MADISON, Unwell. – Alex Palou didn’t clinch the 2023 NTT IndyCar Collection championship within the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Large Know-how Raceway, however his group did.
With two races remaining within the season, there are solely two drivers eligible for the 2023 IndyCar Collection championship, and each drive for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Palou’s lead shrunk to 74 factors over successful teammate Scott Dixon, leaving the Ganassi duo as the one two left who can win the 2023 title.
Crew Penske’s Josef Newgarden was eradicated after he pitted for the ultimate time on Lap 209. He returned to the observe in 11th, however his automotive went excessive in Flip 2 and smacked the wall.
He was in a position to limp his injured No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet again to the pits as his group tried to restore the damaged toe hyperlink, however his bid for a fourth consecutive victory on the 1.25-mile observe, and his effort to brush all 5 oval races on the schedule (and win a six in a row courting to final yr) was over.
“I used to be simply making an attempt to catch up,” Newgarden mentioned after ending twenty fifth for the second consectuive race. “I knew we had been going to lose to somebody in gasoline save, most definitely Dixon or anyone. I used to be simply making an attempt to get by means of automobiles as rapidly as I might after I pitted, and it didn’t work out. I obtained within the marbles, only a contact too excessive.
“I used to be making an attempt. I used to be making an attempt to catch up, and it ended up not being transfer.
“That’s the place we landed. The group did job. I can’t thank the group sufficient for his or her efforts. It simply didn’t work out. We put collectively automotive, race. It simply didn’t work out.
“On to the following one.”
Newgarden is a two-time NTT IndyCar Collection champion, however his final title got here in 2019. Nevertheless, he’s this yr’s Indianapolis 500 winner, and with 4 wins, he’s tied with Palou for essentially the most victories in 2023.
“It’s good for the five hundred,” Newgarden informed NBC Sports activities after the race. “Season-wise, it has not been that nice. I’m happy with the group. They’ve completed an exceptional job sticking with it, placing nice race automobiles on the observe. You’ll be able to’t complement that. They’ve completed all of it yr.”
It was Crew Penske’s Scott McLaughlin that gained the primary oval pole of his profession earlier within the day, but he had to start 10th because of a nine-position grid penalty for an unapproved engine change. As the second-fastest qualifier, Newgarden actually led the field to the green flag. He led the first 61 laps until his first pit stop and would finish with 98 laps led.
But he didn’t have an answer for Dixon, who pulled off a dramatic fuel-saving strategy to make only three pit stops in the 260-lap race while every other driver in the top 10 pitted at least five times.
Dixon started 16th because he was also assessed a nine-grid spot penalty for an unapproved engine change. His crew, led by Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull, knew their best hope was to gamble on fuel strategy.
Dixon worked the strategy to perfection, and it effectively split the field, leaving contenders such as Newgarden out of luck.
“You could see the mix there at the end and you could see what was going on,” Newgarden said. “The field was split.”
Dixon made it look easy but said the strategy is actually difficult to implement.
“There were definitely some tense moments,” Dixon said. “I think probably the hardest part was the restart where we were leading, having to get a pretty high fuel number. We weren’t getting it. We were a ways off.
“But I knew we could kind of stress that kind of second through fifth pack, get them into a pretty vulnerable situation. I knew once we caught the backmarkers, we’d be able to save and get beyond the fuel mileage that we needed to. It actually worked out perfectly. We were able to go further and beyond where we needed to.
“But huge testament obviously to Honda. I know there’s a lot of other Hondas out there. But to get the car in the zone, obviously, the pace was still good. We could maintain almost a flat-out pace but get almost 1 mpg higher than you would regularly.”
Dixon would defeat Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing by 22.2256 seconds. He also left the popular driver from Monterrey, Mexico, utterly impressed by the racing clinic that Dixon gave the field.
“Scott Dixon did Scott Dixon today,” O’Ward said. “When they were telling me on the radio the 9 car is trying to make it to the end, he’s going to make it until the end. I was happy with the strategy today; I was happy with my car.
“But yeah … Scott Dixon.”
Palou was another driver who started nine spots farther back than he qualified on Sunday because the No. 10 was over its allotment in making a fifth engine change. Palou started 14th and never made it to the front of the field — but also didn’t need to be there.
The maximum number of points in an IndyCar race is 54. With a 101-point lead over Dixon and a 105-point lead over Newgarden entering the race, Palou’s cushion was nearly the number of points for two full races.
But Palou is also a competitor and drove a very smart race to finish seventh. That puts him on the verge of clinching the championship next week in the Grand Prix of Portland.
“It was an interesting race,” Palou told NBC Sports. “We had a fast car but had to start 14th because of that engine penalty. I think we did a really good job on strategy; pit stops and overall pace. It was tough to make big moves. I think seventh was the best we would have done without being super lucky.
“We wanted to do better here, but starting 14th, seventh was a good (finish). I thought top 10 would be an OK race for us, and to get more we had to go really different on strategy. I don’t think we were in any position to do that today. P7, real happy.”
Although he can’t celebrate a title yet, Palou felt tremendous satisfaction realizing that Chip Ganassi Racing is assured of the 2023 IndyCar Series Championship. Palou and Dixon will determine which driver wins the title over the final two races.
“It was very important to keep the championship battle within the team,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s teamwork. Scott wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be here, without all the team, all the cars, everybody at the shop. It’s good that we can secure it will be at home. We have to bring it home on the 10 car, now.
“Kudos to the 9 car (Dixon). They were the only ones doing it on one less stop. I don’t think we could have done it today. They did a good job. It’s good that we know the championship will stay within the team, which is the target.”
Palou looks forward to battling with Dixon at Portland this week and in Monterey, California, the following week. That’s because he knows Dixon will race him hard but clean and fair — just as when he won his first championship two years ago.
“Absolutely,” Palou said. “It’s always been that way. I remember in 2021, it was super, super close, and we made it super, super clean. That is the most fun.
“Scott did a great job. Everybody thinking why we didn’t do it, but we didn’t think it was possible.
“As always, Scott Dixon things.
“I learn a ton from him. He did the same at Indy in the Gallagher Grand Prix. It’s been two races in a row where he made himself in that position to make it work. I still learn a ton from him.”
Palou is attempting to clinch the championship before the final race of the season for the first time since Sebastien Bourdais won the Champ Car Series title in 2007 and Dan Wheldon won the IndyCar title in 2005.
Bourdais clinched the title at Surfer’s Paradise, Australia, with one race left in the season. Wheldon cliched the 2005 IndyCar championship by completing a single practice lap at the next-to-last race of the season at Watkins Glen International. He finished fifth in the race and sixth in the season finale at California Speedway while winning a series-high six races that season.
The last driver to clinch an IndyCar championship before the seaon finale in a combined series was Al Unser Jr. in the 1994 CART season. Unser won eight of 16 races that season as Team Penske had 12 wins. Unser clinched with two to go at Road America.
“It would be super, an amazing moment,” Palou told NBC Sports about clincing before the season finale. “That’s the goal, but the big goal is to win the championship. If it comes one race early or not, it won’t make a huge difference for me, as long as I bring it home.
“I can’t wait for the last two races and two (potential) wins for us. It’s great to be at Chip Ganassi Racing for Alex Palou, absolutely.”
It’s also great to be Scott Dixon, one of the greatest IndyCar drivers of all time with six championships and 55 race victories, second only to AJ Foyt’s seven championships and 67 wins.
“A win always feels good,” Dixon said. “To go back-to-back feels fantastic, on two very different circuits. Again, I think it’s a testament to what this team has been able to do, all four cars throughout this year.
“It’s been definitely a bit of a trying year for us, I think. As I mentioned before, not getting the results that the team deserved.
“I think what is special is going into the last two races, it can only be a Ganassi driver that wins the championship, which is very cool.
“I know that makes Chip very proud, and the 100-plus employees that work at that place, as well.”