Will Power

From urban Michigan to rural Wisconsin, a new week awaits the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

After a demanding downtown street race in Detroit comes Road America’s fast and flowing road course, and the change in venue offers a new set of driving circumstances for NTT INDYCAR SERIES competitors. The XPEL Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR is at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday (NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).

SEE: Race Details

Road America doesn’t have concrete walls like those in the Motor City, but it has the longest straightaway of the season and 14 high-speed corners that aren’t to be taken lightly. Multiple elevation changes abound, and the backside run to what’s known as “Canada Corner” is daunting. The kink on that path requires maximum focus.

More often than not, champion drivers prevail at Road America. Last year it was Alex Palou, who used the win as part of his second series championship. He did it likewise in 2021.

Since Road America returned to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule in 2016, seven of the nine race winners either were or soon became season champions, and the list of yesteryear Road America winners include three-time winners Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Michael Andretti. Danny Sullivan was a four-time pole winner, including his win-from-the-pole run in 1987.

Other series champions who have celebrated in Road America’s victory lane include Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Zanardi, Dario Franchitti, Cristiano da Matta, Sebastien Bourdais and, in recent years, Will Power, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s event saw significant action in practice, with the cars of Palou, Dixon and Power suffering significant damage in the hour-plus before qualifying. In the race, there was the series’ requisite amount of bumping by competitors. There were important strategy plays, too.

The venues change in this series, but the competition remains the same. It’s on to Road America for the 27 car-and-driver combinations.

Dixon Heating Up Early

Dixon has won five of the past 10 series races and last weekend became the first driver this season to win for the second time. He might just be getting started.

You might remember Dixon ended last season by winning three of the final four races, and that falls in line with his norm over the years. Since 2005, there have been 153 series races held after July 1. Dixon has won 34 of them (22.2 percent).

Dixon has routinely dominated the second half of past seasons. Ten times since 2005 he has won at least two races after July 1. Five times he won three or more races after that date.

Bottom line: Other drivers with championship aspirations would do well not to let Dixon build too much of a lead. The driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda has two career wins at Road America (2017 and 2020), will be the defending champion of the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on June 23, and then the calendar flips to July.

There will be nine races held after July 1 this year. On those tracks, Dixon has won a combined 15 times.

Palou’s Race Last Year

Palou was amid his own hot streak a year ago. Road America became the second venue he conquered in a three-race span, setting up his second championship run.

But Palou didn’t have the easiest of weekends last year in Wisconsin. A hard crash at Turn 14 in Saturday practice gave his Chip Ganassi Racing crew only about 90 minutes to prepare the car for qualifying, but they got it done. He did the rest, earning the third starting position for the 55-lap race.

Palou led 10 laps, using an overcut when pole sitter Colton Herta pitted a lap ahead of him and then needed to save fuel to make it to the finish. Limited by how hard he could push over the final 15 laps, Herta faded to the fifth finishing position.

The victory was one of Palou’s series-leading five during the season.

Palou stands second in the current standings to Dixon – 18 points in arrears – in the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. In Detroit, the two-time and reigning series champion finished 16th, which ended his streak of 23 races with finishes of eighth or better dating to the penultimate race of the 2022 season. He figures to be set for a rebound.

Dixon, Power Get Together

Last year’s Road America weekend also featured a hot meeting of Dixon and Team Penske’s Will Power.

The cars of the series champions came together at the exit of the famed “Canada Corner.” Dixon was ahead of Power, and he moved to the right to allow Romain Grosjean to pass him. But Dixon misjudged Power’s speed, and Dixon turned to the left, which was where Power’s car was arriving. If their contact wasn’t enough, Power’s car slammed the concrete barrier on the left side of the track. Both cars were heavily damaged.

Power was incensed and marched toward Dixon, grabbing him. Dixon was trying to apologize, but Power wasn’t having it. After walking away, Power kicked the ground as he fumed.

The damage limited what either driver could do in qualifying. Power settled for the 22nd starting position with Dixon a row back in 23rd. In the race, Dixon went off pit sequence early to help him get to fourth place at the finish while Power totaled seven pit stops and ended up 13th.

Power arrives at this race third in the standings, 31 points behind Dixon in the No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet. He won the 2016 race on this circuit and has twice finished second (2019 and 2020).

Armstrong’s Strong Season

Marcus Armstrong’s second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season is shaping up well. The driver of the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda scored his first career podium finish in last weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, and he nearly finished second.

Armstrong advanced to the Firestone Fast 12 in each of the first four qualifying sessions of the season and now has three consecutive top-10 finishes on road courses and street circuits. He finished ninth in the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix powered by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park and was fifth in the Sonsio Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

In Detroit, Armstrong drove from the 19th starting position to finish third. That result came on the heels of bowing out of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge with mechanical failure on Lap 6 and finishing 30th.

Road America should be a good place for Armstrong to potentially continue his momentum, as he calls the circuit his favorite track. He ran mostly in the top five of last year’s race before an improper pit box release pushed him back in the order. Still, he led the first five laps of his career in the series.

Newgarden Seeks Bounce-back

Newgarden had hoped to break the recent run of challenging finishes in the race after winning the “500,” but it didn’t happen. The two-time Indy winner had myriad issues in Detroit, including contact with Palou on Lap 70, and finished 26th in a 27-car field.

The last “500” winner to win the ensuing race was Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000 – he won in Milwaukee from the pole. A week after winning the “500” in 2020, Takuma Sato finished second to Dixon at World Wide Technology Raceway, but that was a different circumstance given the lack of post-Indy media expectations in the season-adjusted COVID-19 year.

Newgarden should be eager to get to Road America, where he won in 2018 and 2022. He also finished second to Palou last year and was second to Dixon in 2017. The driver of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet is a three-time winner of the NTT P1 Award at this track (2018, 2020 and 2021).