Kyle Kirkwood

Today’s question: Just 11 points separate the top three drivers in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings, Will Power, Alex Palou and Scott Dixon. Fourth-place Pato O’Ward is 41 points behind Dixon. Can O’Ward or any other drivers join the tight fight for the Astor Challenge Cup during the second half of the season?

Curt Cavin: I’d love to think this is still a wide-open championship race, but I just don’t see it. In my mind, the three drivers at the top – Power, Palou and Dixon – are too good, too consistent, too title-proven to allow for a total collapse. We’re down to 10 races left in the season, and these three former champions effectively have a full race distance on the field. Josef Newgarden is the one who could make a big surge given that he’s won nine of the past 12 oval races and six such races remain, but finishing 26th in Detroit earlier this month was a big blow. Newgarden is 68 points out of the lead but more importantly seventh in the standings, which means a lot of drivers will need to stumble the rest of the way. Some will, for sure. But Power, Palou and Dixon? I just don’t see it.

Eric Smith: May be low hanging fruit, but I’ll take Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin. He is fifth in the standings, 57 points behind teammate and championship leader Power. but McLaughlin scored the second-most points (600) over the second half of the last two seasons, trailing only the 649 Scott Dixon has accumulated. McLaughlin has a prime opportunity to shine with six of the final 10 races on ovals. While winless in his career on ovals, McLaughlin has six top-five finishes in seven combined Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway starts. He also boasts a strong resume at other tracks, including winning 2022 races at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Portland International Raceway, qualifying second last July at Toronto and finishing runner-up a year ago at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the site of the next race on the schedule. That bodes well for McLaughlin to make a push to join the fray.

Paul Kelly: The last two NTT INDYCAR SERIES seasons have shown two effective, but very different, templates to win a championship. Last year, Alex Palou won a season-high five races and never finished outside the top eight. That’s why he was the first driver in 15 years to clinch the title at least one race early, sealing his second crown at Portland. In 2022, Will Power won just once but used consistency to claim his second championship. By this point last year, Palou had started his reign of no error, winning four out of five races in an early-summer stretch that put the title out of reach for rivals. That dominance hasn’t happened so far this year, and I don’t see it happening. So, I think this year will look more like 2022, when consistency will prevail over sheer speed. There’s only one driver outside of the Party of Three atop the standings who has shown true consistency so far this season – Kyle Kirkwood of Andretti Global. He has finished no lower than 11th and has placed in the top five at each of the last two races. If Kirkwood can match his consistency with a bit more speed and two wins or so, he’ll expand the title chasers to a Gang of Four.