MONTEREY, Calif. – INDYCAR’s season has likely been reduced to a single mantra for all NTT IndyCar Series championship contenders not named Josef Newgarden.
For Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and certainly Scott Dixon, the approach to Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is straightforward:
Win or go home.
Dixon has no chance to capture a sixth series championship without winning Sunday’s 90-lap race and even that requires Newgarden to finish no better than 23rd in a 24-car field. Rossi and Pagenaud have easier paths to the title, but each fully understands a race win is the simplest.
“Last round,” Pagenaud called it.
“For sure,” Rossi said.
“Interesting,” Dixon added.
Which is a desired destination for any sport. In other team sports, Game 7s to settle championships are to be savored. That’s part of why the Super Bowl is so defining.
Major League Baseball adopted its seven-game World Series format in 1922, and it has had only 29 Game 7s. The NBA has had only 19 since 1951, the NHL 17 since 1939. This is the 14th consecutive year INDYCAR has crowned its champion on the final day of the season.
“And honestly, I don’t think you need the double points here,” Dixon said. “(Double points) definitely makes it more exciting, but our 2015 championship definitely showed (the standings) can be flipped pretty heavily at the final race. It’s kind of what everyone wants to see.”
INDYCAR has had several champions crowned in the victory lane of the season’s final race, the most recent being Pagenaud in 2016 at Sonoma Raceway. But Dixon in ’15 – also at Sonoma – was among the most dramatic.
With the laps winding down that Aug. 30 day, Dixon needed to hold his position as the race leader while hoping Juan Pablo Montoya didn’t finish in the top five – a tall ask given that year’s Indianapolis 500 winner had been a top-five finisher in nine of the 15 races to date.
But earlier in the race, Montoya’s car had contact with Team Penske teammate Will Power, dropping Montoya deep in the running order. He fought back to finish sixth, but that left him in a tie with Dixon with 556 points. Dixon won the tiebreaker, three race wins to Montoya’s two.
The winner had taken all.
“We’ve always known the INDYCAR championship is super tough, super tight,” Dixon said. “It’s pretty easy to mess up.”
If Pagenaud can’t win this title, he said it’s incumbent upon him to help his teammate secure the Astor Cup. Series rules do not allow for team manipulation, but Pagenaud and Newgarden will do what they can in tandem.
“The No. 1 priority is to have a Team Penske car win (the title) for the team because the team has done an incredible job of giving us great cars,” the Frenchman said. “So, we have to make sure that it happens. But personally, it’s all in.”
Win or personally go home.
“It would make the celebration a lot easier,” Rossi said. “Yeah, for sure, winning is what we need to do, but there are obviously a lot of other considerations with how Josef finishes. We’re not really trying to think about that.”
INDYCAR concludes its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT local) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. local). Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).