How do the title contenders stack up ahead of the IndyCar season finale?

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

How do the title contenders stack up ahead of the IndyCar season finale?

IndyCar

How do the title contenders stack up ahead of the IndyCar season finale?

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If Will Power finishes on the podium at Laguna Seca, there’s nothing Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, or Scott McLaughlin can do to keep the Australian from winning his second NTT IndyCar Series championship.

Sunday’s 95-lap race (12:00 p.m. PT, NBC) will have all of the contesting teams and their fans following the points-as-they-run numbers because there’s many ways Power, Newgarden, and Dixon can win or lose the championship. And while five drivers remain within mathematical eligibility of winning the title, the most realistic odds live among the top three.

Let’s start by looking at some of the wildcard scenarios. IndyCar has raced at Laguna Seca on two occasions since 2019 (the 2020 race was lost to COVID) and Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta’s unbeaten there, taking both victories. With his Andretti team struggling for race-winning pace at most rounds, there’s no guarantee Herta will go 3-for-3 at Laguna Seca, but it would be silly to ignore his special ability to make speed at the 2.2-mile road course.

Power (523 points) sits 20 ahead of Newgarden and Dixon (tied at 503 apiece), and a win by Herta, or any other driver who isn’t in the title fight like a Pato O’Ward, would give Power some welcome breathing room. P2 points for Newgarden/Dixon would bring them up to 543 without bonus points factored in. Power would only need to saunter home in ninth (545) to win the title.

And if Newgarden/Dixon are no better than third on Sunday (538), Power can win by placing 14th (539).

Let’s say Newgarden/Dixon have a perfect weekend by getting the pole, leading a lap, leading the most laps to capture all four bonus points on offer, and win (557). Power tops them by finishing third (558) with no bonus points. We aren’t facing a win-or-bust situation with Newgarden/Dixon, but it sure would simplify things.

Power’s in good shape by doing what he’s done all year, and that’s finishing on or near the podium. From 16 races, he’s placed within the top four a remarkable 11 times, with three fourths, five thirds, two second places and a win.

Sure, Newgarden/Dixon can overtake Power to win the championship, but the main message here is without those 50 points for the win, it becomes painfully difficult.

Colton Herta is not in the championship conversation, but his spooky ability at Laguna Seca means he could still have a say in how the title fight plays out. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Simply put, Power’s leading the championship because he lives in the exact positions where Newgarden/Dixon can’t afford to have him finish in Monterey. For Power to lose the title, something extraordinary and unexpected will need to take place.

Behind the top three, Marcus Ericsson’s dream of winning the Indy 500 and the championship in the same season have all but faded after a rough weekend in Portland saw his 17-point margin to Power expand to 39 points.

Holding fourth, and without getting into the myriad bonus point scenarios, a win by Ericsson (534) would produce the title if Power finishes no higher than 19th (534, where Ericsson wins on a victory tiebreaker) and Newgarden/Dixon finish fifth (533) or worse. Anything is possible, but with the top three in mind, that’s a lot to ask for Ericsson to come out in the points lead.

The same is true for McLaughlin, who holds fifth and is 41 points down to Power.

A win by McLaughlin (532) without factoring in bonus points means Power can finish no higher than 22nd (531) and Newgarden/Dixon would need to finish sixth (531) or worse for McLaughlin to claim the title. If the top three have bad days and McLaughlin wins, Ericsson’s helpless because finishing second (524) wouldn’t get the job done. So, if Power/Newgarden/Dixon all stumble, and Ericsson’s second (524) or lower, McLaughlin’s the new IndyCar champ.

A competitive Will Power is a nightmare for all those in his championship wheel tracks. For any of the other contenders to have a realistic chance, they’ll have to start by winning and then pray for adversity of some sorts to hinder Power in some capacity.

“If it was equal on points it would be very uncomfortable,” Power told RACER on Sunday. “It’s more comfortable if it was 30 points ahead instead of 20, but I’m in the best position of everyone, mathematically. Just need to get to Laguna and do a good job, man.”

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