The NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ 2021 championship chase is effectively down to five drivers with three races remaining, the first of which is Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway (3 p.m. ET, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network).
Here’s a look at what’s at stake and a driver-by-driver forecast of their best path to victory.
The Remaining Schedule: There are two permanent road courses and a street circuit still to host races. After Sunday’s race at Portland, the series will travel down the West Coast in consecutive weekends to race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Sept. 19) and the street circuit in Long Beach, California (Sept. 26).
The Prize: First place comes with a $1 million bonus and a place on the Astor Challenge Cup.
What Recent History Shows: Since 2008, the biggest deficit a champion has erased over this span is 49 points (Scott Dixon in 2013). This year, fifth-place Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing is 60 points out of the lead, suggesting he has a lot of work to do to earn his first series title. The driver leading at this stage of the season has won the past five championships and six of the past seven.
The Primary Combatants: Three drivers from Chip Ganassi Racing (Alex Palou, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson) and one each from Arrow McLaren SP (Pato O’Ward) and Team Penske (Josef Newgarden). The three Ganassi cars are powered by Honda, the other two drive with Chevrolet.
Their Trips to Victory Lane: The five drivers have combined to win nine of the 13 races this season, with O’Ward, Palou, Newgarden and Ericsson winning two races each. Dixon has won one.
The Standings: O’Ward leads Palou by 10 points with Newgarden in third, 22 points out of the lead. Dixon trails O’Ward by 43 points, with Ericsson 60 back. With 27 cars expected at each of the remaining races, the most a driver can gain in a weekend is 49 points. That means there are 147 points to gain, essentially eliminating all other drivers as the sixth-place driver is 111 points out of the lead.
PATO O’WARD, No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
Most Recent Series Championship: 2018 Indy Lights champion.
Number of INDYCAR Seasons: Officially, this is his third season, but he only competed in seven of the 17 races as a rookie in 2019. He made one start in 2018, finishing ninth in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
Best INDYCAR Season to Date: 2020 (fourth).
2021 at a Glance: Winner of three poles and two races (Texas 2, Detroit 2) in a season with five podium finishes. Ranks first among title contenders in average finish (6.7).
How He’s Fared at Remaining Tracks: Has only raced at Long Beach, finishing 12th in the 2019 race driving for Carlin. That was the fourth race of his INDYCAR career.
ALEX PALOU, No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Most Recent Series Championship: 2012 in WSK Euro Series junior karting. The two years prior, Formula One superstar Max Verstappen won the title. In 2013, F1 star Lando Norris was the champion.
Number of INDYCAR Seasons: Two.
Best INDYCAR Season to Date: 2020 (16th for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh).
2021 at a Glance: Won the season-opening race at Barber Motorsports Park and the race at Road America. Finished second in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge after leading 35 laps. Has six podium finishes, most among the title contenders. Likely would be leading the championship if not for bad luck in the two most recent races: a mechanical failure late in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (finished 27th) and getting hit from behind at World Wide Technology Raceway (finished 20th). Ranks second among title contenders in average starting position (7.9).
How He’s Fared at Remaining Tracks: Has not raced at any of the tracks. Has tested at Portland and Laguna Seca in recent weeks.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN, No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet
Most Recent Series Championship: 2019 NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Number of INDYCAR Seasons: 10.
Best INDYCAR Season to Date: Two-time champion (2017, 2019).
2021 at a Glance: Surging of late with wins in two of the past four races (Mid-Ohio and World Wide Technology Raceway). His three poles this season came in succession (Detroit 2, Road American and Mid-Ohio), and he has finished on the podium five times. Ranks first among contenders in average starting position (7.2) and is second in average finishing position (7.8).
How He’s Fared at Remaining Tracks: None of his 20 career wins have come at one of these tracks, but he has a pair of podium finishes at Long Beach (third in 2017, second in 2019). Has made eight starts at Long Beach, famously qualifying second as a rookie in 2012 but crashing on the first lap. Qualified second in his maiden Portland race in 2018 but finished 10th. Finished fifth there in 2019. Finished eighth in his only INDYCAR race at Laguna Seca.
SCOTT DIXON, No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Most Recent Series Championship: 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Number of INDYCAR Seasons: 21.
Best INDYCAR Season to Date: Six-time champion (2003, 2008, 2013, 2015, 2018, 2020).
2021 at a Glance: Won the May 1 race at Texas Motor Speedway for his 51st career INDYCAR victory. Has been in the top three in the point standings all season until being collected in a crash in the Aug. 21 race at World Wide Technology Raceway. Has three podium finishes and won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
How He’s Fared at Remaining Tracks: Long Beach has been his best venue of the bunch, with a win in 2015, a second in 2016 and a third in 2019. Has raced at Portland four times (fifth in 2018, seventh in Champ Car in 2001 and 2002). At Laguna Seca, he finished third in 2019 and fourth in 2001.
MARCUS ERICSSON, No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Most Recent Series Championship: 2009 Japan Formula 3.
Number of INDYCAR Seasons: 3.
Best INDYCAR Season to Date: 2020 (12th).
2021 at a Glance: One of four drivers with two wins this season, his coming in Detroit Race 1 and the inaugural Nashville street race. Also finished second at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Is riding a streak of seven consecutive top-10 finishes.
How He’s Fared at Remaining Tracks: Has only raced once each at Long Beach (20th in 2019) and Laguna Seca (11th in 2019). Was forced to miss the Portland race in his rookie season due to a Formula One commitment.