Qualifying May Determine Title Chances

Colton Herta looks to dominate at his home track again

Today’s Schedule All Times Pacific

:45 – 8:00 T&S On Track
8:15 – 8:45 Qualifying Spec Racer Ford
9:00 – 9:15 Warmup US Touring Car Championship
9:30 – 10:00 Qualifying 1 and Qualifying 2 Indy Lights
10:15 – 11:15 Practice 2 NTT INDYCAR Series Peacock
11:30 – 12:00 Race 1 Spec Racer Ford
12:25 – 1:20 Race 1 Indy Lights Peacock
2:05 – 3:20 Qualifying NTT INDYCAR Series Peacock
3:30 – 4:00 Autograph Session Indy Lights
3:35 – 4:25 Race 1 US Touring Car Championship
4:40 – 5:10 Race 2 Spec Racer Ford
5:25 – 6:35 Two Seater Rides

Good morning from cloudy California. A brief rain shower may occur in about an hour, but it should have no impact on today;s action. Qualifying today could give us a better idea of who may take possession of the Astor Cup tomorrow.

:45 – 8:00 T&S On Track
8:15 – 8:45 Qualifying Spec Racer Ford
9:00 – 9:15 Warmup US Touring Car Championship
9:30 – 10:00 Qualifying 1 and Qualifying 2 Indy Lights
10:15 – 11:15 Practice 2 NTT INDYCAR Series Peacock
11:30 – 12:00 Race 1 Spec Racer Ford
12:25 – 1:20 Race 1 Indy Lights
2:05 – 3:20 Qualifying NTT INDYCAR Series Peacock
3:30 – 4:00 Autograph Session Indy Lights
3:35 – 4:25 Race 1 US Touring Car Championship
4:40 – 5:10 Race 2 Spec Racer Ford
5:25 – 6:35 Two Seater Rides

Will Power can help hgis title hopes with another pole

Drivers described the track as slippery with high tire degradation yesterday. We could see qualifying rounds with minimal laps run.

Team Penske looks to be the favorite for the pole as of yesterday, with all three cars in the top 11 in practice. Colton Herta can never be counted out at this track either.

The Ganassi team, who =tested here last Monday, ended practice 10th (Ericsson), 14th (Palou), and 17th (Dixon), In a post practice statement, Dixon said they decided to try something new in practice. Seems a bit late wigth a championship on the line. I hope they find their way back,

I’ll be back after the morniung practice with a summary ab=nd to set up the qualifying rounds.

Some action from practice yesterday

Newgarden Leads Finale’s Opening Practice

Josef Newgarden fired the first shot as the battle for the series title began this afternoon at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca. Newgarden’s lap of 1:11.410 beat Colton Herta by 0.41 seconds.

Andretti Autosport finished second, third, and forth. Herta was followed by Romain Grosjean and Alexander Rossi.

Callum Ilott was fifth fastest.

Points leader Will Power was seventh. The other title contenderrs, Marcus Ericsson and Scott Dixon, were 10th and 17th. The Ganassi team tested here Monday.

Dixon explained, “We came with a pretty different setup than what we did at the test. WE just wanted to try a few different things. We could see that the 8 car already backed up some of those, so mit looked like he moved in a positive direction. Still, all of us outside the top 10 is not ideal. We’ll work out of here and see, make what we can out of it. It’s going to be a pretty high (degradation) race.”

David Malukas, second nin the rookie of the year battle, was ninth, and rookie leader Christian Lundgaard had the 15th fastest lap.

Asked if his quick time is representative of his advantage over the field,, Newgarden said,

“It’s hard to say. I didn’t even really put together my best lap, and I’m sure that was the case for the majority of the field. It’s always hard to read off the first session. I think we’ll tighten up tomorrow.
But just the early read is good. I felt like we made really
good use of our short time that we had today and short set
of tires that we had. We didn’t have a lot to work off of. So
I feel good early, but I feel like it’s early days.”

Results

Morning at Laguna Seca

Good morning or good afternoon, wherever you are. We are two hours from the first Indy Lights practice, followed by the first Indycar practice.

Some news items to catch up on.

Not a huge surprise, but Scott mcLaughlin has signed a multi year deal with Team Penske. The second year driver has three poles and three wins this season.

In a huge boost to the Indy Lights Series, HMD announced their intention to field eight Indy Lights cars in 2023. There have been years when the Lights field barely had eight cars. HMD currently runs points leader Linus Lundqvist, who should wrap up the championship this weekend.

Lundqvist said he wants to finish his championship “on a high.”

I’m hearing the chances of Colton Herta getting a super license exemption to race in Formula 1 are slim.

Championship Strategy

Josef Newgarden said he will approach this weekend mostly like any other.

“…you treat it to be the same as always, working on trying to maximize the car trying to make your points like oh, this is gonna be the same regardless.”

About the decision to test at Portland instead of Laguna Seca, Newgarden said,

“We tried a different strategy I think it worked for us at Portland for sure. But you know what time is gonna tell if that was the right decision or not. I think we feel good confident about that.”

Kirkwood on Moving On

Kyle Kirkwood

Kyle Kirkwood reflected on his time with A. J. Foyt Racing and moving to Andretti autosport next year.

“It’s bittersweet, because, and I really, I really wanted to win with this team. It’s great. The guys really like a family atmosphere, you kind of feel the heritage within the team. . So I’m gonna go into powerhouse team , like Andretti Autosport. Knowing I’m gonna have a good car atalmost all events and so it’s, it’s good for that sense. But it’s also it’s also bitter in the sense that it kind of feels like a moment leaving a family. So we’ll definitely be emotional. But I mean, no matter what, it’s good for everyone.. , One thing I can definitely take away from the season is we’ve definitely developed the car better, especially on street courses. But we definitely progressed on everything, got the car in a better spot, whoever fills into that number 14 car is gonna be in a better spot than where I was at the end of the season, which is nice to know from just my own knowledge.

Working with really good .teammates is the main thing I’ve never really had a teammate to push me in the past couple years. And given the lineup stays the same, it’s gonna be a ton of fun working with all of them, because I know they’re all stellar drivers and they’ll all push me to do better and, and actually be very valuable stuff and whatnot. So that’s something I’m extremely lucky. “

Kirkwood doesn’t necessarily feel pressure jumping into the 27 car. “Rossi has obviously done very well, because eight wins in that car over a few seasons almost won a championship. So while there is pressure, it’s obvious that the cars would be good, but I think people understand that I’m coming in just after a rookie season and coming out with a new team and stuff. So I can’t be expected to be right out of the gate. It’s gonna stay right but as it goes along the road, it’s probably gonna pressure me to get up to his level, if not better him. So yeah, there’s a little bit of pressure involved, but there’s always pressure “

Race Preview- Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

It is Power’s title to lose

Today’s Schedule: All Times Pacific

8:30 – 8:45 T&S On Track
9:00 – 9:30 Practice 1 Spec Racer Ford
9:45 – 10:15 Practice 1 US Touring Car Championship
10:30 – 10:45 OEM Laps
11:45 – 12:15 Practice 2 Spec Racer Ford
12:15 – 1:15 NTT INDYCAR Autograph Session
12:30 – 1:00 Practice 2 US Touring Car Championship
1:15 – 2:05 Practice Indy Lights
2:30 – 3:45 Practice 1 NTT INDYCAR Series  Peacock
4:00 – 4:30 Qualifying US Touring Car Championship
4:45 – 5:30 Two Seater Rides

I hate writing the preview for this particular race because it means the season ends in two days. 2022 has been a year of great racing and a tight championship points battle. But, the year end review has to wait ntil we see how the final chapter plays out.

While the main focus is on who wins the championship, there are a couple other stories to watch this weekend.

The Astor Cup Goes To…

With just 20 points separating the top three drivers and Marcus Ericsson just 39 points behind, any of the four has a shot. Realistically, I think it is Will Power’s title to lose.

The chart Indycar posted yesterday shows ahy Power is in good shape.

YEARLEADERSECOND LEADCHAMPION
2008Scott DixonHelio Castroneves30Scott Dixon
2009Scott DixonDario Franchitti5Dario Franchitti
2010Will PowerDario Franchitti12Dario Franchitti
2011Will PowerDario Franchitti11Dario Franchitti
2012Will PowerRyan Hunter-Reay17Ryan Hunter-Reay
2013Scott DixonHelio Castroneves25Scott Dixon
2014Will PowerHelio Castroneves51Will Power
2015Juan Pablo MontoyaGraham Rahal34Scott Dixon (-47)
2016Simon PagenaudWill Power43Simon Pagenaud
2017Josef NewgardenScott Dixon3Josef Newgarden
2018Scott DixonAlexander Rossi29Scott Dixon
2019Josef NewgardenAlexander Rossi41Josef Newgarden
2020Scott DixonJosef Newgarden32Scott Dixon
2021Alex PalouPato O’Ward35Alex Palou
2022Will PowerJosef Newgarden20?

Not since 2015, the first year the final race went to a road course, has a driver come from behind to snatch a title in the final race of the season. Scott Dixon, tied for second with Josef Newgarden this year, accomplished the feat. Dixon won the title on a tiebreaker. Newgarden holds the tiebreaker, most wins over all contenders. Dixon holds the tiebreaker over Power.

Power simply needs to finish third to win the title, or stay ahead of the other contenders.

Qualifying

Saturday’s qualifying results will have a huge impact on who finishes where during the race.It should be the most intense qulaifying session of the season. Power has four poles this season, and a fifth would go a long way toward his championship.

The Other Title

David Malukas

The race for Rookie of the Year has also come down to the last race of the yhear. Christian Lundgaard’s once healthy lead over David Malukas is down to five points. Both drivers have had a podium, both Lundgaard and Malukas have had strong second halves of the season. I think Malukas has a bit more momentum right now, and I think he will end up with the rookie honor.

Last Rides

Alexander Rossi and the NAPA livery have been a fixyture on the circuit for seven years.

At least four drivers will be driving one final time for their current team. The saddest parting of all is Alexander Rossi, who will leave Andretti and the 27 car for Arrow McLaren SP. Rossi burst on the Indycar scene wit his shocking win at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. It will be strange not seeing him in the 27 in 2023. Next year will be the second year in a row we need to get used to a different driver in a famliar Andretti livery.

Kyle Kirkwood will move from A. J. Foyt Racing to Rossi’s 27 at Andretti. This kove was virtually predetermined before this year began. I hope Kirkwood will have a better year next season with Andretti.

Alex Palou will most likely not be oin the 10 for Chip Ganassi next season. here he drives in the McLaren stable is still unclear. IT may be a while before we see Palou in an Indycar again.

Felix Rosenqvist may or may not be having his final Indycar ride for AMSP Sunday. His situation is unclea. He could even be with a different team in 2023. What I finsd sad is that Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward have been arguably the best teammates at working together on the grid. Their cars are consistently equal each weekend. This pair of drivers are the fiercest competitors on track and they support each other.

Herta off to F1?

Is Sunday Colton Herta’s last Indycar drive for a while? A decision about his F1 super license will come early next week. If it is, we could se him leave with another dominating performance on a track his family owns, racing wise.ert

Will David Malukas return to Coyne? I would love to see what he could do in a second season there, but openeings at bigger teams will be beckoning. Malukas has shown steady growth throughout the year, and he could shine in 2023.,

Fast Facts-Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

Photo and content from Indycar


 Race weekend: Friday, Sept. 9 – Sunday, Sept. 11
Track: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, a 2.238-mile permanent road course in Monterey, California
Race distance: NTT INDYCAR SERIES: 95 laps / 212.61 miles | Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires: 35 laps / 78.33 miles / 55 min
Push-to-pass parameters: NTT INDYCAR SERIES: 150 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 15 seconds per activation. | Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires: 150 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 15 seconds per activation
Firestone tire allotment: Six sets primary, four sets alternate. Teams must use one set of primary and one new set of alternate tires in the race. (Note: A seventh set of primary tires is available to any car fielding a rookie driver.)
Twitter:@WeatherTechRcwy, @IndyCar, @IndyLights, #FirestoneGP, #INDYCAR
Instagram: @weathertechraceway, @IndyCar, #FirestoneGP, #INDYCAR
Facebook: @WeatherTechRaceway, @IndyCar, @IndyLightsOfficial, #FirestoneGP, #INDYCAR
TikTok: @IndyCar, #FirestoneGP, #INDYCAR
INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com
Indy Lights website: www.IndyLights.com
2021 race winners:NTT INDYCAR SERIESColton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda)Indy Lights Presented by Cooper TiresRace 1: Kyle Kirkwood (No. 28 Andretti Autosport)Race 2: Kyle Kirkwood (No. 28 Andretti Autosport)
2021 NTT P1 Award winner: Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda), 1:10.7994, 113.798 mph
Qualifying records:NTT INDYCAR SERIESHelio Castroneves, 1:07.722, 118.969 mph, Sept. 8, 2000
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper TiresMax Chilton, 1:14.2329, 108.534 mph, Sept. 12, 2015
NBC Sports race telecast: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey 3 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 11, NBC (live). Leigh Diffey is the play-by-play announcer for NBC’s coverage of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, alongside analysts Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe.
Peacock Premium Live Streaming: All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice sessions and qualifying will stream live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s direct-to-consumer livestreaming product, while NBC’s race telecast of the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be simulcast on the streaming service. Peacock Premium’s exclusive post-race show – featuring driver interviews, podium ceremonies and post-race analysis – will be streamed following the race. The Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey doubleheader (3:15 p.m. ET Saturday and 12:50 p.m. ET Sunday) will be streamed on Peacock Premium with practice and qualifying being shown on INDYCAR Live!
INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the anchor alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query, Nick Yeoman and Michael Young are the turn announcers. Georgia Henneberry, Ryan Myrehn and Dan Rusanowsky are the pit reporters. Charlie Kimball will provide additional commentary. The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey race (3 p.m. ET Sunday), Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey doubleheader (3:15 p.m. ET Saturday and 12:50 p.m. ET Sunday) and all NTT INDYCAR SERIES and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires practices and qualifying sessions air live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 160, racecontrol.indycar.com and the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA.
At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, Sept. 9 (All Times Local)
1:15-2:05 p.m. – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires practice 1, INDYCAR Live!
2:30-3:45 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice 1, Peacock Premium
Saturday, Sept. 10
9:30-10 a.m. – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Qualifying (Two 12-minute sessions / Session 1 determines the lineup for Race 1, Session 2 determines the lineup for Race 2), INDYCAR Live!
10:15-11:15 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice 2 (45 minutes limited guarantee), Peacock Premium
12:20 p.m. – Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Race 1 “Drivers Start Your Engines”12:25 p.m. – Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Race 1 (35 laps / 78.33 miles / 55 minutes)
2:05 p.m. –  Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey NTT P1 Award qualifying (three rounds of knockout qualifying), Peacock Premium
Sunday, Sept. 119 – 9:30 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES final practice, Peacock Premium
9:55 a.m. – Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Race 2 “Drivers Start Your Engines”10 a.m. – Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Race 2 (35 laps / 78.33 miles / 55 minutes)
Noon – NBC on air12:23 p.m. – Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey “Drivers, start your engines”
12:30 p.m. – Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (95 laps/212.61 miles), NBC (Live)
Championship facts:Will Power leads the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship with one race to go for the fifth time in his career. Power previously led the championship with one race to in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. He won the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in 2014.There are five drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship: Power leads Josef Newgarden by 20 points with Scott Dixon (-20), Marcus Ericsson (-39) and Scott McLaughlin (-41) behind.Power assumed the point lead following the Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30. The lead has changed hands seven times between McLaughlin, Newgarden, Alex Palou, Power and Ericsson.Since the first INDYCAR SERIES race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the winning driver has won the INDYCAR SERIES championship six times: Bobby Rahal (1986 and 1987), Danny Sullivan (1988), Michael Andretti (1991), Alex Zanardi (1998) and Cristiano da Matta (2002).
Point differential: The 20 points that separate Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon is the sixth closest margin with one race remaining since 2008. The 41 points separating the top five drivers in the championship is the tightest title race since 2003, when 30 points separated the top five. The average deficit with one race to go since 2008 is 25.86 points.
Key championship point statistic: This is the 17th consecutive year that the NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion will be determined at the final race of the season.
Race notes:There have been eight different winners in 16 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races in the 2022 season. Scott McLaughlin (Streets of St. Petersburg, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Portland International Raceway), Josef Newgarden (Texas Motor Speedway, Streets of Long Beach, Road America, Iowa Speedway-1, World Wide Technology Raceway), Pato O’Ward (Barber Motorsports Park, Iowa Speedway-2), Colton Herta (Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course-1), Marcus Ericsson (Indianapolis 500), Will Power (Raceway at Belle Isle Park), Scott Dixon (Streets of Toronto and Streets of Nashville) and Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course-2) have all won in 2022. The record for most different winners in a season is 11 in 2000, 2001 and 2014.
The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be the 25th INDYCAR SERIES race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but just the third since 2004. Teo Fabi won the first INDYCAR SERIES race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 1983. Colton Herta, who won the two most recent races at the track in 2019 and 2021, and Helio Castroneves, who won at the track in 2000, are the only former winners entered in this year’s race.Thirteen INDYCAR SERIES drivers have won at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca from the pole – Teo Fabi (1983), Bobby Rahal (1985), Danny Sullivan (1988), Rick Mears (1989), Danny Sullivan (1990), Michael Andretti (1991 and 1992), Paul Tracy (1994), Alex Zanardi (1996), Bryan Herta (1998 and 1999), Helio Castroneves (2000), Cristiano da Matta (2002), Patrick Carpentier (2003) and Colton Herta (2019 and 2021).Team Penske has won six times at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Penske’s winning drivers are Danny Sullivan (1988 and 1990), Rick Mears (1989), Paul Tracy (1993 and 1994) and Helio Castroneves (2000). Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has three wins, with Bryan Herta (1998-99) and Max Papis (2001). Chip Ganassi Racing has two wins, with Alex Zanardi in 1996 and Jimmy Vasser in 1997.
Twenty-one drivers entered in the event have competed in past INDYCAR SERIES races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Helio Castroneves has five starts, most among the entered drivers. Six entered drivers have led laps at the track (Colton Herta 174, Helio Castroneves 92, Will Power 6, Romain Grosjean 4, Scott Dixon 2 and Simon Pagenaud 1)
.Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires notes:The Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey doubleheader will be the series’ 25th and 26th races at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. Previous Indy Lights winners at Laguna Seca include Bryan HertaAndre RibeiroGreg MooreTony KanaanCristiano da MattaScott DixonTownsend BellSpencer Pigot and Rinus VeeKay. Current NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Kyle Kirkwood swept the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey doubleheader in 2021.
Linus Lundqvist of HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing is enjoying a dominant season, leading the series in wins (five), poles (six) and top-five finishes (12) through 12 races. Lundqvist, a native of Sweden, owns a commanding 103-point lead over second-place Matthew Brabham of Andretti Autosport. Lundqvist will clinch the season championship by scoring points in Race 1.Benjamin Pedersen joined Danial Frost, Christian RasmussenHunter McElrea as first-time Indy Lights race winners in 2022. Can another talented prospect such as Sting Ray RobbKyffin SimpsonErnie Francis Jr. or series newcomers Flinn Lazier or Nolan Siegel score a first series win at Laguna Seca?Push-to-pass could play a key strategic role at Portland as Indy Lights drivers will have a bank of 150 seconds to use an added 50 horsepower to assist in overtaking, similar to the drivers in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The maximum amount of time for each press of the overtake system is 15 seconds.

Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Schedule

All Times Pacific

Friday, September 9
8:30 – 8:45 T&S On Track
9:00 – 9:30 Practice 1 Spec Racer Ford
9:45 – 10:15 Practice 1 US Touring Car Championship
10:30 – 10:45 OEM Laps
11:45 – 12:15 Practice 2 Spec Racer Ford
12:15 – 1:15 NTT INDYCAR Autograph Session
12:30 – 1:00 Practice 2 US Touring Car Championship
1:15 – 2:05 Practice Indy Lights
2:30 – 3:45 Practice 1 NTT INDYCAR Series Peacock
4:00 – 4:30 Qualifying US Touring Car Championship
4:45 – 5:30 Two Seater Rides


Saturday, September 10
7:45 – 8:00 T&S On Track
8:15 – 8:45 Qualifying Spec Racer Ford
9:00 – 9:15 Warmup US Touring Car Championship
9:30 – 10:00 Qualifying 1 and Qualifying 2 Indy Lights
10:15 – 11:15 Practice 2 NTT INDYCAR Series Peacock
11:30 – 12:00 Race 1 Spec Racer Ford
12:25 – 1:20 Race 1 Indy Lights
2:05 – 3:20 Qualifying NTT INDYCAR Series Peacock
3:30 – 4:00 Autograph Session Indy Lights
3:35 – 4:25 Race 1 US Touring Car Championship
4:40 – 5:10 Race 2 Spec Racer Ford
5:25 – 6:35 Two Seater Rides


Sunday, September 11
8:00 – 8:15 T&S On Track
8:30 – 8:45 Warmup US Touring Car Championship
9:00 – 9:30 Warmup NTT INDYCAR Series Peacock
10:00 – 10:55 RACE 2 Indy Lights
11:40 Driver Introductions
12:10 Pre-Race
12:30 RACE NTT INDYCAR Series NBC Peacock
3:30 – 4:20 RACE 2 US Touring Car Championshi

Herta Holds Home Court; Palou on the Brink of a Title

Colton Herta leaves the pits after a stop. Indycar photo by Chris Jones

Some rambling thoughts on a race with some entertaining parts:

Colton Herta’s win in today’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey was pretty much a foregone conclusion, but there was some entertaining action behind the front two.

Herta’s two wins this year have come from the pole position. In his two victories Herta has led 188 of 195 laps.

Romain Grosjean put on quite a show, in moving from 13th on the grid to third at the end. He made some excellent passes, especially in the Corkscrew, and his altercation with Jimmie Johnson was probably the highlight of the race. Grosjean caught Johnson at the top of the hill leading to the Corkscrew, but he appeared to misjudge his speed. His car got airborne as the two collided, and Johnson was forced to go off track in the turn. How Grosjean did not have damage to nd his race I don’t know.

Indycar photo by Chris Jones

Grosjean is now just 20 points behind Scott McLaughlin for Rookie of the Year honors although he has run three fewer races.

Alex Palou started fourth and seemed content to run the entire day in second place after he fell into the position. Alexander Rossi collided with Herta in an attempt to take the lead. The two touched wheels and Rossi spun into the dirt and stalled. A lap later Will Power, who started third, pitted with an engine issue.

Palou is now very close to winning the series title next week at Long Beach. He extended his lead over Pato O’Ward to 35 points. Josef Newgarden, the only other driver who is still in contention, is 48 points behind. Newgarden needs to get the maximum 54 points while Palou finishes 25th or worse. An 11th place result next week will give Palou the title if O’Ward wins the maximum number of points. Palou is taking nothing for granted next week. After the race, he said,

“INDYCAR you cannot relax at any moment. We just keep
doing what we’ve been doing, race hard, race smart, and
hopefully we can get that championship without needing to
finish 11 or anything. We will try and get the best result as
possible.”

Another nice run for Ed Jones today with a 10th place finish. Jones is ending his time with Dale Coyne Racing on a high note. He has qualified and raced well except for Gateway.

Simon Pagenaud ‘s eighth place was his best finish in a while. This has been Pagenaud’s best weekend of the year.

Oliver Askew has done enough this weekend to earn a ride somewhere for 2022. In just his second race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, the former Indy Lights champion qualified fifth and came home ninth. I’m not sure theses last three races are an audition for RLL, but I’m sure someone in the paddock has noticed what he did.

O’Ward’s fifth place seems surprising. He was fighting the car and the tires all day, yet pretty much maintained his spot in the top five. he will be a champion some year.

Scott Dixon charged into the top five on the first lap, then faded after colliding with Takuma Sato. I can’t remember the last time Indycar went into the season’s last race without Scott Dixon having a chance at the championship. Still, he will finish fourth in the standings.

Jimmie Johnson recorded his best Indycar finish, 19th. He showed some competitiveness, making a couple of passes for position and had that great battle with Grosjean.

I thought that NBC could have spent some time in the prerace show talking about the schedule for 2022. I didn’t like seeing it mentioned during the race when it cut away from on track action. You would think they would have given it more emphasis since 14 of the races will be on NBC.

Honda clinched the engine manufacturer’s title with Herta’s win.

Race Day at Laguna Seca-Tires and Title Hopes

Alex Palou can move closer to the Astor Cup today. Indycar photo by Joe Skibinski

Today’s schedule: All Times Pacific

Today’s race will determine how many are still left to fight for the championship next weekend in Long Beach. Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon are on the brink of elimination given their starting spots. Pato O’Ward should still be in the hunt after today, and points leader Alex Palou has things pretty much in his control. Anyone who leaves the track 50 or more points behind is out of contention.

The winner has started on pole here 15 times in the 23 previous races, and every winner has started in the top six. As unpredictable as 2021 has been, that tradition might get a bit of a shakeup today.

Tire degradation and grip are going to be crucial for success in the race. In the post qualifying media conference, Herta said about tires,

“My initial feeling is that it’s going to be a black race. You’re
going to want to get off those red tires. I guess the
important thing we’ll try to learn about is how long can we
make those tires last before the huge dropoff comes in.”

The race is 95 laps, five laps longer than the 2019 distance. Teams will likely make three stops. A two stop strategy would be very iffy.

Alexander Rossi added, “The tire deg is pretty aggressive. I don’t know what that
means (smiling). A lot of people are wanting to pit for new
tires, like in practice after 12 laps, and we got to go 25.
There’s going to be a lot of screaming on the radio from people.”

Rossi also talked about the tendency tooverdrive the track, which has resulted in numerous off course incidents so far this weekend.

“But also you can’t
underdrive. It’s one of those places, it’s a pretty fine line. I
think on street courses you’re rewarded for trying as hard
as possible most of the time. Some of the road courses,
it’s a little better. Like Indy GP, I feel it’s better to almost
underdrive. Here you have to be on the 100%, not 101%,
not 99%. ”

Indy Lights

Kyle Kirkwood led flag to flag in yesterday’s race and now leads David Malukas by eight points. He is on the pole again for Race 2 today. The Indy Lights season concludes at Mid Ohio October 1-3.

I’ll have a warmup summary and of course post race comments later today.

Herta Family Tradition Continues; Palou Fastest Contender

Indycar photo by James Black

Some thoughts on a wild qualifying session:

This event should be renamed the Herta Family Invitational. Colton Herta’s pole today is the fifth for the family. His father Bryan won three straight pole from 1997-1999, and now Colton has two in a row. The elder Herta also won the race in 1998 and 1999, which almost makes the winner tomorrow a foregone conclusion. I don’t think it will be that simple, though.

Herta has three poles and five second place starts this season. His results from the front row have been mixed, and he has just one win.

It was an exciting, dramatic session to set the grid for tomorrow’s 95 lap race. The points leader just squeezed into the second round, the two cars that led the practice sessions did not advance, and off track excursions led to drivers losing positions.

It has been a long time since we have seen an all Andretti front row. Alexander Rossi moved to the front row due to Power’s penalty.

I feel bad for Scott McLaughlin, who looked to be in position to advance, but pitted when he had time for another lap. I’m sure it was a communication mixup.

Herta beat Power’s best lap by .027 seconds as time expired. Power’s lap was deleted because he did not slow for a local yellow.

Alex Palou was the fastest of the title contenders. After barely escaping Round 1, Palou made the Fast Six and he will start fourth. O’Ward was the only other driver with a chance at the title to make the Fast Six. O’Ward starts sixth after losing his fastest two laps when he spun off course. Josef Newgarden will start 17th tomorrow, his second consecutive ninth row start. Scott Dixon will start eighth.

The star of qualifying today was Oliver Askew. He took RLL’s third car to the Fast Six, led his Round 1 group, and will start between Palou and O’Ward. Today was Askew’s second career appearance in the Fast Six.

It was nice to see Simon Pagenaud have a respectable qualifying day. Pagenaud has struggled in qualifying all season. He made the second round today and will start ninth.

What happens to Newgarden’s car in qualifying? For the second week in a row, the two time champion was one of the fastest in practice, but did not make it out of Round 1.