Perhaps it was for the best that the Mid Ohio event was initially broadcast on CNBC, because for Indycar fans this race had all the excitement of a discussion of bond prices. No biggie. Sometimes snoozers happen. You probably needed the nap anyways.
And while the broadcast team anchored by Kevin Lee, Paul Tracy, and Townsend Bell did an admirable job trying to create excitement, in the end this event featured about as many passes as the single-wing formation. Even a late caution couldn’t save the race, as Esteban Gutierrez and Carlos Munoz inadvertently helped cement the win for Josef Newgarden, who kept pulling away from the field like he had an extra gear.
In fact he looked so dominant in becoming the first three-win Indycar driver of 2017 that your humble host will now ponder out loud (at least in print): should Josef now be considered an overwhelming favorite to win the 2017 championship?
(“So you’re saying this race Brain Dump won’t be about the race?” – The Spotter)
With obvious disclaimers that “anything can happen”, especially with former champions Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud and perennial contender Helio Castroneves all within 20 points of the young American, I’d like to highlight some facts to support my case. In fact, I will. Come join me in the next paragraph.
Two of these final four races are on road courses, where Newgarden has been utterly dominant. This year he’s won at both Barber and Mid-Ohio, and was a solid second at Road America. His only blemish was at the Indy Grand Prix, where he was running in fourth before being assessed a series of drive-through penalties for pit-speeding violations. So as long as his speed limiter doesn’t malfunction again, there’s a better than very, very good chance he’ll be on the podium at Watkins Glen and Sonoma.
In his last two races at Pocono, the CFH and Ed Carpenter Racing teams, Newgarden 2nd and 4th respectively. Moreover, in four races at Pocono Newgarden has never finished worse than 8th, which is a claim neither Dixon, nor Pagenaud, nor Castroneves can make.
The Gateway track is going to use the short-track aero kit, where as we saw at Phoenix and Iowa the Chevys were significantly faster than Hondas. And while it’s true that the winners of those races are Pagenaud and Castroneves respectively, that doesn’t necessarily make it more of a challenge for Newgarden since no one has raced an Indycar there since 2003. Then again, the two drivers who led the most laps at that 2003 race were (drumroll, please) Scott Dixon and eventual winner Helio Castroneves.
Yeah, I know that doesn’t support my thesis, but it’s still a crazy stat. I mean, same as it ever was, right?
But even with that, here’s another fun stat: over the last six races Newgarden has four podium finishes: two wins and two 2nds. Over that same period Castroneves has two podiums (including one win), Dixon has one podium (that’s a win), and Pagenaud has one (not a win). For those who are mathematically challenged, that means Newgarden has as many wins and podiums over the last six races as his next three closest competitors combined.
To be clear, I’m not saying it’s 100% certain that he Newgarden has this locked up. But it might be fair to say he certainly has a 50% chance. Put it this way: it you were offered a choice between a championship wager on Newgarden or the rest of the field, would you not at least pause to consider that?
Honorable mentions this week include:
Will Power, who won the pole, and despite being the victim of Newgarden’s entry for Pass of the Year, settled in to finish comfortably in 2nd.
Graham Rahal, who scored his first podium since his back-to-back wins in Detroit. If his first four races hadn’t been so dismal I might have written six or seven paragraphs about him instead of Newgarden in this post.
Conor Daly, who finished in the Top 10 by finally getting his car setup right, moving through the field and even racing Dixon for position as the race concluded. Finally, a weekend he can enjoy.
Robin Miller, who tried to liven up the broadcast by informing viewers that if Michael Andretti decides to go back to Chevrolet power for his cars then just about every driver outside of the top 6 in the Championship standings could be changing teams next season.
Final Lap: Can someone with access to more advanced statistics figure out the last time someone 26 or younger led the Indycar series standings with four races to go? Maybe a young Scott Dixon? Or Sam Hornish Jr? It must have been at least a decade ago.