First, the facts as the bullet train known as 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season reaches its destination this weekend in Northern California.
There are five drivers eligible to win the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship this Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca: Will Power (leader), Josef Newgarden (-20 points from lead), Scott Dixon (-20), Marcus Ericsson (-39) and Scott McLaughlin (-41). It’s the first time since 2003 that five drivers have contended for the Astor Challenge Cup at a season finale without double points, as double points were awarded at the final race from 2015-19.
Two teams field all five drivers – Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin drive for Team Penske, while Dixon and Ericsson drive for Chip Ganassi Racing. There are nine previous drivers’ championships among this fantastic five, with Dixon winning six (2003, 2008, 2013, 2015, 2018, 2020), Newgarden two (2017, 2019) and Power one (2014).
SEE: Portland Race Highlights | Laguna Race Preview
If Power finishes third or better in the 95-lap race Sunday (live coverage starts at 3 p.m. on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network), he will earn his second championship regardless of his rivals’ results.
It’s a finish for the ages. But to better understand the bobbing and weaving of this compelling title fight, let’s look at the journey of how each contender got there.
Race 1: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Feb. 27
McLaughlin signaled right away he would be a factor in the 2022 season as he earned his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory, leading 49 of 100 laps after capturing the NTT P1 Award in qualifying. Power finished third in a portent of the newfound consistency that has helped him contend for the championship all season. Newgarden suffered through a rough opener, finishing 16th. Dixon and Ericsson had solid but unspectacular starts to the season, finishing eighth and ninth, respectively.
- Power (-18)
- Dixon (-29)
- Ericsson (-32)
- Newgarden (-40)
Race 2: XPEL 375, Texas Motor Speedway, March 20
Team Penske flexed its muscle at the first oval event of the season, as Newgarden rebounded from the disappointing finish at the season opener at St. Pete to edge McLaughlin for victory by .0669 of a second and jump from 16th to fourth in points. Power finished fourth, again taking all the points his car would provide. This was a strong event for Ganassi, too, as Ericsson showed his rapidly improving capabilities on ovals by finishing third for his first career circle-track podium. Dixon finished fifth.
- Power (-28)
- Newgarden (-32)
- Ericsson (-39)
- Dixon (-42)
Race 3: Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 10
Well, so much for that slow start of the season by Newgarden. The two-time series champion completed his rally from 16th in the championship to the lead by earning his second consecutive victory and keeping Team Penske perfect in the win column through the first three races. Mr. Consistency Power finished fourth, while Dixon was sixth. McLaughlin struggled, finishing 14th as the second-to-last car on the lead lap after clipping the wall early in the race. Ericsson was running third late in the race but hit the wall exiting Turn 4 with 19 laps to go, with his race ending in 22nd place.
- McLaughlin (-5)
- Power (-16)
- Dixon (-35)
- Ericsson (-52)
Race 4: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Barber Motorsports Park, May 1
It may be hard to believe, but this is the only race all season without one of the five title contenders on the podium. Pato O’Ward won, and Power was the top finisher among the current championship contenders at fourth. Dixon finished fifth, which was consistent but marked a fourth consecutive race without a podium to start the season. McLaughlin was a steady sixth, while Ericsson placed 12th. The pendulum swings of Newgarden’s season continued, as he dropped to 14th place in the running order after two straight wins.
- McLaughlin (-3 to Alex Palou)
- Newgarden (-9)
- Power (-10)
- Dixon (-31)
- Ericsson (-60)
Race 5: GMR Grand Prix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, May 14
The opener to the Month of May on the IMS road course was unkind to both Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing in a frantic race in mixed conditions won by Colton Herta. Power was the top finisher among the championship five, placing third and regaining the championship lead. It was a nightmarish afternoon for teammates McLaughlin and Newgarden, who finished 20th and 25th, respectively. McLaughlin spun late in the race to fall down the order. Newgarden was pinched between Alexander Rossi and Jack Harvey earlier in the race as another incident unfolded in front of them, and Newgarden was hip-checked off the track. It took 16 laps in the pits to fix the damage. Ericsson rallied to finish fourth after early contact with Graham Rahal, but Dixon ended up salvaging a 10th-place finish after his No. 9 Honda ran out of fuel while on pit lane early in the race.
- McLaughlin (-14)
- Newgarden (-15)
- Dixon (-35)
- Ericsson (-39)
Race 6: Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, May 29
“The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is the only event on the schedule that offers double points, and Ericsson made the most of that by claiming his first Indianapolis 500 victory, which also was his first oval win in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. That win – and the accompanying 109-point haul – vaulted Ericsson from seventh to first in the series standings. The Swede was the only title contender to enjoy a super Sunday on Memorial Day weekend. Dixon started from the pole but again suffered disappointment at the biggest race in the world after finishing 21st due to a speeding penalty in the pits while leading with just 25 laps to go. Newgarden finished 13th, Power 15th and McLaughlin 29th after crashing out of the race in an uncharacteristically quiet race for the winningest team in Indy 500 history.
- Power (-24)
- Newgarden (-52)
- Dixon (-60)
- McLaughlin (-64)
Race 7: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, June 5
Power broke through for his only victory so far this season at the place where he was cruelly robbed of a win in 2021 when his car wouldn’t refire while he was the leader in the pits during a red flag period. The triumph pushed him back into the championship lead, too. Dixon rallied from his Indy 500 disappointment to earn his first podium finish of the season by placing third. Newgarden also rebounded from a tough Month of May to finish fourth at the last race on Belle Isle. It also was a solid showing for Ericsson, who placed seventh fueled by the momentum of his stirring Indy victory just seven days earlier. McLaughlin was the only title fighter to stumble in Motor City, finishing a lap down in 19th and dropping to a season-low 10th in the standings.
- Ericsson (-3)
- Newgarden (-47)
- Dixon (-53)
- McLaughlin (-82)
Race 8: Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America, June 12
The see-saw known as Newgarden’s season bounced up after his victory at Road America. It was Newgarden’s third win of 2022, and he split the $1 million PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge bonus with two charities after he became the first driver this year to win on an oval (Texas), street circuit (Long Beach) and road course (Road America). Ericsson continued his strong form since drinking milk at Indianapolis by finishing second and seizing the points lead from Power. McLaughlin bounced back with a solid seventh place, while Dixon still couldn’t quite get on track after a ninth-place result. Power endured his worst result of the season, placing 19th after contact with rookie Devlin DeFrancesco, who was penalized.
- Power (-27)
- Newgarden (-32)
- Dixon (-69)
- McLaughlin (-94)
Race 9: The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, July 3
McLaughlin recovered from a mild midseason slump to drive to his second victory of the season, holding off reigning series champion Alex Palou in a tense final 17 laps on Fourth of July weekend. Power maybe saved his current spot atop the standings with arguably his best drive of the season, rallying to finish third after starting 21st and spinning to the back of the field on Lap 1. The still-winless Dixon continued to show consistency that was frustrating to him but piling up points after finishing fifth. Ericsson placed sixth to keep the points lead, and Newgarden placed seventh, as all five of the title contenders started to round into peak form in one weekend.
- Power (-20)
- Newgarden (-34)
- Dixon (-67)
- McLaughlin (-69)
Race 10: Honda Indy Toronto, July 17
Dixon ended a dry spell of 23 races – the second-longest drought of his illustrious career – in the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race in Canada’s largest city since 2019. Dixon held off Colton Herta by less than a second for the 52nd victory of his career, tying him for second on the all-time INDYCAR SERIES win list with fellow legend Mario Andretti. The win also helped Dixon jump one spot in the standings, to fifth. Ericsson finished fifth to expand his points lead over Power, who finished a quiet 15th after starting 16th. McLaughlin finished ninth and Newgarden 10th in a mediocre weekend for Team Penske.
- Power (-35)
- Newgarden (-44)
- Dixon (-44)
- McLaughlin (-77)
Race 11: Hy-VeeDeals.com 250, Iowa Speedway, July 23
Newgarden found his winning groove again by dominating on the .875-mile Iowa bullring, leading 204 of 250 laps in oppressive heat and jumping from fourth to second in the standings. It was the third victory of the season. Power finished third but fell to third in the standings. Dixon finished fifth and Ericsson eighth, as the Ganassi duo held station in their respective spots in the standings after a solid points day. But this race may have been the cruelest of the season for McLaughlin. He was running in the top five most of the race when a loose wheel nut forced him to the pits on Lap 174. McLaughlin ended up 22nd, six laps down, and fell 93 points behind leader Ericsson.
- Newgarden (-15)
- Power (-22)
- Dixon (-38)
- McLaughlin (-93)
Race 12: Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300, Iowa Speedway, July 24
If Newgarden doesn’t win the championship this Sunday, this could be the race that keeps him up at night for the next few months. Newgarden was headed to a dominant sweep of the doubleheader weekend on the sweltering Iowa oval, leading when a mechanical failure sent him spinning into the SAFER Barrier with 65 laps remaining. O’Ward inherited the lead and the victory. It was the second straight heartless result for a Team Penske driver after McLaughlin’s heartbreak the previous day. Power finished second – his sixth podium result of the season – to regain second in the standings. McLaughlin bounced back from the previous day’s disappointment to finish third in further validation of his growing oval racing chops. Dixon finished fourth to pile up more points as his summer surge continued, and Ericsson hung on to the series lead by eight points after finishing sixth.
- Power (-8)
- Newgarden (-34)
- Dixon (-34)
- McLaughlin (-86)
Race 13: Gallagher Grand Prix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, July 30
Alexander Rossi earned his first victory of the season on the road course race at IMS during Brickyard Weekend, just one of three winners this season who still aren’t in the title fight this weekend (joining Herta and O’Ward). Power finished third for yet another podium finish on a road course where he has won five times, including this race last year. Perhaps more importantly, Power regained the points lead. McLaughlin placed fourth and Newgarden fifth in a solid 3-4-5 finish for Team Penske. Dixon placed eighth while Ericsson finished 11th, his first result outside the top 10 since May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park.
- Ericsson (-9)
- Newgarden (-32)
- Dixon (-38)
- McLaughlin (-81)
Race 14: Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, Nashville, Aug. 7
There’s no doubt Dixon was inexorably chipping away at his rivals’ points lead all summer, especially since his victory July 17 at Toronto. But this was the race in which the INDYCAR paddock heard the famous theme song from “Jaws,” realizing the six-time series champion was a true threat for No. 7 after his second victory of the season, both on street circuits. Dixon stood alone in second on the all-time INDYCAR SERIES win list with his 53rd career victory. He held off McLaughlin in a scintillating finish on the streets of Nashville, recovering from a chain-reaction collision earlier in the race that damaged the floor of his car and moved him to the back of the field. Dixon also climbed to second in the standings, just six behind Power, who placed a disappointing 11th after his car suffered damage. McLaughlin continued his summer surge by finishing second, with Newgarden sixth in his home race. Ericsson’s troubles started to mount with his second straight finish outside the top 10, as he placed 14th.
- Dixon (-6)
- Ericsson (-12)
- Newgarden (-22)
- McLaughlin (-58)
Race 15: Bommarito Automotive Group 500, World Wide Technology Raceway, Aug. 20
Newgarden earned his fifth victory of the season and his third in a row at the 1.25-mile oval just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in a rain-interrupted race. He held off charging rookie David Malukas to pull up to second in the standings, just three points behind teammate Power. McLaughlin once again flexed his muscle on an oval, finishing third in yet another consistent display. Power made big news during NTT P1 Award qualifying by winning his 67th career pole to tie Andretti for the all-time INDYCAR SERIES record and appeared to be a strong bet for victory after leading 128 of the first 157 laps. But he faded to sixth while clinging to the points lead. Ericsson recovered from his small summer swoon to finish seventh, while teammate Dixon was eighth.
- Newgarden (-3)
- Dixon (-14)
- Ericsson (-17)
- McLaughlin (-54)
Race 16: Grand Prix of Portland, Sept. 4
The task was simple for McLaughlin entering the penultimate race of the season: He knew he had to win to keep his title hopes alive in his second season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Mission accomplished. McLaughlin dominated this race on the fast, flowing Portland International Raceway road course, leading 104 of 110 laps from the pole to stay alive in the title hunt. Power couldn’t touch McLaughlin on a late restart and settled for second, his eighth podium finish of the season, while padding his lead over Newgarden to 20 points. Much like Power at Mid-Ohio, Dixon perhaps salvaged his title hopes by finishing third after starting 16th in a typical Dixon style of pulling a rabbit from a hat just when needed most. Newgarden started and finished eighth in a quiet race. Ericsson recovered from an 18th-place start to finish 11th. The table was set with these five drivers heading to Monterey to see who would hoist the Astor Challenge Cup in triumph Sept. 11.
- Newgarden (-20)
- Dixon (-20)
- Ericsson (-39)
- McLaughlin (-41)