It’s been an intense Verizon IndyCar Series season so far, with 16 rounds down and only Sunday’s Grand Prix of Sonoma remaining. That means there are two things on everybody’s mind right now: for those who remain eligible, who will take home the 2018 championship, and for those who aren’t, where they’ll be racing next season.
With the exception of Fernando Alonso, who isn’t competing, this group of drivers is currently generating the most interest between those two storylines. Keep an eye on them to get plenty of TV time on Sunday, and don’t be surprised if one of them stands in the winner’s circle:
The Leader: Scott Dixon
Raise your hand if you thought Dixon’s title hopes were toast after the first-lap accident at Portland that he drove directly into. Well, somehow, the four-time IndyCar champion managed to drive out of the incident with barely a disturbance to his blue-and-orange racecar, and by race’s end, the Chip Ganassi Racing star was back up to fifth—even adding to his championship lead in the process. And coming into the season finale, giving Dixon control over his own destiny is going to make him tough to beat.
The Challenger: Alexander Rossi
Rossi’s third season as an IndyCar driver has been a revelation, the ultimate realization of the talent that we knew was there all along. The win at Long Beach in the spring was proof that he’d be in the title hunt come season’s end, and at 29 points back, the double points finale has him well within range of taking it. The cleanest way of going about it: win the race and hope Dixon finishes fourth or worse, which would settle the title chase in the Andretti Autosport driver’s favor regardless of any bonus points.
The Dark Horses: Will Power and Josef Newgarden
It’s a mathematical unlikelihood, but yes, even at 88 points back, both title-eligible Team Penske drivers have an outside shot at earning the IndyCar title. One of them’s going to have to win, Rossi’s going to need to have a mediocre day, and Dixon will have to finish 24th or worse in what’s expected to be about a 25-car field, but stranger things have happened in racing, right? Either way, with six wins (including the Indianapolis 500) between them, it’s been anything but a disappointing season for the Penske squad.
The Auditions: Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta
Harding Racing’s first event as a two-car team will see this year’s top two Indy Lights drivers partner up once again, just as they did with Andretti Autosport in the junior class this year. Harding has committed to returning Gabby Chaves to a full-time seat in 2019, but rumors persist that Fernando Alonso will be in their other seat, and a stronger teammate might be pursued. Herta appears to have the backing to make the jump thanks to Steinbrenner Racing, and O’Ward will cash in on $1 million in 2019 for taking the title.
The Hot Seat: Ed Jones
I feel bad for Jones, because I’ve put him in this slot a bunch of times so far this season. But as impressive as he was as a rookie with Dale Coyne Racing, Jones’ surprise promotion to Chip Ganassi Racing hasn’t gone quite so smoothly. He took two podiums in the first eight rounds of the season but hasn’t cracked the top five since. Statistically, he’s actually improved from last year, but the expectations are much different at CGR, which is why 14th in points was impressive last year but disappointing now.