Championship hangs in balance heading to Watkins Glen

Updated: 

Josef Newgarden may have grabbed a stronger foothold on the Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead, but that doesn’t mean the Team Penske driver is any more comfortable.

The much-discussed bump pass for the lead and win that he completed on teammate Simon Pagenaud in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline helped Newgarden extend his points lead to 31 with two races remaining.

2017 Verizon IndyCar Sereis Championship StandingsBut the fact that those events are at Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway – where Newgarden has yet to win and his chief competitors for the title have accumulated a total of 12 victories – is a solid reminder that the outcome is far from determined.

Newgarden is among eight drivers still with a mathematical shot at the championship, with a maximum of 158 points available to any one driver. The battle has gone down to the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale every year since 2006 and is guaranteed to do so again for the 12th straight season.

Newgarden’s nearest competitor is Scott Dixon, whose illustrious Chip Ganassi Racing resume already includes four season championships. Not only that, but Dixon has more Indy car wins at Watkins Glen – site of Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen – than anyone (four). Dixon is the defending race winner, but Newgarden did finish second last year in his only appearance at the 3.37-mile permanent road course steeped in open-wheel history.

The season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17, offers double race points to further entice the championship excitement. Dixon – there’s that name again – is a three-time winner on the 2.385-mile road course in California wine country, including in 2015 when he wrested the title from Juan Pablo Montoya on a tiebreaker.

Newgarden’s best finish at Sonoma? Sixth, accomplished in 2014 and ’16.

Helio Castroneves, third in the championship and 42 points behind Newgarden, is a three-time Watkins Glen pole winner and finished third there a year ago. Castroneves also won from the pole at Sonoma in 2008.

Pagenaud may be driving with the red mist in his eyes at the Glen, following the pass at Gateway that left him none too happy. The Team Penske driver sits 43 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud finished seventh last year in his only Watkins Glen race to date, but he followed that up with a brilliant drive to win from the pole at Sonoma that clinched the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship for the Frenchman.

Lest we forget Will Power, who remains a contender despite crashing out early at Gateway and dropping to fifth in the standings. Power may be 81 points out of the lead, but the fourth Team Penske driver in the top five won from the pole at Watkins Glen in 2010 and has three race wins and five pole positions at Sonoma.

In addition to the drivers’ championship, other season-long titles are still being decided:

Manufacturer championship: By collecting its fifth straight win on Saturday, Chevrolet opened a 73-point advantage over Honda. Chevy has accumulated nine race wins and 10 pole positions in 2017 – all by Team Penske drivers. Honda has six wins and five poles – spread among its five teams.

Verizon P1 championship: This award goes to the driver who scores the most points in races after winning the pole position. Power, who leads the series with six Verizon P1 Award pole positions, has also racked up the most race points after doing so (175). Castroneves is second (94).

TAG Heuer “Don’t Crack Under Pressure”: Drivers who gain the most cumulative positions in races (from starting position to finishing position) throughout the season contend for this award, and it is a tight race. Pagenaud has 67 points to 65 each for Newgarden and Carlos Munoz of AJ Foyt Racing.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year: This is the one post-season accolade already decided. By finishing 13th at Gateway, Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones locked up top rookie honors.

The INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen begins with a pair of practice sessions (10:15 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. ET) and pit stop practice (3:55 p.m.) on Friday. All will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Saturday’s schedule has a third practice (10:30 a.m.) and Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying (3 p.m.) – both sessions again streaming live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (with a same-day qualifying telecast airing at 7 p.m. on NBCSN). A final warmup practice is set for 9 a.m. Sunday (RaceControl.IndyCar.com), ahead of race coverage starting at 1 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

For ticket information to the race weekend, visit theglen.com.

From the fans