Championship Weekend has arrived for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and the focus is on the two most successful teams in the history of the sport.
The five drivers still in contention to win the Astor Challenge Cup drive for either Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing, and the organizations are set for an epic battle as there hasn’t been this many cars still eligible at a regular points-paying finale since 2003.
SEE: Event Preview | How Title Contenders Got Here
The teams will race with as much vigor as allowed, but they also have vowed to race within the parameters of the sport. In other words, they expect no funny business.
“Professionally,” CGR Managing Director Mike Hull said of the way the title organizations will battle this weekend in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Sunday, 2:40 p.m. ET, NBC and 3 p.m., INDYCAR Radio Network). “But the real answer is (with) integrity. Who wins here is INDYCAR.”
The championship is being contested at the season’s final race for the 17th consecutive year, something unrivaled in global motorsports. Over the past nine years – and 13 of the past 14 seasons -- a driver working either for Chip Ganassi or Roger Penske has won the title. In most of those years, the victor had to outlast a driver from the other team. It likely will happen again in Sunday’s 95-lap race.
Team Penske’s Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) holds a 20-point lead heading into the finale, with teammate Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) tied for second. Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet) also are in contention for the championship, 39 and 41 points out of the lead, respectively.
They will race as they know how to race, Team Penske President Tim Cindric said.
“I think we’ve raced long enough together to know how to handle it,” he said.
Power has the most direct path to the title. He will win it if he finishes the race in third place or better. Beyond that, the scenarios to determine the championship are vast.
“We shouldn’t discount the rest of the drivers that are in this (26-car) field,” said Hull, who is mindful of the fact Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) has won the past two races at this track. “So, if neither of (the championship-contending teams) are running for the win and we’re just running to figure out who’s going to win the championship, we’re each going to need an MIT mathematician to help us (determine the possibilities.
“I think we just have to race the racetrack and see what happens.”
Hull and Cindric agree their drivers will understand the ramification of the moment.
“For Marcus to help Scott, I think Marcus first needs to help Marcus,” Hull said. “If that helps Scott, it helps Scott, and vice versa. If Scott needs to help Marcus on Sunday, he’ll do that, and that goes for the other two people on our team, which are Alex (Palou) and Jimmie (Johnson). I’m sure Tim looks at it exactly the same way.
“We race the racetrack, and we try to help each other as much as we can. … You can’t manipulate the outcome.”
Cindric said it is important to remember while the focus is on the driver’s championship, there is a team title to be won, too, and the team represents more than the team owner.
“It’s not only for the driver or for the owner but for the people that work on those teams,” Cindric said. “They look at it as their championship, as well. There are different levels of euphoria, whether you’re the owner or the driver of the car, the one pitting the car, the one that happened to put together the (suspension piece) at the shop. All of those people have a vested interest in what goes on this weekend.
“People forget that you have obligations to other people aside from yourself. You have obligations to the driver, to your sponsors, to their families and all the rest on down the line. Those aren’t very obvious things, especially when you’re talking about whether someone wins a race or doesn’t win a race.
“There are all kinds of different considerations on that front.”
Practice begins today at 5:30 p.m. ET with live coverage on Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network. The weekend’s second practice is Saturday at 1:15 p.m. ET with qualifying for the NTT P1 Award at 5:05 p.m. ET.
Sunday, there will be a final practice at noon ET with NBC’s broadcast of the finale at 2:40 p.m. ET.