The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season reaches its conclusion this weekend with its annual trek to the wine country for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.
For the 12th straight year, the championship will be decided at the finale, and with double points on the line seven drivers remain in contention for the 2017 crown.
Josef Newgarden, who replaced Juan Montoya at Team Penske this season, sits atop the IndyCar standings by a mere three points (560 to 557) over veteran Team Ganassi driver Scott Dixon. Newgarden’s Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, the defending 2016 champion, also remain firmly in the title hunt with 538 and 526 points, respectively.
Although Newgarden’s other Penske teammate Will Power (492), 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi (476) and Graham Rahal (466) are mathematically alive in the chase, their odds of winning the 2017 championship are about as good as the New York Jets’.
With six years of IndyCar racing under his belt, Newgarden has posted four victories this season and seemed to have a solid grasp on the championship until he slid into the wall while exiting the pits at Watkins Glen two weeks ago. Although he was able to continue after making repairs, he finished the race well back in 18th place opening the door for his pursuers to gain significant ground.
“You’re always learning, as evidenced by Watkins Glen,” he said philosophically. “Hopefully that turns into a learning experience for me and not just an error.”
Many pundits feel Dixon now has the advantage heading to Sonoma.
In his 16th year of IndyCar racing, the 37-year-old New Zealand native sits third in all-time victories with 40 and has captured four (2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015) championships. In 12 races at the 12-turn, 2.385-mile Sonoma road course, he has amassed three victories and six top-five finishes.
“I wouldn’t say that it makes me feel any more relaxed or any more confident,” Dixon said recently. “There’s still a lot on the line, and it takes a lot to beat the competition that we have in the Verizon IndyCar Series. It’s good to be in the hunt and have a tight gap, but we’re still going to have to do our best to beat four of the closest competitors right there.”
While Newgarden and Dixon are the odds-on favorites, Helio Castroneves is definitely the sentimental favorite.
The popular 40-year-old Brazilian has won the Indy 500 three times and has been the series runner-up in four seasons, but amazingly he has never won the championship. He also won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2007 and proudly displays the mirror ball from the competition in his home along with his racing trophies.
It may also be his final crack at the title with rumors swirling that Roger Penske wants to shift Castroneves to the team’s sports car program (with Montoya) and bring in a younger driver to his IndyCar ride.
For now, Castroneves is unconcerned about his future and thinking only about the championship within his grasp.
“We’ve just got to keep bringing what we’ve been doing the whole season,” Castroneves said. “We’re not here at this position by luck. We’re here because we perform as a team, in a consistent way, in a competitive way most of the time, and that’s what we’re going to have to continue doing.”
Practice and qualifying for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma and support divisions will take place on Friday and Saturday while Sunday’s race will begin at 3:30 pm with TV coverage live on NBCSN. For more information visit www.sonomaraceway.com.
Tanner Foust led the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Volkswagen Beetles to a clean sweep of last weekend’s Red Bull Global Rallycross doubleheader at Evergreen Speedway in Seattle.
Although he didn’t stand at the top of the podium, it was also a win for Foust’s teammate Scott Speed. By finishing second in both races, the Manteca native now holds a commanding 30-point edge over Foust in his quest for his third straight championship as the series heads to the season finale in Los Angeles on Saturday, Oct. 14.
“We came out of here with loads of points and plenty of gap for the last race of the year,” said Speed with his eyes on the prize. “The cars are clean, they’re not broken, and it’s exactly what we wanted to come out of here and do. We just need to keep the wheels on it for a couple of heat races.”
The 99 Speedway will conclude its regular season with Championship Night this Saturday, September 16th in which will determine the 2017 season title winners. Lodi’s Arron Shankel holds a narrow lead over four other drivers in the Stockton Late Models while Stockton’s Ben Lewis II leads the Bomber Division and Stockton’s Andrew Rumsey heads the B-4s standings.
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