Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Let's Look at the League - October 2020

There is still a little under two weeks until the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season finale at St. Petersburg and we know the championship picture. We know it will come down between one of two drivers for the crown. A few other drivers will be fighting for top five and top ten championship finishes. St. Petersburg will be the final chance to get a victory before the year is out. 

St. Petersburg will also be the conclusion of my second year of looking at IndyCar through a head-to-head, league format. We last looked at the league back in early September, prior to the Mid-Ohio round. There were three regular season weeks left, the playoff drivers were not set, a relegation spot was on the line, as was a promotion spot, and the second Harvest Grand Prix race would double as the semifinal round for the playoffs.

Where are we after those four races? Let's go over the finish to the regular season:

League One Results

Week 12 (MID-OHIO):

#1 Penske vs. #7 AMSP (2 to 19)

#9 Ganassi vs. #20 ECR (10 to 13)

#12 Penske vs. #55 Coyne (1 to 12)

#30 RLLR vs. #15 RLLR (17 to 4)


#22 Penske vs. #98 Andretti (18 to 23)

#27 Andretti vs. #14 Foyt (3 to 22)

#10 Ganassi vs. #5 AMSP (6 to 11)

#28 Andretti vs. #18 Coyne (5 to 14)


Week 13 (MID-OHIO):

#1 Penske vs. #12 Penske (8 to 7)

#9 Ganassi vs. #30 RLLR (10 to 18)

#15 RLLR vs. #20 ECR (4 to 16)

#55 Coyne vs. #7 AMSP (23 to 15)


#22 Penske vs. #10 Ganassi (6 to 22)

#27 Andretti vs. #28 Andretti (2 to 3)

#18 Coyne vs. #14 Foyt (14 to 21)

#5 AMSP vs. #98 Andretti (9 to 20)


Week 14 (HARVEST GP):

#1 Penske vs. #9 Ganassi (1 to 9)

#12 Penske vs. #30 RLLR (6 to 18)

#15 RLLR vs. #55 Coyne (7 to 17)

#20 ECR vs. #7 AMSP (12 to 20)


#22 Penske vs. #27 Andretti (16 to 2)

#10 Ganassi vs. #28 Andretti (5 to 19)

#18 Coyne vs. #5 AMSP (15 to 22)

#14 Foyt vs. #98 Andretti (21 to 25)

Conference 1 Standings:

#1 Penske 11-3

#9 Ganassi 11-3

#12 Penske 10-4

#15 RLLR 8-6

#30 RLLR 6-8

#7 AMSP 5-9

#55 Coyne 4-10

#20 ECR 1-13

Conference 2 Standings:

#10 Ganassi 12-2

#28 Andretti 9-5

#18 Coyne 9-5

#22 Penske 8-6

#5 AMSP 7-7

#27 Andretti 5-9

#98 Andretti 3-11

#14 Foyt 2-12

What happened?
With Scott Dixon's victories in the two Mid-Ohio races, he locked up a playoff spot, while Josef Newgarden assured his spot with a victory in the first Mid-Ohio race. In the first Harvest Grand Prix race, Newgarden's victory over Dixon got him the #1 seed from his conference. 

Felix Rosenqvist had already locked up the #1 seed in his conference, but it was an interesting three-way battle for second. Simon Pagenaud won the two Mid-Ohio races and kept himself alive but lost the first Harvest Grand Prix race and fell a victory shy of making it a three-way tie. Santino Ferrucci went 2-1 and Ryan Hunter-Reay went 1-2 in the final three weeks, leaving the two drivers tied on 9-5 records. 

The tiebreaker was head-to-head record between the two drivers and Hunter-Reay went 2-0 over Ferrucci, defeating in Texas qualifying in week one and in the first Mid-Ohio race, meaning Hunter-Reay virtually locked out any hope of Ferrucci making the playoffs with that victory at Mid-Ohio because that meant at best they could finish tied and Hunter-Reay held the tiebreaker.

Even if Pagenaud had made it a three-way tie, Hunter-Reay would have gotten the playoff spot because the tiebreaker would be head-to-head between the three drivers. Hunter-Reay was 2-0 against Ferrucci and was 1-1 against Pagenaud, giving him a 3-1 record. Ferrucci was 2-0 against Pagenaud with victories in the first Road America race and the first Gateway race, but his record would be 2-2 and Pagenaud was 1-3. 

What about the relegation fight?
We knew the #20 ECR entry was going down in Conference #1, and it did not take look to settle Conference #2. Once Alexander Rossi defeated Dalton Kellett at the first Mid-Ohio race and Ferrucci defeated Kellett the next day, it was over. The #14 Foyt entry was going down. Bourdais did get a victory over Andretti in the first Harvest Grand Prix race after Andretti lost his engine, but it was merely a consolation prize.

The good news is the #20 ECR did get its first victory of the year in the final round when Conor Daly finished 20th, one spot ahead of Hélio Castroneves in the #7 AMSP entry. 

League Two Results

Week 12:

#88 AHSR vs. #60 MSR (9 to 6)

#21 ECR vs. #8 CGR (8 to 15)

#26 Andretti vs. #31 Carlin (Walkover)

#59 Carlin vs. #4 Foyt (16 to 21)

Week 13:

#88 AHSR vs. #26 Andretti (1 to 17)

#21 ECR vs. #59 Carlin (11 to 13)

#4 Foyt vs. #8 CGR (19 to 5) 

#31 Carlin vs. #60 MSR (Walkover)


Week 14:

#88 AHSR vs. #21 ECR (4 to 3)

#26 Andretti vs. #59 Carlin (14 to 11)

#4 Foyt vs. #31 Carlin (Walkover)

#8 CGR vs. #60 MSR (10 to 8)

League Two standings:

#88 AHSR 11-3

#21 ECR 10-4

#59 Carlin 9-5

#60 MSR 7-7

#8 Ganassi 7-7

#26 Andretti 6-8

#4 Foyt 5-9

#31 Carlin 0-11

League Two At-A-Glance:
Colton Herta was already assured promotion and with Rinus VeeKay going 3-0 in the final three weeks while Max Chilton went 2-1, the #21 ECR entry earned promotion, meaning the two ECR entries will pass each other like two ships in the night, one ascending to the top league while the other settles into the second-tier. 

Here are the tentative 16 entries that will be in League One next year:

#1 Penske 
#9 Ganassi
#10 Ganassi
#28 Andretti
#12 Penske 
#18 Coyne
#15 RLLR
#22 Penske
#30 RLLR
#27 Andretti
#55 Coyne
#98 Andretti
#88 AHSR
#21 ECR

Once again, this is tentatively. Some entries might close down. That might mean the #20 ECR or #14 Foyt could stay. Someone in League Two, like the #59 Carlin entry could get promoted or the #60 MSR entry could move up. I am not quite sure how I would rectify that issue if it arises, but I will come up with something if needed. We will set the conferences once this season is over, we know the final entrants' championship standings and when we know who will be running in 2021.

Tentative League Two entries:

#20 ECR
#14 Foyt
#59 Carlin
#60 MSR
#8 Ganassi
#26 Andretti
#4 Foyt
#31 Carlin

With all that done, and with this pandemic affected season, the playoffs were reduced to the top two from each conference, a semifinal round at the penultimate race and the championship settled in the finale. 

We split the entries from each conference, meaning the top seeds would face the second seed from the other conference.

That meant the #1 Penske faced the #28 Andretti and the two Ganassi entries matched up in the second Harvest Grand Prix. 

Newgarden ended up fourth with Hunter-Reay in 16th. 

Dixon was eighth with Rosenqvist in 11th. 

That means the head-to-head championship at St. Petersburg will come down to either Josef Newgarden or Scott Dixon, the two drivers that are battling for the actual championship. 

Last year, the head-to-head championship came down between Newgarden and Ed Jones in the #20 ECR entry, because Ed Carpenter finished ahead of Alexander Rossi at Gateway and then Dixon had his mechanical failure at Portland, allowing Jones to beat Dixon in the semifinal. The #20 ECR entry went 7-7 and was a four-seed. Newgarden was a one-seed and had the second-best record at 11-3 behind Rossi's 12-2. Newgarden beat Hinchcliffe and Pagenaud in the first two playoff rounds. In the finale, Jones never really got close to Newgarden and Newgarden took two championships, one actual and another hypothetical.

This was only year two of this theoretical competition. I was always curious how head-to-head matchups would play out. It is not as clean cut as the actual championship. A top five championship driver can have a ho-hum day and finish 10th but lose a head-to-head matchup to someone who is 19th in the championship because that driver finished ninth. 

But in the first two years, the actual IndyCar champion has made the finale. The first year, the champion was against an entry barely in the top 15 in the entrants' championship. The other two semifinalists were second and fourth in the championship and went to the Laguna Seca final with a shot at the actual title. 

This year, the other two semifinalists are currently tenth and 11th in the championship. Rosenqvist had the best record and he has only five top ten finishes from 13 races. The top five finishers from Conference #1 are all in the top seven of the championship. In Conference #2, three of the drivers in the top ten of the championship finished behind the 11th and 13th-place drivers on head-to-head matchups. Pagenaud has won a race and yet he finished behind a driver that hasn't even stood on the podium. The bottom three full-time teams in the entrants' championship had the three worst records in League One and yet the worst full-time entrant on points is staying in League One because of head-to-head results.

Strange, but sometimes strange is good. 

The championship battle between Dixon and Newgarden was already going to be on the mind of every IndyCar fan during the finale, but keep in mind the head-to-head battle during the St. Petersburg race. Newgarden might finish ahead of Dixon on the track and not score enough points to take the Astor Cup. However, that would be enough for Newgarden to take his second consecutive fictional head-to-head championship.