Astor Cup

Today’s question: Which driver in the race for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship is feeling the most pressure before the three-race West Coast swing to finish the season?

Curt Cavin: Wow, tough question since opportunities to win championships aren’t guaranteed from one year to the next. Honestly, I can make a case that none of them feel the pressure just yet. Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou likely expect to have more chances in the future, and Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden are experienced enough to know their contending teams will put them in position again in 2022. Marcus Ericsson probably isn’t close enough in the standings to realistically think he can leapfrog the other four. If I must choose one, I’ll go with Palou since he hasn’t won a championship since his karting days.

Zach Horrall: He’s Mr. calm, cool and collected, happy-to-be-here Alex Palou, but I think he is facing the most pressure heading into the West Coast swing. He has failed to finish the last two NTT INDYCAR SERIES races and lost the points lead. If rebounding from that wasn’t enough pressure, he has to try to win his first Astor Challenge Cup by finishing the season at three tracks where he’s never competed. He’s tested at Portland International Raceway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but that only gives him a taste of what’s to come. And should he be in contention for the title come the season finale at Long Beach, he has a tall task ahead, having no real-life feel for the prestigious open-wheel event. That said, I truly believe his happy-go-lucky mentality can help him get through September successfully.

Paul Kelly: With three races remaining, I don’t think the vise of the championship race is turned to maximum pressure yet. Sure, none of the five true title contenders can afford a finish in the 20s right now. But I don’t think a mediocre weekend will the hopes of the top three of Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou and Josef Newgarden, separated by just 22 points. Fifth-place Marcus Ericsson should feel no pressure – he’s 60 points out of first and all but needs to win out to have a chance to win. Fourth-place Scott Dixon is called “The Iceman” for a reason – he doesn’t feel pressure. Plus, he can rely on the experience of winning the championship six times to stay calm. Been there, done that. So, if I had to choose a driver who is feeling the squeeze the most among the top three, it would be O’Ward. He’s the biggest target as the leader. But still, I don’t think it’s clinched-jaw tension headache time yet for any of the Fantastic Five battling for the title.