Pruett’s cooldown lap: WWTR
Josef Newgarden wanted to win to maintain his title hopes alive, and he did. Alex Palou wanted to keep away from drama and end forward of Pato O’Ward, and he didn’t.
With one senseless transfer by Rinus VeeKay at World Extensive Expertise Raceway, the wildest NTT IndyCar Sequence season in a few years truly managed to get wilder. O’Ward took management of the championship, Palou suffered his worst back-to-back finishes of his younger IndyCar profession, Newgarden got here alive in his quest for a 3rd IndyCar crown, and Scott Dixon fell far sufficient within the standings to want huge assist if he’s going to earn title No. 7.
Relying on how the championship outcomes play out, VeeKay’s blunder on lap 64 at WWTR might find yourself being the pivotal second the place all the things modified for the title contenders. And that, like so many different moments this yr, completely matches the narrative of a season that will get crazier with each wave of the inexperienced flag.
Over the subsequent 5 weeks or so, and supplied the state of California or counties that govern Laguna Seca and Lengthy Seaside don’t add new COVID-related restrictions that jeopardize the calendar being accomplished as scheduled, we’ll study loads in regards to the composure of O’Ward and Arrow McLaren SP.
We’ll additionally see if Palou can pull off a couple of O’Ward-like drives and go toe-to-toe with the factors chief. We’ll discover out if Newgarden can maintain his streak alive and, simply possibly, keep away from the come-from-behind drives which have slowed his title march. And may Dixon mount one in every of his patented late-season expenses and spoil their championship plans?
Simply as I can’t wait to see the way it all will get settled, I hate the truth that we solely have three races left to run. Consider all the assorted wants the title contenders have, plus the entire hopes for wins and powerful finishes elsewhere on the grid, after which consider the subsequent race at Portland with that high-speed and six-car-wide braking zone that funnels down into nothing at Flip 1, and one can solely think about the sorts of mayhem that may be made.
If this yr of IndyCar racing has taught us something, it’s that Flip 1, on September 12 within the Pacific Northwest, might flip the championship standings but once more. Utilizing Barber, and St. Pete, and Texas, and Detroit, and Street America, and Nashville, and WWTR as our guides, The “Duck and Pray 200 at Portland Worldwide Raceway” ought to be insane.
A fast nod to O’Ward and AMSP for his or her newest noteworthy efficiency. The 2018 Indy Lights champion didn’t assault each driver on each lap, however he definitely went ahead with smarts and authority. If WWTR was held within the early levels of the season, O’Ward would have been anticipated to drive on that razor-thin line of hazard/security he loves to go to, however with a championship inside his grasp, the high-risk thrives have been principally absent from his oval repertoire.
Workforce president Taylor Kiel has constructed a robust relationship together with his cost, and in that regard, he deserves credit score for turning into the ‘Pato Whisperer.’ O’Ward’s pure tendencies are to obliterate each driver in his means, and that gained’t change, however he’s discovered to cage that internal animal when wanted. So, together with the low-energy teaching in his ear from Kiel to make sure they get essentially the most out of their races, the expansion on show from these two feels prefer it deserves extra recognition.
Simply as we reward the race-day tandem of Scott Dixon and Mike Hull, or Josef Newgarden and Tim Cindric, there’s one thing brewing right here between O’Ward and Kiel that’s simply as particular.
Low requirements, excessive drama
Take the vehicles that failed to complete or have been at the least one lap down at Nashville, add them to the identical group of sidelined or troubled vehicles at WWTR, and the quantity is eighteen! The Indy highway course race previous to WWTR was a relative haven for high quality driving and reliability as 24 of the 28 entries got here residence on the lead lap.
At Nashville and WWTR, 9 vehicles apiece have been wrecked, repaired, or having depressing days. Each cases, the place the quantity practically reached double digits, are rarities exterior the Indy 500.
I’m satisfied Romain Grosjean and his rising military of followers are having extra enjoyable than any others throughout this rookie marketing campaign.
The Frenchman’s followers are legitimately hailed as being the loudest and most supportive at each monitor he’s visited, and if you happen to weren’t following him in Method 1, this superb change couldn’t have been predicted within the latter levels of his F1 profession. Whether or not it was fixed complaining about his brakes or unfairly blaming Marcus Ericsson for a crash that concerned nobody apart from himself, the pre-Bahrain 2020 model of Grosjean wasn’t held in as excessive regard as he’s as we speak.
And that’s the fantastic thing about the trail he’s taken after the fireplace and near-death expertise final November. His comeback story, in a brand new land, in a brand new kind of automotive, with a small workforce, on unfamiliar tracks, is all the things we love in America. The cheers from every move on his oval debut at WWTR cemented his standing as one in every of IndyCar’s hottest drivers, and it simply feels good to witness.