Astor Cup

Today’s question: The NTT INDYCAR SERIES reached the halfway point of its scheduled 16-race season last weekend at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. Based on the first half of the season, who will be crowned series champion this September? Pato O’Ward leads Alex Palou by one point, with Scott Dixon third, 36 points back.

Curt Cavin: I keep thinking the strength and experience of Scott Dixon’s program will be converted into race wins, but the reigning series champion has finished in the top six only once in the past five races. Meanwhile, Pato O’Ward is brimming with confidence and seems to have balanced a mature, big-picture approach with his youthful aggression. Arrow McLaren SP president Taylor Kiel has been masterful in providing calm, useful information to his driver on the team radio, so I’ll surprise myself and go with O’Ward to finish this out. Remember, Dixon has six titles since 2003 but never two in a row. I sense that continues here.

Zach Horrall: I think on Sunday, Sept. 26 in Long Beach, California, Alex Palou will be crowned your NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion. In my eyes, Palou has survived the two most important stretches for those with aspirations of hoisting the Astor Challenge Cup: The initial start to the season and the Month of May – he left the Indy 500 with the points lead. By avoiding disaster in these crucial points, Palou has set himself up to be crowned champion and become the third consecutive driver to win the season-opening race and score the championship (Josef Newgarden did it in 2019, and Scott Dixon in 2020). As we get into the home stretch, the championship-winning expertise of Chip Ganassi Racing will be pivotal in helping the Spaniard win a championship battle that is sure to come down to the final lap in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Paul Kelly: Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou have been marvelous breakthrough success stories so far this season, showing consistency and speed while both earning their first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victories. O’Ward took his maturing process a step further last Sunday at Detroit by becoming the first two-time winner in this remarkable season of parity. There’s no question a changing of the guard in INDYCAR is happening before our very eyes, with under-25 drivers like O’Ward, Palou, VeeKay and Colton Herta each winning in 2021. But I still think Scott Dixon matches A.J. Foyt with title No. 7 this season. As Curt indicated, Dixie has endured a rough stretch – by his standards – in the last six races. But he knows how to cope with the stress of a title run, and he’s always been a second-half star. Plus the tight oval at Gateway on Aug. 21 could be the end of title dreams for impetuous young drivers trying to pull off brash moves. Dixon won’t make that mistake. And the West Coast swing of three races in three consecutive weekends on very different road and street circuits to close the season also plays into Dixon’s experienced hands, too. Plus, let’s do the math: Dixon is only 36 points out of first. That’s not a hard hill for him to climb.