Another week, another step toward the second NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in three years for Alex Palou.
Another first-time race winner for the 2023 season.
Another big week ahead.
Much to cover in this edition of Fifth Gear:
Palou Further Expands Lead
When Alex Palou’s No. 10 Journie Rewards Honda bounced off the wall trying to escape a spinning Helio Castroneves, it didn’t seem possible that the Chip Ganassi Racing driver would expand his already massive points lead, but that’s what he did at Exhibition Place.
No, Palou didn’t win his fourth consecutive race and fifth in six outings, but by nursing a broken front wing and hanging on for a second-place finish, he was able to extend his series lead another seven points. His lead is a whopping 117 points with seven races remaining.
As fortunate as Palou’s late drive was, the finish of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon was nearly as impactful. Dixon appeared to be in a world of hurt when he, like Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, didn’t come to pit road for final service with the rest of the leaders on Lap 49, but in typical Dixon form, he made it work. A combination of speed and fuel miscalculations by others allowed the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to finish fourth.
Meanwhile, McLaughlin’s curious mid-race strategy dropped him to the sixth finishing position in the No. 3 Gallagher Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet.
Dixon is doing his best to hang on in the title fight, although Palou is making it increasingly difficult. Dixon, who earlier in the season became the sport’s all-time leader in top-five finishes and now has 198, scored his fourth consecutive top-four finish and sixth straight top-six finish.
Lundgaard Becomes Latest New Winner
First Kyle Kirkwood, now Christian Lundgaard.
This is the fifth straight year the series has witnessed a first-time race winner, and for the second time in three years there have been more than one. In April, Kirkwood won the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach; Lundgaard won Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.
Last year, the new winner was McLaughlin, and he followed up his season-opening win in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with two more race wins. In 2021, the new winners were Palou, Pato O’Ward, Rinus VeeKay and Marcus Ericsson. The year before that was Felix Rosenqvist. In 2019, it was Colton Herta.
Lundgaard’s victory in Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 45 Vivid Clear Rx Honda means that 17 of the 28 drivers competing in the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend doubleheader at Iowa Speedway have won at least one series race in their career.
Dominance of Lundgaard, Palou
Lundgaard became the third driver this season to win from the pole, the others being Kirkwood at Long Beach and Palou in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. Interestingly, those are the only three race winners to start from the front row this season. Six of the other seven winners started on Row 2, with Josef Newgarden winning the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge from the 17th position on the grid.
Lundgaard did a number on the season’s average margin of victory. Even with Palou winning the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course by 16.8006 seconds, the season average for the leader at the finish line was 3.8 seconds. Lundgaard won Sunday’s race by 11.7893 seconds, the second-largest margin of the season.
As for Palou, we’re finding new ways to illustrate his dominance. Through 10 races, he has amassed 417 points. Since 2001, when the series resumed having at least 10 races in a season, only one driver has had more points at this stage: Dixon had scored 436 points through 10 races in 2020. But remember, that year’s “500” awarded double points, and Dixon received 91 points for finishing second. Without double points, Dixon’s total wouldn’t match Palou’s of this year.
Since 2001, the average number of points for the series leader through 10 races is 372, which is 45 points below Palou’s total.
Up Next: Iowa Speedway Doubleheader
The season’s only doubleheader is on tap for this weekend, with the Hy-Vee Homefront 250 presented by Instacart at 3 p.m. ET Saturday and the Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade at 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Both races will air live on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Newgarden is the driver to watch in Team Penske’s No. 2 Chevrolet. Only a mechanical failure in the second half of last year’s second Iowa race prevented him from sweeping the five oval races over the past calendar year. He has won four races at this seven-eighths-mile track.
O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) took advantage of Newgarden’s issue in Race 2 last year to score his fourth career series victory. He still seeks his first win this season.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is another driver to keep an eye on this weekend. After being collected in Sunday’s first-lap accident in Toronto, he will look to build on his impressive Iowa Speedway resume. He won the 2012, 2014 and 2015 races at the track in Newton. He also finished second in 2012 and third in 2017. All those results came with Andretti Autosport; this weekend he is in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Chevrolet.