ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – If Marcus Ericsson wins the Astor Cup come mid-September, he may very well have the just-ended seven-week stretch to thank. As other IndyCar Series contenders have struggled in multiple races since the start of May, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has been the beacon of top-level consistency.
And after a Detroit Grand Prix that surprisingly stayed green for 69 of the 70 laps, where each member of the top-6 in points finished no worse than 7th, Sunday’s Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America gave a hefty shakeup to this year’s championship race. Thanks to a bump off-track from a series rookie (Will Power), contact with a teammate (Alex Palou) and an electrical failure (Pato O’Ward), three of the top 4 in points entering the 55-lap affair on the 4-mile road course finished 19th, 27th and 26th, respectively.
And a championship advantage that was no larger than 15 points for anyone since Long Beach – the lead changed hands after each of those six races – has grown to 27. Ericsson takes that edge on 2nd-place Power into a two-week break before Mid-Ohio.
“I think it’s going to be a tough season, a long season, but we’ve put ourselves in a really good position now leading,” Ericsson said Sunday after passing pole-sitter Alexander Rossi to finish 2nd. “We’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing. I think we’re in a strong position, but it’s going to require a lot of hard work to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
With the Indianapolis 500 counting double points, IndyCar has effectively reached the halfway point of the 17-race calendar, and it’s notable that the only driver to win multiple races (in this case, three) doesn’t have a stranglehold on the title race.
Josef Newgarden said as much after Sunday’s win, his third.
“I think 10 years ago, you were used to these consistent trends. When a team would find a performance edge, they would typically carry that edge across the entire year,” Newgarden said. “Whereas now, I think people find these little edges on each other every weekend, and it’s going up and down all the time.”
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The perfect example of this is Newgarden’s Team Penske, which has won five of the eight races in 2022, and yet are looking up at a Chip Ganassi Racing car.
“We say every year: It’s the closest competition we’ve ever had, and somehow it keeps getting tighter. It’s impossible to hide from the competition, and it’s very difficult to win these races consistently,” Newgarden continued. “For us, it’s been a little bit too up-and-down, kind of feast-or-famine. We’ve got to up our consistency. …
“Consistency is going to rule the day this year, for sure.”
With a bit of a break in the calendar and one-third of the year’s points having been decided since the calendar turned to May, here’s a deep dive into the current top-10 of IndyCar’s championship points race and how Sunday’s race shook things up.
An in-depth IndyCar title race breakdown
Current position in the standings: 1st, 293 points
Points position since Barber: T9th-8th-1st-2nd-1st
Overall movement: Gained 8 spots, made up 60 points
How he fared at Road America: In a track position race, Ericsson made an early move that didn’t sit well with all the Ganassi camp, but it ultimately looked clean and positioned the No. 8 Honda driver for the moves down the stretch that elevated him to runner-up. Ericsson was clearly conflicted about the move in Turn 5 on Lap 4, where he dove inside and was nearly a car-length ahead of teammate Alex Palou before they touched wheels – the result of which broke a toe-link on the No. 10 that set him 10 laps down.
But you’ve got to take your chances when you get them. As long as they weren’t done with ill intent, Eri
csson has to continue to believe in himself, because that belief has taken him to incredible heights.
Outlook: Outside his late-race incident at Long Beach, where he threw away a certain top-5 for a DNF in 22nd, Ericsson’s been running as well as anyone. He’ll still likely need two more wins to clinch it, but if his team can operate in the furious closing stretch as they have lately, they’ll be tough to beat.
Current position in the standings: 2nd, 27 points back
Points position since Barber: 4th-1st-4th-1st-2nd
Overall movement since Barber: Gained 2 spots, lost 17 points to the lead
How he fared at Road America: Power’s Lap 8 contact with Devlin DeFrancesco, where the rookie spun Power from the back, is an unfortunate incident he did well to recover from. It was his first major frustration of the year in finishing 19th. If he can get back to his all-but-automatic top-5 form, we’ll quickly forget about Sunday.
Outlook: Even better than Ericsson, Power has mastered the ‘solid’ day on race day, totaling six top-5s (no one else has more than four). Unless he finds the ‘Will Power’ of nearly a decade ago and runs off consecutive wins somewhere, that form will continue to be the key.
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Current position in the standings: 3rd, 32 points back
Points position since Barber: 3rd-4th-5th-5th-3rd
Overall movement since Barber: Stayed in 3rd, lost 23 points to the lead
How he fared at Road America: Sunday was a largely flawless day for the whole No. 2 Chevy crew, from the pit stop that propelled him into the lead, to besting Rossi on the black tires the Andretti driver rode to his pole, to twice holding off competition on late restarts. When he’s rolling at this caliber, there’s no one who can beat him.
Outlook: As Newgarden said post-race, he’s been very feast-or-famine in 2022 with three wins, but just one other finish inside the top-12. Even if he were to get another couple of wins – watch out for him in the three short-oval races at Iowa and WWT Raceway – finishes around the 15th or so elsewhere aren’t going to get it done.
Current position in the standings: 4th, 45 points back
Points position since Barber: 5th-7th-2nd-3rd-4th
Overall movement since Barber: Gained 1 spot, lost 15 points to the lead
How he fared at Road America: O’Ward said Friday he and the No. 5 Chevy team couldn’t afford throwaway results, and then an electrical issue inside 10 laps to go Sunday slotted him 26th. We won’t know for awhile exactly what happened or who was to blame, but it is precisely what he and the team couldn’t afford.
Outlook: As it was last year, the biggest problem for O’Ward and AMSP is an inability to string together three or more consecutive top-5s. O’Ward did so just once a year ago (including the Detroit doubleheader) and hasn’t yet this year. His hopes hinge on getting this team on a hot streak that can last a month or more.
Current position in the standings: 5th, 47 points back
Points position since Barber: 1st-2nd-3rd-4th-5th
Overall movement since Barber: Lost 4 spots, lost 47 points to the lead
How he fared at Road America: On the unfortunate end of that contact with Ericsson, Palou lost out on what could’ve been a great day after qualifying 3rd. Just as he blamed Ericsson for trying to win the race in the first five laps, he should’ve seen that Ericsson had nearly a car-length on him coming out of the corner. Had they been truly wheel-to-wheel, it’d be a different story, but the 2021 Road America winner needs to put this one behind him.
Outlook: Curiously, Palou hasn’t won this year and hasn’t been on a podium since Barber. Among the serious title contenders, no one has lost more points to the front over the last seven weeks. Last year, he proved he could string together podiums, but he never won twice in a short period of time. To have a shot, he’s going to have to find that next level.
Current position in the standings: 6th, 69 points back
Points position since Barber: 6th-5th-6th-6th-6th
Overall movement since Barber: Stayed in 6th, lost 38 points to the lead
How he fared at Road America: Yet another very ho-hum weekend for Dixon, who started 9th, finished 9th and was almost never heard from. His consistency of top-5s has now turned into solid top-10s – not nearly the Dixon we’ve come to expect.
Outlook: As with much of last year, this just doesn’t have the feel of a Dixon championship year. With six to his name – including four over the last nine seasons – perhaps there are unfair expectations. Of course, there’s always a chance we see ‘classic Dixon’ over July, and maybe he wins three of five and thr
usts himself back into the thick of this. But barring something that heroic, this doesn’t seem to be his year.
Current position in the standings: 7th, 75 points back
Points position since Barber: 13th-15th-11th-7th-7th
Overall movement since Barber: Gained 6 spots, gained 7 points to the lead
How he fared at Road America: As he admitted post-race, Rossi didn’t quite seem to have the car to truly fight Newgarden once he lost his lead following the first stint. It would’ve been interesting to see if he had the pace to hunt down Newgarden over the final 10 laps without the pair of cautions – he’d closed from 7 seconds around the halfway point to within 3 seconds. But seemingly at a disadvantage in the restarts on the long, uphill front-straight, 2nd place was probably all Rossi could’ve hoped for. He threw a Hail Mary on the last restart and settled for 3rd.
Outlook: It’s been nice to have Rossi back in contention for wins the last two weekends. IndyCar is better with Rossi running at the front. But unless a win in the next two events opens a floodgate for the No. 27 Honda team, his title hopes are slim.
Current position in the standings: 8th, 90 points back
Points position since Barber: 16th-14th-9th-9th-8th
Overall movement since Barber: Gained 8 spots, lost 2 points to the lead
How he fared at Road America: Though he hasn’t been on podiums and threatening for wins like Rossi, it’s been refreshing to see Rosenqvist performing like he did in two years at Ganassi. Had those two late yellows come a bit earlier, it would’ve been interesting to see if the Swedish driver might have been able to hold onto a top-5. Still, 6th-place after starting 7th is nothing to complain about.
Outlook: Likely out of the title chase without going on a massive run, Rosenqvist’s outlook may deal more with whether he’s able to hang onto a ride in this series, as McLaren Racing is considering shifting him to the team’s new Formula E team for 2023. He’s been close to podium finishes lately, and one or two would likely go a long way to convincing McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown to keep him in IndyCar. Top-10s and top-8s are nice, but Rosenqvist may need more.
Current position in the standings: 9th, 94 points back
Points position since Barber: 2nd-3rd-7th-10th-9th
Overall movement since Barber: Lost 7 spots, lost 91 points to the lead
How he fared at Road America: McLaughlin was in that second group Sunday that included Ericsson, Herta, and Romain Grosjean on the traditional strategy, but he didn’t quite have what Newgarden had.
Outlook: Since he won the opener and took a close 2nd at Texas, McLaughlin’s results have fallen to what he saw as a rookie: occasional top-10s between races decided by mistakes. If he can largely eliminate those, a top-5 in the championship is within reach. That would be a solid finish for a driver we need to remember is in his second IndyCar season after nearly a decade running stock cars in Australia.
Current position in the standings: 10th, 96 points back
Points position since Barber: 12th-11th-8th-8th-10th
Overall movement since Barber: Gained 2 spots, lost 21 points to the lead
How he fared at Road America: Pagenaud managed to deliver a solid, if not minorly disappointing run to 12th Sunday. That wouldn’t cut it when he was with Penske, but with a young Meyer Shank Racing team, it stings less.
Outlook: Outside his 19th at Long Beach, decided largely because of his spin around the fountain, Pagenaud has helped Meyer Shank Racing become a consistent top-10-to-12 threat every weekend. If he can stay in the top-10 in points the rest of the way (around where he finished in his final two years at Team Penske), that would be a pretty solid Year 1 with his new team.
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.