2021 IMS Road Course race start

History could be made this week at a venue rich in history.

Team Penske’s Will Power, who leads NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers with five career poles for races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, can tie Mario Andretti’s all-time pole record by capturing the NTT P1 Award as the fastest qualifier for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix. Andretti won 67 poles in his INDYCAR career; Power’s total stands at 66.

Additionally, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, a six-time series champion, can take another step toward becoming the sport’s winningest driver by going to victory lane this weekend. In the Honda Indy Toronto on July 17, Dixon tied Andretti for second place with 52 wins; another victory earns Dixon the position all to himself. A.J. Foyt holds the record with 67 career wins.

And then there’s the battle for the season championship. Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing returns to IMS with the series points lead, but his advantage over second-place Power is slim. Eight points separate these two drivers, with a total of six drivers, including reigning series champion Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing, separated by 44 points with five races remaining.

One of the top six is Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, whose availability for the two-day event in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet remains in question following an incident in the July 24 race at Iowa Speedway. He was cleared by INDYCAR medical officials to participate in the opening practice Friday and will be re-evaluated after that session. Newgarden was leading the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google in a bid to sweep the weekend doubleheader and move atop the point standings when his No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet spun and hit the wall. Newgarden and Dixon are tied for third place in the standings, 34 points out of the lead.

Iowa Race 2 winner Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP is the fifth driver in the championship hunt; he stands fifth, 36 points behind Ericsson.

Here are Five Things to Watch For this weekend.

Power Eyes All-Time Record

Andretti has held the pole record for nearly 36 years since passing Foyt. When the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner qualified in the top spot for the final time in 1993 at Michigan Speedway, it seemed no one would equal that mark. Power was only 12 years old at the time.

Power, now 41, has come at Andretti’s record fast and furiously, twice winning eight poles in a season (2010, 2011) and winning a pole in each of the past 14 seasons. In that span, the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet has averaged 4.3 poles a season, and he has three this season capped by a pair earned last weekend at Iowa Speedway.

Statistically, Power is the fastest qualifier of his generation. Among drivers in Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix, Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) has 50 series poles – his total ranks fourth in the sport’s history – and Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) is next among active drivers with 28 poles. No other driver participating this weekend has more than 16.

Power isn’t just fast on qualifying days, either. His 41 race wins rank fifth all-time, and his next win will tie Michael Andretti for fourth place. Dixon holds the record for consecutive seasons with at least one race win, with 18, but Power is second with 16. Both have won a race this season. In all, Dixon has race wins in 20 seasons, another record. Castroneves has won in 17 seasons, Power 16.

Power also has his eyes on something bigger than statistical marks: He wants a season championship to go with the one he won in 2014.

“It’s getting down to the wire, man,” he said. “Better bring your ‘A’ game or I’m going to take it from (the) young blokes.”

Dixon Lurking, Again

It must be the summer weather that invigorates Dixon, who has won 30 of his 52 races after the calendar has flipped to July. Twice he has won three consecutive races in the seventh month of the year.

Dixon finished fifth and fourth in the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend, shaving 10 points off his deficit to the series lead. He has sliced away 35 points this month.

Look out if Dixon has a chance to win this championship as the season heads to the West Coast in September for the final two races. In seven seasons in his career, Dixon has won one of the last two races.

Dixon hasn’t had Power’s level of success on the IMS road course, but he has been consistently good. He won the July 4, 2020 race and has posted three second-place finishes on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit, the best mark of any drivers never to have been employed by Team Penske.

However, recent runs on the IMS road course haven’t been as strong for Dixon. His average finish in the past five starts is 10.5, with no finish higher than eighth.

“The last time we were (on the IMS road course) was more of a fumble in qualifying,” he said. “I think the pace was definitely there, but you’ve only got two laps to get it done. I started my first lap poorly, and then I spun on my second. If you don’t get it right (in qualifying), you’re going to be at the back of the pack (he started 21st).”

Grosjean Eyes Strong IMS Return

Romain Grosjean (No. 28 DHL Honda) is one to watch this weekend given the confidence pocketed at Iowa Speedway.

Surprisingly, it was Grosjean, who had never raced at the short oval, who had the best finishes each day among Andretti Autosport drivers. Consider that Michael Andretti’s organization won seven of the track’s first nine races with five different drivers.

Grosjean finished seventh and ninth in the two races after qualifying 10th for each.

“I’m very proud of the whole weekend,” he said. “With Helio (Castroneves) and Simon Pagenaud and (Alexander) Rossi and (Colton) Herta, they’ve got so much more experience on ovals that just being able to represent the best car (of the organization).

“I’m really happy. With a couple of better pit stops (in Saturday’s race), it would have been better (than finishing seventh).”

Second-year NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Grosjean is eager to return to the IMS road course, although he didn’t fare as well in the GMR Grand Prix on May 14 as he did in last year’s two races on the circuit. He won the NTT P1 Award for the first race and finished second in each race in 2021.

Tight Rookie Battle

Outside the spotlight of the championship pursuit is a two-man contest for series Rookie of the Year.

The separation between Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard (No. 30 Shield Cleansers Honda) and Dale Coyne Racing with HMD’s David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Honda) grew smaller at Iowa Speedway, although both drivers posted the best finish by a rookie driver. Lundgaard finished 10th in Race 1; Malukas was eighth in Race 2.

Lundgaard takes a four-point lead into the Gallagher Grand Prix, and both have been the top-finishing rookie in five races this season. Both drivers have had early success at IMS, too.

Lundgaard earned the job with RLLR in part because of qualifying fourth in his maiden NTT INDYCAR SERIES race on the IMS road course during this event weekend in 2021. He finished 12th in the Aug. 14 race. He finished ninth in this year’s GMR Grand Prix after starting eighth.

Malukas, who won an Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires road race at IMS in 2021, delivered the highest finish among rookies in this year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge at IMS. He finished 16th and felt he deserved to be Rookie of the Year over seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who qualified 12th but finished 28th after late contact in Turn 2. He and the team seem to have used that as motivation for the rest of the season.

“Ever since (the) Month of May, the team has flipped a switch,” Malukas said. “We’ve kind of got the chemistry together. I know what I want from the car, and the team knows what I want from the car, and it’s all kind of come together … all around all smiles.”

Rookies Callum Ilott (No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet), Devlin DeFrancesco (No. 29 PowerTap Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) and Kyle Kirkwood (No. 14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet of AJ Foyt Racing) have shown flashes this season but are deeper in the standings. Ilott was the top-finishing rooking the GMR Grand Prix, finishing seventh, while Kirkwood paced all rookies in the Long Beach street race in 10th.

Dream Weekend Schedule

This weekend schedule is about everything a North American motorsports fan could ask for as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES joins NASCAR’s Cup Series and Xfinity Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Friday, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES opens the action with its first practice at 9:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award will be held at 1 p.m. Xfinity Series practice is at 3:05 p.m., with the series’ qualifying immediately following.

Saturday, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has a pre-race practice at 8:15 a.m. ET with the 85-lap race broadcast on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at noon. The Cup Series practice session starts at 9:35 a.m., leading straight into qualifying at 10:35 a.m. The Xfinity Series takes its green flag, also on NBC, at 3:30 p.m. The Verizon 200 at the Brickyard for the Cup Series is set for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. (ET), live on NBC.

Weekend tickets can be purchased at IMS.com.