Heading into Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network) Scott Dixon currently leads the Verizon IndyCar Series points standings by 62 points. But, this weekend’s race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could be the spot where Team Penske starts a dominant end to the 2018 season, one that if it’s going to end with one of their drivers hoisting the Astor Cup championship trophy at the Sonoma Raceway in September for the third straight year and fourth in the last five, needs to begin with a win.
Josef Newgarden is their best bullet in their chamber as he’s second in the standings at the moment. Other than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, natural road courses everywhere else have been Newgarden’s bread and butter. He won at Barber as well as Road America this year alone to go two-for-three in 2018. Last year, he finished second at Sonoma, should have been in the top five in Watkins Glen, led 73 of 90 laps in a win at Mid-Ohio, finished runner-up at Road America and won at Barber.
Really, since he joined Penske, Newgarden has four wins, two runner-ups in nine tries on natural road courses. He should be on a three race win streak heading into this weekend too, as his car has been that good. This is the weekend he gets back on track again.
Then there’s Will Power. He crashed while running second at Barber back in April and saw his engine let go while starting second at Road America. Sandwiched inbetween that was a win at Indy. Where Newgarden’s struggled at Indy, Power has struggled at Barber. Take the Alabama road course out and Power has two wins and six top six finishes in his other seven natural road course starts. He’s also finished runner-up in each of the last two years at Mid-Ohio too and has started on the front row in five of the last six years there too. He needs a good finish too. Power has finished 18th or worse in three of his last four starts on the season.
We can’t leave out Simon Pagenaud. He was ninth (Barber), eighth (Indy) and seventh (Road America) respectively on natural road courses this season. Last year, he was third (Barber), fourth (Indy), fourth (Road America), fourth (Mid-Ohio), ninth (Watkins Glen) and first (Sonoma). The year prior, it was more domination on these types of tracks. He finished first (Barber), first (Indy), 13th (Road America), first (Mid-Ohio), seventh (Watkins Glen) and first (Sonoma).
So, if you go back to the 2016 season, Pagenaud has made 15 starts on natural road courses. He’s won five of them and finished in the top 10 in all but one.
Furthermore, Penske has won the last two races at Mid-Ohio overall.
This weekend, well it’s a chance for them to win again and really make a splash in the points deficit.
After that, it’s to Pocono where Power has won each of the last two years there. He also won the Indy 500 earlier this season too. In fact, I would say if the Chevy’s can find the right setup like they did at Indy, that this race could favor the Penske boys again. Then, it’s on to Gateway where Newgarden and Pagenaud put on a show last year. After that, it’s two more natural road courses (Portland and Sonoma).
So, three of the last five races are on natural road courses. This end of the season push favors the Penske trio. The only problem is the gap too big for them to make up? That’s why they need to win each of these races and hope for Dixon to find some bad luck. It all begins on Sunday.