Today’s question: Who will win the Grand Prix of Portland this Sunday? (3 p.m. ET, NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network)
Curt Cavin: I think recent testing matters, and we’re about to find out how much it helped Team Penske. The organization with drivers 1-2 in the title pursuit took all three of its cars to Portland International Raceway last Friday for a session alongside Andretti Autosport’s four and the two of AJ Foyt Racing. Meanwhile, the rest of the field, led by Chip Ganassi Racing’s three title contenders, went to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for a similar test Monday. Given that each team only had one test day left, I would have gone to Portland, where what I might have learned something to help at both tracks, although admittedly Portland is a high-grip circuit while Laguna Seca, with its worn pavement, is anything but. Last year, CGR’s Alex Palou and Scott Dixon recovered from first-lap trouble to finish first and third – Palou won from the pole – but I think it will be Will Power and one of his Penske teammates – and maybe both – on the podium this year. Give me Power, who won there in 2019 and was the fastest in last week’s test, to take the top step in relatively convincing fashion.
Arni Sribhen: With just three races at Portland International Raceway since the series returned to the fast and flowing 1.964-mile natural terrain road course, it’s almost a dart throw to predict this week’s winner. With three different winners from three teams in the previous three races, there are few trends to follow in picking the winner. And there’s not a whole lot of historical data when it comes to the current group of NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers and Portland. I looked at Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Will Power since they are among the drivers still in the running for the championship, and all three will look for good finishes. Colton Herta is always strong when the series races in the Pacific time zone. But it’s hard to ignore the defending race winner and 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou. He won in his first start at Portland from the pole and has scored a pair of runner-up finishes in the five previous permanent road course races this season. Time is running out for Palou’s title defense, but another win at Portland could show he’s in “Gorilla Mode” until the checkered flag in the title run.
Paul Kelly: There are seven drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2022 season championship, but let’s cut to the marrow: A driver probably will need to be within 20 points of the leader at the season finale next Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to have much of a chance to hoist the Astor Challenge Cup. The title contenders have been too good down the stretch to see a total collapse by the leaders. The top seven in points occupied the top seven spots in qualifying at the last event, at World Wide Technology Raceway, and they all ended up finishing in the top nine. And that incredible result came on an oval, where calamity lurks more closely in every corner than on a natural road course like Portland or Laguna. So, it’s last stand time this Sunday for Alex Palou, Scott McLaughlin and Pato O’Ward, who occupy the fifth, sixth and seventh positions, respectively, in the title contention train and each are more than 40 points behind leader Will Power. We know Palou is lethal at Portland, as he won there from pole last season en route to the championship. But Palou hasn’t won yet this season, and I don’t see a repeat victory this Sunday. O’Ward has been plagued by inconsistency in the second half of the season, with three finishes of 24th or worse since Road America in mid-June. So, that leaves McLaughlin, who I think will win at Portland and keep all three Team Penske drivers in the title fight at Laguna. While Pato has struggled since mid-June, Scotty Mac has emerged as a consistent powerhouse during that span, with seven top-10s – including a win – in his last eight starts. McLaughlin has been sensational in the last month, with four straight top-four finishes since the second race of the Iowa doubleheader. Scotty Mac and the Thirsty 3’s get it done Sunday in Portland.