IndyCar Grand Prix of Monterey: Weekend Preview

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Joe Skibinski/IndyCar (1); Chris Owens/IndyCar (2-3)

It all comes down to this: four drivers, one race, and the Astor Cup on the line.

An exciting NTT IndyCar Series season wraps up with the series’ long-awaited return to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time since the Champ Car World Series ran there in 2004. With double points on the line, and only the most experienced of drivers in the field having ever raced here in open wheel machinery, title contenders and fans alike are entering Sunday’s championship event with high hopes for a phenomenal show.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is the incoming points leader and championship favorite. The 2017 champion has only finished outside of the top five four times all season, taking a series-leading four victories and leading laps in 10 of 16 races. But Newgarden hasn’t been his typically strong self as of late on the results sheet, finishing 14th, fifth, seventh, and fifth in the four races since his most recent victory at Iowa Speedway.

That’s opened the door for Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi to keep things close. While Rossi hasn’t been able to capitalize on Newgarden’s so-so performances of late with a victory, he did take a podium in the penultimate round of the season at Portland International Raceway to build some momentum going into Laguna Seca. The only Californian in the championship hunt would love nothing more than to score his first IndyCar title in front of a home crowd.

Rossi’s Portland podium gave him second in the standings by a single point over Simon Pagenaud, Newgarden’s Team Penske teammate and this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner. The 2016 series champion has actually been the most consistent of the four remaining drivers in the hunt over the past six races, with no finishes worse than seventh and a victory on the streets of Toronto. Once rumored to be losing his ride in favor of Rossi, a statement year has ensured that the Frenchman will be within the Penske family for years to come.

Finally, defending series champion Scott Dixon enters the weekend with an outside mathematical shot at his sixth IndyCar championship. The Chip Ganassi Racing legend is the only driver of the group to have raced here in an IndyCar, scoring finishes of fourth and sixth in the 2001 and 2002 CART races. The usually consistent Dixon comes into the weekend off of uncharacteristic finishes of 20th at Gateway and 16th at Portland.

The IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey airs on Sunday at 2:30PM ET on NBC. With the 2019 season wrapping up at Laguna Seca, teams will set their sights on strengthening themselves in the offseason, preparing for the 2020 season opener on March 15 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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