Today’s question: Who will win the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey and the Astor Challenge Cup as NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion this Sunday? (3 p.m. ET, NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network)
Curt Cavin: Why change now? Yes, Team Penske opted to use its final test day of the season at Portland International Raceway while much of the rest of the field, including title challengers from Chip Ganassi Racing, went to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but this has been the year of Roger Penske’s drivers. Josef Newgarden has five wins, Scott McLaughlin has three and Will Power has the series lead by 20 points and can secure the championship by finishing third or better in Sunday’s season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. I expect a good fight from CGR’s Scott Dixon this weekend, but let’s call McLaughlin the race winner and Power the season champion with a 1-2 finish just as we saw at Portland.
Arni Sribhen: There has been only one NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver to win at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca since the series returned to the track in 2019. I’m not one to buck trends, so I’m picking Colton Herta to three-peat at his favorite track. Herta won from the pole to cap his rookie season in 2019 and did it again in 2021 as part of a sweep of California races. Picking against the Californian in California seems foolish. I just wish picking the champion among the five drivers in the Run for the Championship was as easy. All five drivers have shown the form deserving of the Astor Challenge Cup in 2022. And still, in my opinion, one driver has been the most consistent through the season. Scott Dixon knows the formula to win championships. When you can’t win, maximize what you can. With top-10 finishes in every race but one this season as well as completing every lap this season, he’s done just that. It’s not a surprise to see him in contention for his seventh INDYCAR SERIES championship. Dixon doesn’t have the wins that Josef Newgarden has this year, and he’s been chasing Will Power since the green flag fell on the season, but Iceman has come back on Championship Sunday before. He could do it again on Sunday.
Paul Kelly: Colton Herta is the recent master of Laguna Seca, winning both NTT INDYCAR SERIES races there since the series returned to Monterey in 2019. But I don’t think he makes it a three-peat this weekend, as the title contenders have been just too locked in the last few weeks. But oddly enough, none of the five 2022 contenders for the Astor Challenge Cup had a great race last year at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, with Marcus Ericsson sixth, Josef Newgarden seventh, Scott McLaughlin 12th, Scott Dixon 13th and Will Power 26th. Still, it’s hard to overlook the momentum McLaughlin and his “Thirsty 3’s” team have now. They’re loose, fast and have nothing to lose as the longest shot among the title aspirants. That will deliver a fourth victory to cap an astonishing year for McLaughlin in just his second season in open-wheel cars. Consistency has been the calling card this season for the new Zen master of the series, Power, and I think he’ll bring the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet home in a safe enough position to hold off Dixon for his second INDYCAR SERIES championship.