The Astor Cup will add a first time name Sunday. Indycar Photo by Chris Owens
Today’s Schedule: Eastern Time
Indycar Practice 6:00 pm-6:45pm
I am always shocked when the weekend of the last Indycar race of the season arrives. I’m excited for the race, but sad that I have to wait several months for the cars to hit the track again. Fortunately the gap until next season is shorter than in most years with St. Pete coming up in February.
Indycar returns to the longest running street race in the United States. In a normal season, Long Beach would be the third race of the year, but the event has been hit hard by the pandemic. The race was cancelled last season, and the promoters moved it to the fall in hopes that the COVID restrictions would ease enough to run the race. The Acura Grand pPx of Long Beach will go on with the specter of the Delta variant still lurking.
To gain entrance to the track, fans must show proof of vaccination or a negative test result no earlier than 72 hours prior to the day of entry.
The championship is all but over although most writers have amused themselves this week presenting scenarios in which Alex Palou could lose the title. This has been a crazy year, but I don’t think he is in danger. If neither Josef Newgarden nor Pato O’Ward win the pole Saturday, the chase is essentially over. There is still a points battle to keep an eye on.
Tight Battle for Rookie of the Year
The 2021 rookie class, though small, has impressed. Scott McLaughlin leads Romain Grosjean by 20 points. Grosjean has won a pole and been on the podium three times. McLaughlin has one podium and a couple of top fives. McLaughlin has run every race, while Grosjean skipped the first three ovals.
The Long Beach will not allow Grosjean to make some of the spectacular passes he did last week, but he will still do well. I’m not sure he can catch McLaughlin in points, but I have been most impressed with Grosjean.
I have a new level of respect for Jimmie Johnson. After a long career in NASCAR, to step in an Indycar and try to learn on the job, takes courage I’m not sure I have. He has improved tremendously since the start of the year, and he has been racing people the last two weekends.
The Kids Did All Right
The new Indycar champion will be no older than 24 years old. Alex Palou, who has a fairly comfortable lead, has shown patience and maturity despite two consecutive hard luck DNFs late in the season.
Pato O’Ward has had one the three fastest cars on the grid in 2021. Pato has a reputation for overdriving the car at times and using up his tires too quickly. A couple of bad results early in the year may have cost him a better chance at the title going into this weekend.
Palou needs to finish 11th or better to clinch the championship.
Ryan Hunter-Reay will drive his final race for Andretti Autosport Sunday. The 11 year affiliation produced an Indianapolis 500 win and a series championship. Hunter-Reay will most likely be driving in the 500 next season, but whether he runs full time is not known.
James Hinchcliffe will also have his last run in the 29 car for Andretti. I think his Indycar options are limited.
Is this Takuma Sato’s last drive for Rahal Letterman Lanigan? We should know next week. Sato won the 500 for the team in 2020.
Simon Pagenaud will leave Team Penske after Sunday. I believe he has another team lined up for 2022. Pagenaud won the 500 in 2019 and the series title in 2016.
Before the pandemic, Long Beach belonged to Alexander Rossi. In 2018 and 2019, Rossi won the pole and the race. In 2019, he won by 20 seconds. I look for him to be strong again. Rossi has had a frustrating season, but the last few races he has qualified well, but hasn’t always had the results to show for how he raced. He is especially hungry after the first lap incident last week put him out of contention for the win.
Rossi will win for the third straight time at Long Beach. Grosjean will make the rookie race even tighter but McLaughlin will prevail for the season.