NBCSN>
Today the California Cup Rush begins-two races to determine the NTT Indycar Series champion for 2021. I feel sorry for the winners of theses last two events if they happen to be non contenders. No one ever remembers who they are. I think it’s exciting to have this year’s title chase end on two classic tracks- Laguna Seca, now known by the awkward name of Weather Tech Raceway, and Long Beach, the second longest running race in the Indycar Series.
This weekend will be the 24th Race at the track near Monterey. CART began racing here in 1983 and continued until 2004. Indycar returned in 2019, and last year the pandemic cancelled the race. Colton Herta won the race from pole in 2019.
Given all the twists and turns of this incredible season, it is apt that the penultimate race include a corner named The Corkscrew.
Just 34 points separate the top three drivers-Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward, and Josef Newgarden- making the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey the key race in the championship. In a normal year this would be the season ender. The race will seem like a year end event. The title fight is the main thing to watch this weekend, but other things are at stake as well.
Battle for the Astor Cup
Palou, O’Ward, and Newgarden don’t need to win, but each driver will look to finish ahead of the other two. Scott Dixon has a minimal chance of being the hunt, but 49 points behind at this point seems like too much to overcome.
Palou could clinch the title this weekend, but he would have to earn the maximum number of points-54- and even then it depends on where Newgarden and O’Ward end up. I have no doubt the battle goes down to the last lap at Long Beach.
I think both Newgarden and O’Ward will gain a bit of ground on Palou, who will still lead heading into the finale. I still believe, as I’ve said since early May, that Palou will win the title.
Rookie of the Year
Scott McLaughlin leads Romain Grosjean by 38 points after Portland. Grosjean has driven three fewer races than McLaughlin this year. He sat out Texas and the Indianapolis 500. Another Top 10 finish could wrap up the Rookie title for McLaughlin. He just needs to gain12 points on the Dale Coyne driver.
Grosjean couold still catch McLaughlin, but it will be difficult. Team Penske was strong here in 2019. Will Power finished second and Simon Pagenaud ended the race in fourth. Newgarden was eighth, but he was points racing to win the title.
Overal, I think Grosjean has had a better year than McLaughlin, but the three missed races will cost him the Rookie crown.
Desperately Seeking Victory Circle
Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal are still looking to end their winless streaks which have stretched for more than one full season. Each of them had an opportunity to win last week at Portland.
Rossi contended at Gateway until car trouble put him in the wall late in the race. Rahal has had pit strategy cost him wins this year. Rossi last won at road America in June, 2019. Rahal last won in June 2017.
Other drivers looking to break victory droughts are Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Simon Pagenaud.
We may see the Indycar schedule for 2022 this weekend. From what i’ve heard the season will start early and end early. A couple of venues are still working out dates.
Since Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport officially announced their separation this week, will we see the new driver of the 28 presented this weekend? I still believe it to be Romain Grosjean.
I’m hearing that Takuma Sato may be driving for Dale Coyne next year. That makes sense, and lends further credence to the rumor of Jack Harvey going to RLL.