Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Best of the Month: August 2022

There are technically a few weeks left in Northern Hemisphere's summer, but once August ends, it feels like summer is done even if the lovely weather will remain and there is plenty of time to do many wonderful things. 

The days are becoming notable shorter. It is dark before 8:00 p.m., sunrise is after 6:00 a.m., it is still warm, but it doesn't feel the same. Plans are becoming limited. Less days out, more focus on work, some are already back in school. 

August is kind of a bummer, but motorsports provide some joy during this transitional month. There were plenty of fun things that happened this August, some of it does involve looking forward. Seasons are ending, but it is getting exciting. You never know what the future has in store.

IndyCar Silly Season
We are entering the final weeks of the IndyCar season and once the season is over, all attention will turn to 2023 and driver movement. 

It has already been an active silly season, and it began before this year's Indianapolis 500 was even run. We know there will be plenty of movement. There will also be plenty of drivers staying put, but there are still many questions unanswered and some we aren't sure what the answer will be. 

Since we only have a few more days left in the season, it is a good time to get a sense what the 2023 will look like.

Team Penske
Tentative 2023 Drivers: Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin, Will Power
Concerns: None. 
Changes: None. Penske should be keeping all three drivers and should not be expanding nor contracting. 

Chip Ganassi Racing
Tentative 2023 Drivers: Marcus Ericsson, Scott Dixon,
Concerns: Álex Palou, Jimmie Johnson
Changes: We all know about Palou's ongoing legal and contractual saga with Ganassi as the Spanish driver worked on a deal to move to McLaren with a focus on a Formula One role while possibly also being a third IndyCar driver for Arrow McLaren SP. 

Johnson's future is up in the air. While all talk is about returning for 2023, it is dependent on sponsorship and Johnson has other interests, such as the NASCAR Le Mans project. Oval results were good for Johnson, but road and street course results remained difficult to swallow. Are five potentially good days worth 12 deflating weekends? We will have to wait and see if Johnson returns. 

If neither Palou nor Johnson are retained, it is unclear what direction Ganassi will go with its car count. It seems like the #10 entry would remain. It does have NTT Data sponsorship. The #48 entry seems based on the funds Johnson brings.

Arrow McLaren SP
Tentative 2023 Drivers: Patricio O'Ward, Alexander Rossi
Concerns: Felix Rosenqvist, Álex Palou
Changes: We know Rossi is joining the team and AMSP plans to expand to three full-time cars. It is a matter of who that third driver will be. 

Prior to the Palou situation, Rosenqvist had announced he had a contract extension with the McLaren operation, but it was open to run in any series with Rosenqvist teetering between IndyCar and a possible Formula E seat as McLaren enters that series. 

With Palou potentially joining, it looked as if Palou would race in IndyCar and Rosenqvist would be sent to Formula E, but if Palou cannot get out of his Ganassi contract, or if McLaren decides it is no longer interested in the 2021 IndyCar champion, it looks as if Rosenqvist would remain in IndyCar, though it is McLaren. The third driver could be someone currently not under contract with the team. 

Andretti Autosport
Tentative 2023 Drivers: Colton Herta, Kyle Kirkwood, Romain Grosjean, Devlin DeFrancesco
Concerns: What is Colton Herta's Formula One future?
Changes: Rossi out and Kirkwood in. Andretti has quietly sealed its 2023 lineup without much fanfare.

However, the greatest concern for the team is whether or not Herta takes a step toward Formula One and creates an opening in this four-car outfit. Herta has a testing contract with McLaren, but apparently Red Bull is interested in Herta, and in a potentially weird three-team deal, Herta could move to Red Bull with a focus on the AlphaTauri program, while Pierre Gasly would move to Alpine and McLaren would get Oscar Piastri. 

With McLaren, Herta is fine in IndyCar. Would Red Bull be as willing to let the American continue in IndyCar? Consider Patricio O'Ward became a Red Bull junior driver during the middle of the 2019 season and O'Ward left IndyCar to run a Formula Two round plus a few Super Formula races at the behest of Red Bull before he was dropped from the program in a matter of months. 

If Herta is plucked out of IndyCar, where does that leave Andretti Autosport?

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Tentative 2023 Drivers: Graham Rahal, Christian Lundgaard, Jack Harvey
Concerns: Is Jack Harvey really going to be brought back for a second season?
Changes: It appears RLLR will have no changes, but with Harvey's results, you have to wonder if the team isn't considering a swap in its third seat. Rahal and Lundgaard have both run significantly better than Harvey. It could just be one bad year, but poor form isn't tolerated for long in IndyCar. I think Harvey will be safe, but it would not be a surprise if RLLR decided to strengthen its lineup with a driver change. 

Dale Coyne Racing
Tentative 2023 Drivers: David Malukas, Takuma Sato
Concerns: Neither of these drivers have been confirmed and Malukas has been hinted with some other teams, notably possibly joining Ganassi if Palou leaves. 
Changes: With the HMD Motorsports partnership, it feels probable the team could expand to three cars with Linus Lundqvist moving up from Indy Lights. If Malukas does move to another outfit, then DCR would likely remain a two-car operation with Lundqvist taking over for Malukas. 

It should be noted we aren't sure if Sato will return. That second Dale Coyne Racing seat is reliant on Rick Ware Racing's support. If Rick Ware decides he has had enough in IndyCar, then we could see changes there. We also cannot rule out Sato could call it a career at any point. He will turn 46 years old in January. At some point Sato will be satisfied with his career and decide it is time to move on. Nothing suggests that will be the case before the start of the 2023 season, but it is better to prepare for it than not.

Ed Carpenter Racing
Tentative 2023 Drivers: Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter
Concerns: Can Ed Carpenter Racing retain two full-time cars with Carpenter in an oval-only entry? Will Conor Daly still have the funding to continue full-time?
Changes: VeeKay will remain. Daly, as he has been for his entire IndyCar career, remains a question mark. Daly found the funding for his 2022 seat through a cryptocurrency sponsor, however, with the volatility of cryptocurrency, it is suspect to think Daly and ECR aren't walking on eggshells. If things tank out more it could leave Daly on the outside and ECR forced to look for another driver to fill the #20 entry. 

Meyer Shank Racing
Tentative 2023 Drivers: Simon Pagenaud, Hélio Castroneves
Concerns: Was this lineup good enough in 2022 to retain for 2023?
Changes: No changes, but the look for Meyer Shank Racing in 2024 will likely be different from its 2023 lineup. Pagenaud will likely be around, but it is Castroneves that is the question mark. The Brazilian is 47 years old and will turn 48 years old next May. His return to full-time IndyCar competition hasn't been inspiring, and it seems clear MSR knows 2024 will see a shakeup. 

MSR will be testing its Acura sports car driver Tom Blomqvist in an IndyCar this offseason. The team has already tested Formula E champion Nyck de Vries, though de Vries remains a Mercedes-contracted driver and could land in Formula One. MSR also had Stoffel Vandoorne drive for it at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Plenty of notable names have come through the team. One of those drivers could become MSR's IndyCar future.

Juncos Hollinger Racing
Tentative 2023 Drivers: Callum Ilott
Concerns: Nothing jumps to mind.
Changes: None. Ilott announced he would return to JHR for the 2023 season. The only questions revolve around whether or not JHR has the capabilities to expand to a multi-car team next year or in the near future. Ilott has shown good pace in his rookie season, but this is the only single-car team on the grid. An extra entry should help this group become more competitive, especially if a veteran IndyCar driver is paired with the Brit. 

A.J. Foyt Racing
Tentative 2023 Drivers: ... Good question.
Concerns: Everything. 
Changes: We aren't sure what A.J. Foyt Racing will look like next year. It doesn't have any major sponsors tied to the team. Dalton Kellett brings funding. Kyle Kirkwood was covered with the ROKiT sponsorship that Tatiana Calderón brought, but ROKiT wasn't paying the team and dropped off Kirkwood's car before Mid-Ohio and Calderón's season ended at Mid-Ohio earlier this summer. 

Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. As long as Kellett's money is still good, the team has no reason to move on from him, though results have been dismal. Indy Lights driver Benjamin Pedersen has been linked to a full-time ride with Foyt next year, but I am not sure how much fifth in the Indy Lights championship will lift the team's results. Drivers aren't lining up to join the Foyt team, at least not big names from outside IndyCar who could possibly achieve respectable results. 

The most likely 2023 Foyt driver lineup will likely be the obvious driver lineup, Kellett and Pedersen, but with this team's standing, any driver who has checks that clear could end up with this squad. 

What is a realistic early picture for the 2023 grid?
The full-time grid will likely be between 24-26 entries again. Ganassi could shrink to a three-car team while Coyne expands to three cars. I don't think anyone can feel confident about what Foyt does next. That could be a one-car team, it could be a two-car team, maybe it finds drivers with sponsors that pay, and it is back to three cars. 

Outside of AMSP expanding and Coyne potentially expanding, I think the rest of the grid is staying put. MSR will stay at two cars and unless someone is bringing a boat load of money, JHR will remain the same. 

There doesn't seem to be as much international interest in IndyCar as previous seasons. Last year saw Christian Lundgaard and Callum Ilott turn to IndyCar. We really haven't seen any serious links between a Formula Two driver and an IndyCar team this silly season. Names such as Marcus Armstrong and even Formula Two championship leader Felipe Drugovich have been mentioned as guys who have put feelers toward IndyCar, but we haven't heard of any serious tests being lined up, and Drugovich has recently stated he would want a Formula One reserve role if a race seat was unavailable. We will have to wait and see as offseason tests take place. 

This could be an offseason where drivers change seats, but we don't see many new faces. A lot of drivers are staying put and there aren't many drivers that we know will be leaving for 2023. The likes of Rosenqvist and Palou are question marks, but both could remain on the grid for 2023. Considering the depth of the grid, everyone staying put would be good for the series.

Project 91
Kimi Räikkönen's NASCAR Cup Series debut at Watkins Glen will be one of the highlights of August 2022. It was an exceptional thing to view. Räikkönen came in and was engaging. He was competitive and with the changing conditions we got to see the Finn's world championship talent in full. 

The only downside was it end prematurely when Räikkönen was caught in an accident in the middle of the race. 

The good news is Trackhouse plans to expand Project 91 to six to eight races in 2023 after using Räikkönen's run as an introduction. Many drivers have reportedly reached out to the team from a variety series. Some drivers were even raising their hands on social media during the Watkins Glen weekend for the opportunity. 

It is exciting to see what comes next with this program and six to eight races is a healthy experiment allowing a few notable names to make a NASCAR cameo in front of thousands of fans and create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those in attendance. 

What are some possible Project 91 entries we could see in 2023? Let's come up with eight. 

Driver #1
Driver: Hélio Castroneves
Race: Daytona 500
Why: Superstar Racing Experience CEO Don Hawk said he would get Castroneves a Daytona 500 entry if Castroneves won an SRX main event this year. Castroneves won the season opener at Five Flags Speedway. This makes all the sense of the world for Hawk and Trackhouse to put this together. Castroneves would have to qualify on speed, but Trackhouse can put together a respectable entry. It would be better than many other one-offs. Castroneves is a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner. Put him in there. 

Driver #2
Driver: Mark Webber
Race: Bristol Dirt
Why: You might not remember this, but Mark Webber was supposed to compete in the inaugural SRX season before travel restrictions meant Webber could not compete in the series. It has been a few years. Travel is more open than before. Webber would have raced on dirt in SRX. Let's get him on dirt now.

Driver #3
Driver: Nick Tandy
Race: Martinsville
Why: Tandy has been a NASCAR fan for years and has expressed interest in doing a race, specifically an oval. He grew up racing on ovals in England. Tandy is a Corvette factory driver, so this shouldn't be hard to organize. Many road course drivers have run well at Martinsville. Two birds with one stone. 

Driver #4
Driver: Jordan Taylor
Race: Austin
Why: A few years ago, Taylor apparently had a Cup ride lined up for a road course only for NASCAR to deny Taylor eligibility because being a multi-time IMSA champion, Le Mans class winner and overall 24 Hours of Daytona winner wasn't good enough. Well, Taylor has run a few more years, won some more races and he is more than capable to run a road course race now. Like Tandy, Taylor is a Corvette factory driver. This should happen in a snap. 

Driver #5
Driver: Jenson Button
Race: Sonoma
Why: There aren't many standout Formula One drivers that have recently retired that fit this seat. No active Formula One drivers are going to do this, and Daniel Ricciardo wants to be in Formula One next year, so cross him out. But Button is retired and lives in Southern California. It wouldn't take much to get him to Sonoma and he is a past world champion. It fits what Project 91 wants. 

Driver #6
Driver: Shane Van Gisbergen
Race: Chicago Street Race
Why: Arguably the best driver competing in Australia, Van Gisbergen is leading the Supercars championship and is on his way to a third championship. Van Gisbergen is more than Supercars. He has won in GT3 competition, taking the 2016 Blancpain GT Endurance Series championship. He has run in IMSA before and was second in GTD at the 2015 24 Hours of Daytona and made his debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. Van Gisbergen has plenty of street course starts. Chicago would be perfect for him. 

Driver #7
Driver: Scott McLaughlin
Race: Indianapolis 
Why: Because as good as Van Gisbergen is, McLaughlin is better. A four-time Supercars champion, McLaughlin is winning in his sophomore IndyCar season. He is competitive on ovals. This would require Roger Penske's blessing, but I am sure the two sides could work something out to let McLaughlin run in Penske's backyard. 

Driver #8
Driver: Mike Conway
Race: Watkins Glen
Why: Conway has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, two World Endurance Drivers' championships, four IndyCar races, including as a surprise entry for Dale Coyne Racing, and he has been respectable in IMSA competition as a third driver in endurance races for the Action Express Racing program. Conway is an under-appreciated talent. The Toyota connection might get in the way, but after seeing what Conway has done in other series, a solid NASCAR race is possible. 

That is eight drivers and eight races. The fun will be seeing what actually occurs in the 2023 season and if any of these are correct.

September Preview
September means the end of another MotoE season, and this year's championship was made up of six doubleheader rounds. The finale will be the first weekend in September at Misano. 

It is only a two-horse race for this year's championship, but it is between the clear top two riders in the 2022 season. 

Dominique Aegerter leads the championship with 194 points. Aegerter has three victories, five runner-up finishes, a third and a fourth. The Swiss rider was second last year after contact with championship rival Jordi Torres in the final race at Misano earned Aegerter a 38-second penalty and cost him the championship by seven points. 

With 50 points left on the table, the only rider capable of overtaking Aegerter is Eric Granado, who has won five races, including three consecutive victories, but three finishes off the podium, including two results outside the top five, have Granado 17.5 points behind Aegerter. 

This is Granado's fourth season in MotoE and he has won ten times. He was third in the inaugural MotoE season in 2019. Aegerter was third in the 2020 MotoE season before finishing second last year. He was also the 2021 World Supersport Champion and leads the 2022 World Supersport with nine victories from 12 races and there are 12 races remaining in that season.

Other events of note in September
Two IndyCar races: Portland and Laguna Seca. 
Formula One rounds out its European portion of the season at Zandvoort and Monza. 
MotoGP has Misano and Aragón before heading to Motegi.
NASCAR has the Southern 500 lead off its first round of the playoff. 
The FIA World Endurance Championship returns to Fuji for the first time since 2019, and it will be the penultimate round of the 2022 season. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Musings From the Weekend: Could NASCAR End by Labor Day?

Formula One returned from its summer break, and Max Verstappen effectively ended the championship with his ninth victory of the season in the Belgian Grand Prix, this one coming from 14th on the grid. Ferrari is useless. Daniel Ricciardo is leaving McLaren. Apparently, Red Bull wants Colton Herta now. Marcus Ericsson knows it all. NASCAR battled three days of rain, and a driver who was no worse than 11th in the Cup championship through 26 races and was ranked in the top ten for 25 of 26 races, will now finish no better than 17th in the championship. Elsewhere, brothers had a good day in Germany. Verstappen wasn't the only impressive drive from the rear of the field. There were some sports car races. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Could NASCAR End by Labor Day?
August is disappearing quickly, and with September comes football season, although it is basically already here.

Preseason games concluded over the weekend, and a few of those games clashed with motorsports. On Saturday night, in a few notable markets, preseason games took precedence over the NASCAR Cup race from Daytona on those local NBC affiliates. 

In the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. markets, the race was going to be joined in progress after the football games were over had the race not already been delayed due to rain. In Phoenix and Baltimore, the race was going to be broadcasted on other local channels and the same was the case for Tampa and Orlando/Daytona Beach. The folks in Daytona Beach wouldn't have been able to watch the Daytona race on their local NBC affiliate. I am sure that is how Big Bill France always dreamed it would be.

Though NASCAR should avoid having races preempted for the final ten weeks of the season, nine of the final ten races are during the NFL season and will go against football. The Saturday night Bristol race is the only one that avoids professional football but does go against plenty of college football. 

Football is king in the United States, and it is difficult for any sport to draw an audience against it. The average viewer has its television migration pattern set once it turns to September and the temperatures begin to drop. Everyone flocks to football regardless of what else is on and how appealing it may be. 

Thought experiment: could NASCAR end by Labor Day? 

It would be a shock to the NASCAR season, but for a series that runs nearly every race at Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern to maximize television audience and has done away with almost all of its night races, wouldn't NASCAR look to maximize its season and avoid its biggest challenger, especially for the end of the season when the championship is decided? 

The NASCAR championship is completely overshadowed ending in November. No matter the format, the final races of the NASCAR season are not going to draw additional attention during football season. NASCAR changed the format so four drivers would be alive for the championship in the final race with the best finisher of the four claiming the title to make sure the championship would basically always come down to the final lap of the season. Despite these changes, it hasn't meant more people are tuning in for the finale. The finale's audience has declined since this change. 

For a series that goes until the first Sunday in November, ending in the first week of September requires a massive calendar shift. It would likely require the season to start earlier, but the problem is football season now brushes against the start of the NASCAR season. With the Super Bowl now the second weekend in February, there is no off week between the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500. 

Looking to 2023, from the Sunday after the Super Bowl through Labor Day there are 29 weekends. Not quite enough for 36 races. But let's creative with this. How could NASCAR make this work?

1. Expand a few weekends into the end of football season
It sounds crazy to race during the NFL playoffs, but the last three weekends of the NFL season consist of just three games on two days plus the Pro Bowl. The Saturday of conference championship game weekend is open. You can race against the Pro Bowl. You can even race the Saturday before the Super Bowl. 

There are three additional weekends right there. But you cannot make anymore. The divisional round in the NFL playoffs takes place over a Saturday and a Sunday. In theory, with the divisional round games not starting until 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and 3:00 p.m. ET on the Sunday, NASCAR could squeeze an early afternoon race in, but any weather delay means going head-to-head with playoff games and that isn't smart. 

2. Doubleheaders
For some reason most American motorsports fans despise doubleheader weekends, but they increased value to a weekend, and they make a lot of sense. I must admit I do not see the point of a track hosting two regular season races on separate weekends for the Cup Series. If a track has two races one should be in the regular season and the other should be in the playoffs. Two regular season races on two different weekends are wasteful. Just run them on the same weekend and get the track out of the way. 

3. No Clash and No All-Star Race
Get rid of those two exhibitions and now NASCAR isn't wasting two weekends on races that pay no points. 

4. The Daytona 500 would not be the season opener
Don't worry, you will live. 

Using 2023 as the template, how could NASCAR end by Labor Day weekend?

1. January 27 - Fontana
Taking advantage of the warm weather, Fontana opens the season on a Saturday evening. This works because Fontana has lights and NASCAR could go all night to avoid having to run Sunday against the NFL conference championship games. This works whether Fontana is a 2-mile oval or if it is converted to a short track. 

2. and 3. February 4-5 - Phoenix
For this to work, there will need to be doubleheaders. With a season ending in early September, Phoenix doesn't work as a season finale. Phoenix can host a race from the middle of October through the end of April and then it becomes too hot to handle. It is a tough pill to swallow but a doubleheader can still be a great event. 

4. February 11 - Sonoma
It is the day before the Super Bowl and it is on a road course that way if it rains the race can get in and significantly decreases the chance of the race moving to Super Bowl Sunday, though even Super Bowl Sunday wouldn't be bad. The race could be over with still four hours of pregame to spare. 

5. February 19 - Daytona 500
It would be different with the Daytona 500 being the fifth race of the season, but it would still be the week after the Super Bowl, having four races to build up to the Daytona 500 wouldn't be bad and we could still have the qualifying races on Thursday. Not all change is bad. 

6. February 26 - Homestead
Let's keep the teams in Florida. Besides, with the season ending by Labor Day, Homestead doesn't work as a playoff race in August. 

7. and 8. March 4-5 - Las Vegas
Like Phoenix, Las Vegas no longer works with a summer playoff. It has two races; it gets a doubleheader. Again, it is a chance for a big weekend. Run a pair of 500-kilometer races, run one on Saturday evening and the other on Sunday afternoon. 

9. March 12 - Austin
Better weather than most of the country for the final weekend of winter and another early road course race. Not a bad thing. 

10. March 19 - Darlington
NASCAR ran at Darlington in mid-to-late March for the entire 1990s into the early 2000s. It works.

11. March 26 - Texas
This is where I admit it would be very difficult for NASCAR to condense its season to late-January through Labor Day weekend. NASCAR has warm weather venues, but not enough warm weather venues. In this case, Texas is this damn close to Austin. It doesn't make much sense but there aren't many other great choices. Bristol and Martinsville in March have both had bad weather. You cannot move Dover or Pocono to March. Even the Dallas/Fort Worth area gets rough weather in March. But it is the best of the options that are remaining. 

12. and 13. April 1-2 - Atlanta
This sounds nuts considering how Atlanta has been reconfigured and the current technical package makes it a pack race but if a track is going to have two regular season races, just do them on the same weekend. Plus, with Talladega in the playoffs, it doesn't make any sense to have Talladega and Atlanta each in the playoffs. Give Atlanta a pair of 500-kilometer races instead.

14. April 16 - Talladega
Even with this condensed schedule, NASCAR could still find time to take Easter off and then return with Talladega in the middle of April. Perfect. 

15. April 22-23 - Kansas
To make this work, NASCAR needs four doubleheader weekends in the regular season. Kansas has two races. Kansas doesn't need a playoff race. Kansas gets a doubleheader. 

16. April 29 - Martinsville
Martinsville gets a night race in the middle of spring. 

17. May 7 - Pocono
Pocono is hard to fit in this schedule. May is a little early where the weather in the Northeast can still be unpredictable. Not that it could snow on May 7, just rain a lot. But Pocono isn't keeping its July date and becoming a playoff race, and Pocono makes more sense than some other tracks for the first weekend in May (see Michigan).

18. May 14 - Watkins Glen
A spring Northeast swing takes place in May. Again, the weather could be iffy in the Finger Lakes region, but there is a reason Watkins Glen had to move from its summer date. A lot of concession would have to be made to make this schedule happen. This is one of them. 

19. May 21 - Bristol
I don't care if it is on dirt or concrete, the spring Bristol race suffers when it is held in late-March or early-April when the nice weather has yet to consistently roll in. Middle of May should be good enough for Bristol, regardless of the surface. 

20. May 28 - Charlotte 
After what could be the Bristol dirt race is the Coca-Cola 600. That is a pretty good one-two combo to promote for May and combined with Watkins Glen it is a stellar trio of races.

21. June 4 - Gateway
Gateway can stay put where it was scheduled for 2022. 

22. and 23. June 10-11 - Richmond
The final doubleheader of the season. It is a pair of short track races. One night, one day, everyone gets one of what they like. These are crucial races at the end of the regular season. 

25. June 18 - Michigan
We need to fit Michigan in somewhere. It returns to the middle of June where it was for basically 50 years. 

26. June 24 - Daytona
The regular season still ends at Daytona, but now it is the weekend before Independence Day weekend so it is close to where it belongs. 

27. July 2 - Chicago Street Race
I hate that Road America is gone as well, but the Chicago street race is happening (we think). It might only last a year or two or three tops, but let's start the playoffs with a street race. That is beginning with a bang. 

28. July 9 - Loudon
Like many tracks, Loudon has to fit somewhere. It would be tough to do it in May and couldn't be done much earlier than May. Loudon was a playoff race before and it is a good track. It gets to be in round one. 

29. July 16 - Nashville
NASCAR would be smart to end a playoff round in Nashville, though the 1.333-mile concrete oval is about 40 minutes outside the city. But if this race does move to the Nashville Fairgrounds, no one would complain about ending round one on a short track. 

30. July 23 - Dover
Round two begins in Delaware, and this might feel off, but you have to pick your poison with these races. Do you run Dover in May and Pocono in the playoffs instead? No. What about swapping Dover for Michigan? You aren't excited about that either. Nobody wants Texas in the playoffs. You get Dover and Dover is a wild card race of sorts, as it is a high-banked concrete oval. Live with it. 

31. July 30 - Talladega
Talladega would always be in the playoffs and if NASCAR is willing to boil spectators racing at Atlanta in July, it could easily return to boiling spectators at Talladega in July. The second Talladega race was held in either July or August from 1970 through 1996. Maybe NASCAR puts lights up around the 2.66-mile oval and it could become a night race. 

32. August 6 - Bristol
Round two ends at Bristol and talk about a one-two punch. Talladega and Bristol to end a playoff round. You know you want to see it. 

33. August 13 - Indianapolis
This might frustrate you, but when else can Indianapolis happen? It cannot take place in April or May, and June is too close to the Indianapolis 500. It is basically forced to be a playoff race, and that might not be a bad thing. It would have to return to the oval but imagine the Brickyard 400 being one of the races to decide who will race for the championship. Doesn't sound so bad now, does it?

34. August 20 - Charlotte Roval
Originally, I had Watkins Glen keeping this date and the Charlotte roval running May 21 the week prior to the Coca-Cola 600 and making it a two-week Charlotte celebration with Bristol on May 14. But I think people would be upset with that even if Watkins Glen is just as suitable for this spot in the playoffs as Charlotte. I also had a tough time believing Charlotte Motor Speedway would want its races on consecutive weekends and I am not sure a week to convert the track from road course to oval is enough time. This is one of the concessions that had to be made.

35. August 26 - Martinsville
No change here. Penultimate race of the season is a Saturday night race at Martinsville, albeit two months earlier than now. 

36. September 3 - Darlington
Would there be a better test to determine a champion than the Southern 500? 

One, we know it would get a great crowd. 

Two, it is an iconic event. Every driver wants to win it. It doesn't require any additional promotion and it would crowd the champion at one of NASCAR's most famous tracks. 

Three, it would be demanding. To be the champion would require the best night of driver's life. It would be the most rewarding feeling to become champion after such a race. 

The last few years has shown NASCAR is more open to new ideas than ever before. With contract negotiations for new television deals coming soon, NASCAR could stand to benefit from ending before football season started. It would open itself up to more bidders as networks would know it wouldn't have to go against the NFL. Plus, it would put the most important races of the NASCAR season in the heart of the summer when the biggest sports competition is baseball. It is a fertile soil for NASCAR to bloom in and potentially be the star of American sports summer. 

This isn't going to happen, but if NASCAR really wanted to commit its scheduling revolution, it would make sure its championship isn't buried beneath seven miles of football coverage. It needs to make sure it has a spotlight and that could require the greatest scheduling shift imaginable. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Max Verstappen, but did you know...

Liam Lawson and Jack Doohan split the Formula Two races from Spa-Francorchamps. Oliver Bearman and Zane Mahoney split the Formula Three races.

Austin Dillon won the NASCAR Cup race from Daytona. Jeremy Clements won the Grand National Series race, his second career victory and his first since Road America 2017.

The #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche of Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet won the IMSA race from Virginia International Raceway. The #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG of Russell Ward and Phillip Ellis won in GT Daytona.

The #12 Calsonic Team Impul Nissan of Kazuki Hiramine and Bertrand Baguette won the Super GT race from Suzuka from last on the grid. The #4 Goodsmile Racing & Team Ukyo Mercedes-AMG of Tatsuya Kataoka and Nobuteru Taniguchi won in GT300.

The #9 Prema Racing Oreca-Gibson of Lorenzo Colombo, Louis Delétraz and Ferdinand Habsburg won the 4 Hours of Barcelona, its third victory of the season. The #13 Inter Europol Competition of Charles Crews, Guilherme Oliveira and Nico Pino won in Ligier-Nissan LMP3 class, its second consecutive victory. The #77 Proton Competition Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni, Lorenzo Ferrari and Christian Ried won in the GTE class, its second consecutive victory.

Sheldon van der Linde and Luca Stolz split the  Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from the Nürburgring. It was Stolz's first DTM victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar's penultimate race from Portland. 
Formula One dives into a sea of orange at Zandvoort. 
NASCAR has the Southern 500 from Darlington. 
Andrea Dovizioso makes his final MotoGP start at Misano.
GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Series visits Hockenheim. 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

2022 Formula E Season Review

A few weeks ago, the Formula E season concluded in Seoul, South Korea. The championship again went down to the final race and it was another highly successful season for Formula E.

Nine drivers won a race from seven different teams. Formula E visited two new venues and returned to Asia after a lengthy delay due to the pandemic. Though not as many drivers were in the championship picture entering the final races, Formula E still had a highly contested fight between some of the top competitors in the series. 

With the silverware awarded, this is a chance to go back to what was written before the first race of the season and see how the year unfolded. Who performed better than expected and who met expectations? Who were we wrong about? Were there any other strange circumstances this season?

A lot can change over 16 races. Though this year mostly ran a steady course. 

Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team - 319 points
Stoffel Vandoorne: #5 Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows 02 (1st: 213 points)
What was expected in this season: Vandoorne led Valencia testing in November. This might be Mercedes' final season before withdrawing from Formula E, but I expect it will continue to be at the top and winning races. Vandoorne will be more in the championship fight than last season. Multiple victories are highly possible.

How wrong was it: Vandoorne only won once, at Monaco, but he had eight podium finishes and he finished in the points in 15 of 16 races, 13 of which were top five finishes. That was enough to take the Formula E championship. He very well could have won more races, but consistency paid off and the Belgian was the best driver this season.

Nyck de Vries: #17 Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows 02 (9th: 106 points)
What was expected in this season: With how the 2021 championship played out due to the qualifying format and the top drivers constantly being rotated into the worst qualifying groups, the championship was closer than it should have been. Without that qualifying format, de Vries likely would have still been champion, but with a more dominant season. He should win multiple races again, and possibly more than last season. Both Mercedes drivers are top tier drivers for the 2022 title. 

How wrong was it: De Vries won multiple races, but results were tough. He won the season opener in Saudi Arabia and won the second Berlin race but his only other podium result was third in the second London race. He didn't have any other top five finishes and he retired from four races. It is slightly disappointing de Vries couldn't be closer to Vandoorne.

ROKiT Venturi Racing - 295 points
Lucas di Grassi: #11 Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows 02 (5th: 126 points)
What was expected in this season: After a difficult 2019-20 season, di Grassi bounced back in 2021. After six seasons in the Audi Team Abt lineup, this is a significant change for the Brazilian. Di Grassi has been one of Formula E's best. He will have a formidable challenge in his own team with Edoardo Mortara. The battle will be for best in the team.

How wrong was it: There were only one position between the Venturi drivers. di Grassi did win a race and had four podium results. He wasn't far off his teammate and both did slightly better than expected.

Edoardo Mortara: #48 Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows 02 (3rd: 169 points)
What was expected in this season: Mortara was quick in testing, but despite Mortara coming up just short of the Drivers' Championship. Venturi was still only seventh in the Teams' Championship. Mortara will be good, somewhere in the top ten in the championship, but I am not sure the team will be consistent enough to have him come out on top.

How wrong was it: Venturi did better than expected. It got both drivers in the top five of the championship. Mortara won four times, tied for the most this season, but a few rough patches kept him from being a champion. Still an impressive year with good pace shown.

DS Techeetah - 266 points
António Félix da Costa: #13 DS E-TENSE FE20 (8th: 122 points)
What was expected in this season: After consecutive Teams' Championships, 2021 was a down year for Teechetah, however, 2022 should be a more competitive season. Da Costa should be further up the running order. It will be tough to reclaim the title, but he will not be as inconsequential.

How wrong was it: After being eighth in 2021, da Costa was eighth again in 2022. There was one more race in the 2022 season, and da Costa did score 36 more points, but it was nearly identical results to 2021. One victory, same as last year. Two podium finishes, one fewer than last year. One pole position, same as last year. Da Costa did finish in the points 12 times after only finishing in the points seven times last year. He had a good year, but not much closer to great. 

Jean-Éric Vergne: #25 DS E-TENSE FE20 (4th: 144 points)
What was expected in this season: Better results and more pole positions. Prior to the 2021 qualifying format, he won three pole positions in 2017-18 and twice in 2019-20. With Techeetah, Vergne has been a regular contender until the final races. He will be up there and winning races.

How wrong was it: Vergne was up there but didn't win any races. He had five podium finishes, but couldn't quite get a victory. His slump in Brooklyn and London killed any title hopes, which he had until the final races of the season. He did win two pole positions, one more than last year.

Jaguar TCS Racing - 231 points
Mitch Evans: #9 Jaguar I-Type 5 (2nd: 180 points)
What was expected in this season: Evans should continue to be toward the top of the field and should be competing for podium finishes. There should be a race or two where he is fighting for a race victory. The team must be a little more consistent to turn Evans into a championship contender.

How wrong was it: Evans won four times, tied for most victories with Mortara, and Evans took the championship to the final race. Jaguar was more consistent. Evans had six podium finishes and finished in the points 12 times. However, Vandoorne was nearly flawless. Evans had his best year in Formula E and was up there for the entire season. Second is a fitting championship result. 
Sam Bird: #10 Jaguar I-Type 5 (13th: 51 points)
What was expected in this season: Bird always finds a way to win in Formula E. I don't expect that to change. Unfortunately, Bird always finds a way to fall out of the championship battle. Jaguar looks good but has some work to do to be great. If it cleans that up, Bird could break through and get that elusive championship. If not, expect him to be somewhere in the top ten of the final standings. 

How wrong was it: Bird had his worst season in Formula E. Zero victories, zero podium finishes and he never looked like a title hopeful. To add injury to insult, a broken wrist at London knocked him out of the Seoul season finale and he ended up 13th in the championship. Norman Nato replaced Bird for Seoul and was 13th and 14th in those races.

Envision Racing - 194 points
Robin Frijns: #4 Audi e-Tron FE07 (7th: 126 points)
What was expected in this season: Frijns should win a race or two. He was one of the better drivers in 2021 and if it wasn't for the qualifying format, he would have had a better chance at fighting for the title in the Berlin doubleheader finale. We will see two Dutch drivers trading blows for the championship.

How wrong was it: Frijns was slightly better than de Vries, but they really weren't fighting for the championship. Frijns did finish on the podium four times, but did not win a race. He scored points in 11 races. But he just didn't have enough to be a title contender this year. 

Nick Cassidy: #37 Audi e-Tron FE07 (11th: 68 points)
What was expected in this season: The New Zealander will have plenty of strong races and regularly score points. There will be days he is the top Envision finisher, but Frijns will be difficult to beat, and Cassidy's Formula E inexperience will get the better of him in some battles. Overall, his sophomore season will be an improvement.

How wrong was it: Four positions better but eight points fewer in the championship. Is that an improvement for Cassidy? He did win a race in Brooklyn, albeit after being caught in a monsoon, having an accident only for the red flag save his day. He wasn't really much better in terms of competitiveness compared to last year. It felt pretty similar, which isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t the jump that was expected. 

Avalanche Andretti Formula E - 150 points
Jake Dennis: #27 BMW IFE.21 (6th: 126 points) 
What was expected in this season: Dennis quietly won two races in 2021 and quietly had a shot at the championship. BMW has pulled its funding from the Andretti Formula E operation, but the team is keeping the drive train. We know this car can win. We also know there are races where it out to lunch. Dennis showed good pace in testing. If the team can limit the bad days, Dennis could make significantly more noise than last year.

How wrong was it: Dennis out-perform the equipment for another season. Sixth in the championship with a victory and four podium finishes, plus he had 12 points finishes. Dennis carried the Andretti organization. I do think Andretti found something in the final few rounds of the season and the team was trending in the right direction. 

Oliver Askew: #28 BMW IFE.21 (16th: 24 points)
What was expected in this season: Moving from internal combustion engine racing and IndyCar, Askew is out of his element, but his testing results were promising. There will be some rough days, but it will click on a few weekends, and he will get top ten results. However, it is likely Askew will be outside the championship top ten and there will be distance between him and Dennis.

How wrong was it: Askew was outside the top ten in the championship and only scored points in three races, but he had strong runs to get two top five results before the season was over. The American was ten positions and 102 points behind his teammate Dennis. 

TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team - 134 points
André Lotterer: #36 Porsche 99X Electric (12th: 63 points)
What was expected in this season: Lotterer and Porsche just seem to be unable to get out of their own way. In the last two seasons, the pairing finds a way to get one or two great results, and then it falls off. The team has been characterized with slow starts and better finishes. Testing results were not fantastic. The team will score points, but not in handfuls. 

How wrong was it: Lotterer was 12th in the championship with 63 points. The season started well, but Mexico City was Porsche's one great race. Lotterer was picking off finishes at the back of the points. That got him something, but not points in bunches and he closed the year with only one points result in the final seven races. 

Pascal Wehrlein: #94 Porsche 99X Electric (10th: 71 points)
What was expected in this season: Like Lotterer, a few strong races, but some otherwise disappointing races. Wehrlein will score points, but not enough to keep up with the big boys. A Puebla repeat could occur, but without the exclusion from the final results.

How wrong was it: Wehrlein's season looks almost exactly like last year except he repeated the Puebla result in Mexico City and wasn't excluded from the final results. Eerie. Porsche was ok. It could finish in the top ten but it wasn't a challenger. 

Mahindra Racing - 46 points
Alexander Sims: #29 Mahindra M7Electro (17th: 14 points)
What was expected in this season: Mahindra is coming off finishing ninth in the Teams' Championship each of the last two years. Testing results were encouraging, but Sims has finished 13th, 13th and 19th in the championship in his three Formula E seasons. I am not sure he will score his career best championship finish. If he does, it is a stretch to think he will crack the top ten.

How wrong was it: Sims was where we have seen him in Formula E. He only scored points in two races and his fourth in the second Brooklyn race was an aberration of his season and Mahindra's season entirely.

Oliver Rowland: #30 Mahindra M7Electro (14th: 32 points)
What was expected in this season: Rowland is making a big shift to Mahindra. He was fourth in Valencia testing, but Mahindra yo-yoed a bit over the two test days. He has been consistently good in Formula E, and had a few standout results last year when Nissan had a bad year. He should come out best in the team, but I think bottom half of the top ten is the best he can do in the championship.

How wrong was it: Rowland didn't really threaten for the top ten in the championship. A second in the first Seoul race boosted his championship position. Rowland retired from eight of 16 races. Yikes. 

Nissan e.dams - 36 points
Maximillian Günther: #22 Nissan IM02 (19th: 6 points)
What was expected in this season: After finishing tenth out of 12 teams in 2021, Nissan's testing did not leave much to be excited about. It had a few good days in 2021, but those were rare. Good days will remain hard to come by, and it those will likely not come with Günther.

How wrong was it: Günther had two finishes in the points. His best finish was eighth. He did finish 11th or 12th in four races, so there were a few other results close to points, but close doesn’t pay a thing. 

Sébastien Buemi: #23 Nissan IM02 (15th: 30 points)
What was expected in this season: Nissan might not be the strongest team, but Buemi is not going to be as bad as he was in 2021. He should lead the Nissan team, but for Buemi to get back into the top ten of the championship he will need a string of fortunate races.

How wrong was it: Fortunate races did not come, but Buemi did pick off more points than his teammate. The Swiss driver had six points finishes, not great but he was working with a slow car. 

NIO 333 FE Team - 7 points
Oliver Turvey: #3 NIO 333 001 (18th: 6 points)
What was expected in this season: While Turvey had one good session in Valencia, NIO was regularly at the bottom of the timesheet in testing. Turvey did prove last year he could put together a few results. Some of those might have been aided with the qualifying format. If he cracks ten points again, it will be a great season. 

How wrong was it: Not quite ten points, but six points for a seventh in the second Rome race and that was it. That is what we expect for NIO. It can have one good race a year. 

Dan Ticktum: #33 NIO 333 001 (21st: 1 point)
What was expected in this season: Ticktum was at the bottom of every test session. Any points scored will be a victory but knowing Ticktum the frustration will get the better of him. 

How wrong was it: Ticktum scored a point in the second Rome race, and really didn't throw a tantrum. I am sure it was frustrating but Ticktum didn't let it show.

Dragon/Penske Autosport - 2 points
Sérgio Sette Câmara: #7 Penske EV-5 (20th: 2 points)
What was expected in this season: Testing was not great for Dragon. Sixteen points will be hard to match in 2022, and a fourth-place result appears to be unfathomable. 

How wrong was it: Dragon never came close to fourth. It barely finished ninth. 

Antonio Giovinazzi: #99 Penske EV-5 (23rd: 0 points)
What was expected in this season: The Italian is moving from one of the bottom teams in Formula One to one of the bottom teams in Formula E. He had two points-paying finishes in 2021 driving for Alfa Romeo. Two points-playing finishes might be a great season in 2022 with Dragon.

How wrong was it: Giovinazzi retired from eight of 15 starts. He missed the final race due to a hand injury and Sacha Fenestraz drove to a 16th-place finish. Giovinazzi's best finish this season was 16th at Monaco.

Where Are We Now?
After the saturation of parity and 15 drivers being alive for the championship entering the final round in 2021, this season featured a proper championship battle with the best drivers coming out on top each race. It was still an open battle entering the final race weekends, but Vandoorne's consistency was too much to overcome. It would have required someone being phenomenal in the final five or six races to beat the Belgian, and that didn't happen. Evans slipped up. Mortara slipped up. Vergne slipped up. They let Vandoorne runaway with it in a sense. 

An interesting note is only 22 drivers contested a race this season and the two extra drivers both came in as injury substitutes in the final round of the season. Part of that is due to Formula E finding balance with the FIA World Endurance Championship and a few other sports car series that its drivers also frequent for employment, but I also think the teams are changing their hiring strategies. Drivers are making Formula E their commitment and teams are committing to drivers. Teams aren't seeing any added value in rotating drivers. I think that shows a stable and growing series.

There were plenty of strong Formula E races this year. Formula E does a good job of having interesting races. The only problem is the Formula E season does feel too spread out to gain any traction and once it hits May every other series is in action and it makes it more difficult for Formula E to standout. 

Formula E had a good thing going when it would start in October or November and end in May or June. However, in recent years it has been a January start and an August finish. It kind of found its niche running when other top series was off and now it competes with the rest of the world for much of the spring and summer. 

The 2023 season will run more in the winter. Mexico City opens the year on January 14 before a Saudi Arabia doubleheader two weeks later. The inaugural Formula E round in India is set for February 25 and there are two TBAs for the end of February and mid-March. But eight race weekends are still scheduled for spring and summer. There are still three TBAs on the schedule and Formula E doesn't have a great history filling TBAs. More times than not it feels like those race weekends don't happen. 

Next year will be the tenth season for Formula E, a historic accomplishment for the series, but this will be a transition year. On the current schedule, there is no American round, no British round, a Vancouver round never materialized for 2022 and isn't included for 2023. A South American round hasn't been held since January 18, 2020. A São Paulo round is on the provisional 2023 schedule, but we have seen multiple Brazilian rounds scheduled only not to happen before, including in the inaugural season. Brazil has yet to host Formula E. 

In ten years, Formula E has found events it can count on, but it is still struggling to branch out and have a firmer foundation. 

Next season will see a big shift on the grid. Mercedes is gone after three seasons. McLaren is entering and has purchased the assets of Mercedes, but will run Nissan powertrains. Maserati is partnering with Venturi. DS is moving its support from Techeetah to Dragon Racing. Team ABT is returning to run Mahindra powertrains. 

Then there are the drivers. Teams have been confirming drivers rapidly the last few days. The last two champions Vandoorne and de Vries remain unemployed though. Di Grassi is moving to Mahindra. Buemi is leaving Nissan for Envision to replace Frijns. Frijns moves to Team ABT alongside Nico Müller. Da Costa is joining Porsche. Jaguar is the only team confirmed to be retaining both its 2022 drivers. Norman Nato and Sacha Fenestraz will form an all-French Nissan lineup. René Rast is McLaren’s first confirmed driver. 

Next season will also be the introduction of the third generation car. The regenerative braking should increase with more than 40% of the car's energy coming from the braking system. It is a lighter and smaller car. Top speeds should push 200 mph. 

For all of Formula E's imperfections, it has made it to a tenth season and continues to be a healthy series with a strong group of drivers. Many didn't think it would get to year two. Some manufactures have come and gone, but others are entering. Interest is still there and Formula E will only continue to evolve. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Musings From the Weekend: Anthony Davidson May Have Convinced Me to Change My Mind

Josef Newgarden waited out a rain delay to get his fifth victory of the IndyCar season. Rain also delayed the start of NASCAR race at Watkins Glen where a few notable names made their Cup debuts. There was some teammate-on-teammate violence in New York. The Red Bull Ring debuted its new chicane at the MotoGP weekend and it was a suitable. MotoGP also announced it will run sprint races at every round next year because series are desperate and don't know what to do. A few winless drought were snapped in Japan. Supercars did not run an endurance race at Sandown and many wish they were. There was a rally in Belgium. I listened to a podcast. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Anthony Davidson May Have Convinced Me to Change My Mind
There are plenty of good podcasts out there for motorsports coverage, and Motor Sport Magazine produces insightful episodes on a regular basis. 

Recently, Motor Sport did a series called "My Big Break" where drivers and other key motorsports figures spoke about key moments in their careers that led to where they are today. Last month, the most recent series ended with Anthony Davidson, a world champion in endurance racing, who is also remembered for his time in Formula One, most notably with Super Aguri. 

During the show, Davidson spoke about his drives outside the points in Formula One. Davidson mostly drove when only the top eight drivers received points and he raced on 22-car grids. Super Aguri was not a top team, but it had better days in 2007 and its competitiveness was highlighted with Takuma Sato finishing eighth at Barcelona and famously in sixth at Montreal after a late pass on Fernando Alonso in a McLaren.

Sadly, Davidson never scored points in his Formula One career, but he had some good drives that are not recognized. For starters, in that Montreal race where Sato was sixth, Davidson hit a groundhog and finished 11th. Davidson was in a points position for a good portion of the race before that incident. If he didn't hit that groundhog, that could have been his day. Instead, it was an 11th-place finish, and would end up being one of three in a four-race period for the Brit.

During the podcast, Davidson stated he believes points should be awarded for every position in Formula One because those battles outside the top ten are just as intense as what we see at the front. He also pointed out the current points format inflate results because one good day can completely cancel out the rest of the season. 

Davidson specifically cited the 2019 Formula One season where Robert Kubica was classified in tenth in the German Grand Prix and got a point. Kubica's Williams teammate George Russell was 11th in that race and scored no points that season. The record book shows Kubica 19th in the championship while Russell is in 20th, dead last, with no points. 

But that doesn't necessarily tell an accurate story of the 2019 season. Kubica was tenth in Germany, but Russell finished ahead of Kubica in 17 of 21 races. However, Kubica's one day in Germany erases all that. That is how the point system works, but I think Davidson has a point. 

Davidson continued to say the point system is derived from a time that put a premium on finishing the race. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was an accomplishment to finish a grand prix. It was a tortoise versus a hare time period. Plenty of fast cars couldn't last an entire race, but there were slower and more reliable cars that could. Those reliable cars were more likely to get points because they made it to the finish. 

In contemporary Formula One, everyone is finishing races. Nineteen cars finished the Hungarian Grand Prix, the most recent race, and the only car that did not finish was Valtteri Bottas, who completed 65 of 70 laps before his fuel system crapped out. Bottas was still classified. 

There were 19 classified cars at Bahrain, 17 at Australia, 18 at Imola, 17 at Miami, 18 at Barcelona, 17 at Monaco, 16 at Azerbaijan and Montreal, 17 at Austria and 16 at France. Through 13 races, the only ones with more than five cars unclassified were Saudi Arabia, where two cars didn't start, and Silverstone, where three cars were knocked out in an opening lap accident. 

Just getting to the finish is no longer the same accomplishment it once was. A grand prix races different than it did 20 years ago let alone 60 years ago. 

I have always been a proponent of fewer finishing positions getting points, specifically the 9-6-4-3-2-1 system Formula One used from 1961 through 1991. My argument is you make finishing at the front more valuable and devalue finishing eighth, ninth and tenth. Raise the bar and raise the performance, encourage teams to try more things out of the box to make it into the top six. 

However, Formula One isn't that simple and there aren't that many cars that can make the top six. Again, this isn't 1989 where Stefan Johansson can go from failing to pre-qualify in an Onyx to finishing third in that same Onyx in the following race at Portugal. That is not how Formula One in 2022 works. We get a few surprise results here and there, but Williams isn't going to somehow just end up in the top six. Haas isn't going to pull out a podium result. The grid is more haves and have nots than arguably ever before. With that being the case, you have more teams fighting for nothing and in some cases teams that are racing for nothing 95% of the time. 

Why not make that nothing worth something? Especially if it gives a more accurate picture in the championship. 

IndyCar gives out points to every position. IndyCar's championship has gone to the wire for 15 consecutive seasons. The top drivers are still rightful rewarded and we have a more accurate representation of the entire field at the bottom as well. 

Let's take IndyCar as the base and its 50 points to a race winner for Formula One. For the sake of Formula One, we will keep the proportions the same for the podium. Second place will remain 72% of a victory and third will remain 60% of a victory, so 36 points and 30 points respectively. From there, the points decrease by two all the way to 15th, which gets six points. Then it decreases by a points from 16th to one points for 20th.

However, points are only awarded if a driver is classified, as it is now. To earn points, a driver would still need to complete 90% of a race.

In full: 50-36-30-28-26-24-22-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1.

That is the system. No bonus point for fastest lap, no sprint qualifying nonsense. Let's just take the results and go.

What would the 2022 championship look like under such a system?

Max Verstappen - 490
Lewis Hamilton - 344
Sergio Pérez - 343
George Russell - 340
Charles Leclerc - 302
Carlos Sainz, Jr. - 300
Lando Norris - 242
Esteban Ocon - 234
Fernando Alonso - 202
Valtteri Bottas - 193
Lance Stroll - 155
Daniel Ricciardo - 153
Sebastian Vettel - 142
Pierre Gasly - 138
Kevin Magnussen - 124
Alexander Albon - 117
Mick Schumacher - 108
Yuki Tsunoda - 105
Guanyu Zhou - 98
Nicholas Latifi - 60
Nico Hülkenberg - 16

How about that? 

No surprise Verstappen would be on top, but Hamilton's consistency would have him second in the championship, not sixth. Meanwhile, Leclerc would drop to fifth and Sainz, Jr. would drop to sixth, further showing how Ferrari's inconsistency is setting back the team.

Outside of the top, most of the middle looks the same. Alonso and Bottas would flip but Stroll would jump from 18th to 11th! The Canadian has been classified in every race and he has finished 11th or 12th in four races with two more finishes of 13th. Those are all double-digit point totals and those add up. 

Meanwhile, Haas' retirements would knock it back a peg or so. Magnussen would drop to 15th while Schumacher would drop to 17th. 

But the other key name to point out is Albon. Albon has earned deserved praise for his results in the Williams the year. He has finished in the top ten twice this year alone, but he has finished between 11th and 13th six more times. Under this system, those results would get points and it would pick him up three positions in the championship. That feels more accurate of Albon's season than 19th and only three points clear of teammate Latifi. 

With how much that has changed in Formula One recent years, I think points being awarded to the entire field is closer to being introduced than ever before and that might not be a bad thing. It might just give us a better picture of how a season is unfolding. Anthony Davidson is on to something and I could be wrong. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden, but did you know...

Francesco Bagnaia won MotoGP's Austrian Grand Prix, his third consecutive victory and fifth of the season. Ai Ogura won the Moto2 race, his second victory of the season. Ayuma Sasaki won the Moto3 race, his second victory of the season. Eric Granado swept the MotoE races and Granado has five victories on the season. 

Kyle Larson swept the NASCAR races from Watkins Glen.

Naoki Yamamoto and Yuhi Sekiguchi split the Super Formula races from Motegi. It was Yamamoto's first Super Formula victory since December 5, 2020 at Suzuka and Sekiguchi's first Super Formula victory since May 19, 2019 at Autopolis.

Will Davison (race one) and Shane Van Gisbergen (race two and race three) split the Supercars races from Sandown.

Matthew Brabham won the Indy Lights race at Gateway, his second victory of the season. Salvador de Alba won the Indy Pro 2000 race, his second victory of the season.

The #33 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG of Russell Ward and Philip Ellis swept the GT World Challenge America races from Road America. The #18 RS1 Porsche of Stevan McAleer and Eric Filgueiras and the #15 BSPort Racing Aston Martin of  Bryan Putt and Kenton Koch split the GT4 America races. Andy Pilgrim and George Kurtz split the GT America races.

Ott Tänak won Rally Ypres Belgium, his second consecutive victory and third victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One is back from break in Belgium. 
NASCAR Cup Series concludes its regular season at Daytona. 
IMSA has its penultimate round of the season, a GT-only day at Virginia International Raceway. 
Super GT will be at Suzuka. 
European Le Mans Series runs its fourth round of the season at Barcelona. 
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters has a round on the Nürburgring's sprint configuration. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

First Impressions: Gateway 2022

1. This was nearly a painful defeat for Josef Newgarden and his #2 Team Penske crew. Pitting on the wrong lap nearly cost him victory after a brilliant strategy call.

When under caution for Jack Harvey brushing the wall, it was ominous whether or not rain would play a role in this race. The field was through two of three planned pit stops, but that caution just after halfway presented an opportunity for teams. They could come and get tires.

Newgarden did, as did teammate Scott McLaughlin. It was an extra stop, but they didn't lose any ground, or at least didn't lose much ground. When the race restarted, McLaughlin and Newgarden shot forward. Newgarden made a brave pass on the outside of McLaughlin when the New Zealander was stuck in traffic and in a few laps, Newgarden would be in the lead, but McLaughlin made up his own ground and would soon be second and as those two pulled away from the field. 

Newgarden opened a healthy lead, nearly seven seconds over McLaughlin, but Newgarden lost time in traffic. The gap closed and when it was time for the final pit stops, McLaughlin was in striking distance. McLaughlin stopped first. Newgarden came in the following lap but caught Christian Lundgaard entering pit lane and lost time. When stops were done, McLaughlin was ahead of Newgarden on track and four laps later, the rain started. Newgarden came in on the wrong lap. It is a nature of the beast, especially at Gateway with its pit lane access road. 

It turned out to be McLaughlin's gain and rain nearly turned into a blessing for the New Zealander. It looked like Newgarden was going to have this race get away from him. But the storm didn't last long. The lightning cleared, the track dried and the race restarted after a two-hour delay. Newgarden wasted no time and took the lead into turn three on the first lap on the restart. Newgarden played a suffocating defense on the field, holding the gap to McLaughlin and not letting traffic slow him up. It ends with Newgarden's fifth victory of the season, a single-season best for him in a 12-year career.

Strategist Tim Cindric made the right call to bring Newgarden in. Both McLaughlin and Newgarden had spent basically the entire first half of the race in the top five, but Will Power was gone. Marcus Ericsson was comfortably in second. Newgarden was actually struggling in traffic. The team took the gamble and Newgarden turned this into a better result than if it followed status quo. 

Newgarden pulled off a victory at Texas doing something similar to this a few years ago and it led to a championship. With two races remaining Newgarden is three points behind Will Power. It could have been a night where Newgarden was looking for ten more points that he thought he was in his pocket. With the restart, Newgarden grabbed those ten points and erased this Gateway race from being a future nightmare.

2. Everyone loves a hometown hero and though Madison, Illinois is nearly 300 miles, over four hours south of Chicago, David Malukas nearly pulled off an incredible upset in front of his fellow Illinoisans. Malukas was dialed in for most of this race thanks to aggressive strategy from Dale Coyne Racing as the rain approached in the first part of the race. When the red flag came out, Malukas was in the top five with how things played out. 

But he also had fresher tires and when the race went green, he was one of the fastest drivers on track. Malukas picked his way through the lapped cars and ahead of Will Power and Patricio O'Ward. Then he closed a three-second gap to Newgarden and McLaughlin and ran with the big boys for the final 15 laps. On the final lap, Malukas made his move to the outside of McLaughlin and it stuck. Malukas was second, making it an American 1-2 in his home state. 

Malukas has shown spurts of speed this season. Sometimes it is only midfield running but running better than other established names. In this case, Malukas was one of the best drivers on track tonight. It feels like when a driver charges late and falls short everyone says, "if he had five more laps, he would have won." Well, that isn't always the case and Newgarden is a 25-time race winner. I am not sure Malukas would have beaten Newgarden tonight, but he looked capable of doing it. 

It is the first milestone achievement of a promising career. It could not have come at a more special place for Malukas and Dale Coyne Racing.  

3. Weather nearly helped Scott McLaughlin win the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 from Gateway Motorsports Park, but the restart meant one more time facing Newgarden. Newgarden again out-maneuvered his teammate, but McLaughlin had a stout night.  

Strategist Kyle Moyer deserves credit. It was either going to be Moyer or Tim Cindric on the #2 Team Penske pit stand getting a claim of the victory today. They saw an opportunity to take fresh rubber and go forward. It paid off. It was an extra stop and they traded a few spots to take tires, but that deficit vanished once the race restarted. They were easily a half-second faster at the restart and Will Power and Patricio O'Ward weren't going to hold them back. 

IndyCar races can fall into a trap. Everyone is so focused on fuel saving and making the fewest number of pit stops that teams miss when an extra stop can be a good thing. In the case for two-thirds of Team Penske, they saw a better path to victory today. It worked out in Scott McLaughlin's favor though he didn't end up on the top step of the podium. 

McLaughlin has been stellar this year. He already has two victories and nearly won two oval races this season. Considering his Supercar past, the championships and the Bathurst 1000 victory, while tying in his IndyCar success as a sophomore, we are watching a special talent in the 21st century. 

4. Patricio O'Ward couldn't quite take control of this race. First, it looked like O'Ward was going to get the best of Power, but then Newgarden and McLaughlin called their audible and shot to the lead. Then O'Ward lost out to Malukas and what looked like a possible victory became a fourth-place finish. 

It is a good result, and O'Ward gained ground in the championship. Somehow, the top seven in points will enter the penultimate race of the season at Portland closer together than they were entering the antepenultimate race at Gateway. This season! 

Anyway, O'Ward stays alive but must gain ground and a significant chunk in the next race if he wants to be hoisting the Astor Cup at Laguna Seca. He could do it but his season has been inconsistent enough to question what O'Ward you will see in the final two races. The team hasn't helped either. Arrow McLaren SP has been on its fair share of mechanical woes. It is the reason why O'Ward is seventh and needs to make up ground in the first place. One great race I can see. Two? That is pressing for it. 

5. A double top five finish for Dale Coyne Racing with Takuma Sato in fifth caps off a tremendous night for this group. It is Dale Coyne Racing's second double top five finish ever in IndyCar. The other was the first race of the 2013 Belle Isle doubleheader when Mike Conway won and Justin Wilson was third. David Malukas was 11 years old when that happened. 

Sato looked competitive all night and this was by far his best race of the season. Is fifth harsh considering his teammate was second? No. Interestingly, Malukas finished ahead of Sato in every oval race this season despite Sato qualifying ahead of Malukas in four of five oval races. These are two drivers heading in different directions in their career. Malukas is ascending. Sato is losing a little on his fast ball, but Sato still has something. We don't see it as much as we once did, but we saw it tonight. 

6. Sixth is hard to swallow for Will Power. After winning his 67th pole position and seeing Power go untouched for basically the first half of the race, this felt like a night where Power was going to take control and even maybe position himself to threaten to lock up the championship at Portland. The weather went against him. Others ran more aggressive while Power didn't roll those dice. It cost him a little, but I think other cars just got better as Power remained static. 

The Coyne cars got better. O'Ward got better. There are three positions lost right there. Power didn't lose the championship tonight. It would be really hard to look at this night and say Power did something wrong. Newgarden nailed the strategy and a few cars got better. Power didn't hit the wall. He didn't have a careless pit lane violation. He didn't do anything foolish. The championship is that close where a sixth-place finish feels devastating.

But it isn't and Power still holds serve entering Portland. 

7. Marcus Ericsson is hanging in there but he was seventh after taking tires before the final restart and he restarted basically in seventh. He didn't gain anything substantial in those final laps. That isn't good. My one concern when Ericsson was leading the championship was he never flexed his muscle. There were plenty of opportunities, but every race Ericsson was leading it seemed like he either only gained three or five points or he lost ten to 12 points. 

Ericsson is still in it, but after seeing what Newgarden did tonight and has done in other recent races, after seeing Power's consistency and after seeing Scott Dixon pull himself back in the fight without appearing to exert much effort, should we really believe Marcus Ericsson, who has one top five finish in the last seven races can pull out this championship from fourth, 17 points back, in the final two races?

Math is on his side but his run of form and the run of others is not.

8. Scott Dixon wasn't great tonight. It felt like he was always in sixth-place, which was sixth among the championship hopefuls. Dixon only lost eight points to Power. I know I basically just threw dirt on Ericsson, and Dixon is only three points closer to Power than Ericsson, but we have seen Dixon overcome this margin with this many races to go before. 

Dixon could show up to Portland and top every session before leading 100 laps, winning the race and suddenly be up 25 points in the championship entering the final race and only needing a top seven finish to clinch it. No one would be surprised if that happened. 

You cannot never rule out Scott Dixon. As long as he remains alive, he is a serious contender for his seventh championship. 

9. Álex Palou was third of the Ganassi cars most of this race and wound up ninth. A good night, but not a great one, especially when Palou is winless and his title defense is holding on by a thread. Not to forget mentioning Palou has two other teammates alive for the championship and those two drivers aren't in a lawsuit with the team. 

It is hard to see any favors going Palou's way in the final two races. Unless the bottom drops out on the Ganassi organization at Portland and Palou is the last one standing and running for the race victory, I don't see the team prioritizing his strategy, but he has been consistent this year, and Palou has at least made it difficult for the team to turn its back on him.

10. Graham Rahal gets to say he had a top ten finish. Rahal doesn't have any good runs at Gateway. It is hard to classify this one as amazing, but for a guy who has been average this year and terrible at this track, tenth is a good night. 

There is a clear gap between Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske, Patricio O'Ward and everyone else. Tonight, Dale Coyne Racing got to mix it up and claim best of the rest, but Rahal was in tenth position it felt like for about 60% of this race. This is a moral victory. 

11. Tic-tac-toe, three Andretti Autosport cars in a row, and we are covering them all three here. Colton Herta was 11th. Devlin DeFrancesco gets his best career finish in 12th. Romain Grosjean overcomes a grid penalty for an engine change and a conservative alternate strategy to finish 13th. 

Colton Herta had zero top ten finishes on ovals this season. Herta hasn't had a top ten finish in the last seven oval races and in eight of the last nine. This isn't good. Everyone thought this was going to be Herta's year. A lot of things went wrong, some on Herta and some on the team. Zero top ten finishes on ovals is not going to win any drivers a championship. 

DeFrancesco had a good race. He qualified well, he ran basically between ninth and 14th all race. Good. He has one good race. Fourteen bad races and one good race is still 14 bad races. 

I wish Grosjean didn't have the engine penalty relegate him from ninth on the grid to 18th. I don't think he would have done much better than eighth or ninth, but I at least wanted to see him mixing it up for key positions, especially after how he drove at Iowa. 

We should just get Alexander Rossi out of the way now because Rossi was running in the top ten, looked comfortable doing so, and then the team appeared to run him out of fuel before his second stop, which caused mechanical issues and cost Rossi about 13 laps. 

Are we surprised Andretti Autosport fucked over one of its drivers? No. We should expect it in every race now. None of the Andretti cars were all that great tonight. It is a shame Andretti Autosport went from short oval masters to afterthoughts. There was once a time Andretti Autosport rocked up to a short oval and you penciled one of its cars in for victory. Tonight, it had zero cars in the top ten and that feels like a worthy result for this operation. It has a lot of work to do and I don't expect much to change. 

12. Jimmie Johnson was 14th, but that was a bit of a flattering result. Johnson spent much of this race outside the top twenty, but as other cars fell by the way side, and Johnson took tires before the final restart, he ended up picking up a few positions. Johnson wasn't terrible this weekend. Gateway didn't click like Iowa did. 

As good as Johnson is on ovals, I expected one of these oval weekends to be difficult for him. It turned out to be Gateway. But Johnson did about as well as I expected for him on ovals. I expected him to get a few top ten results and push for the top five. He had two top ten finishes and one of those was a fifth at Iowa. Not bad. 

13. It is after 11:00 p.m. ET and this race begin a little after 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Let's wrap this up. Hélio Castroneves was 15th. Felix Rosenqvist was sensational at the start going from 26th to 13th in the first two laps... and then he stalled out without really ever challenging the top ten only to finish 16th. Kyle Kirkwood did nothing and finished 17th, which is a great race for him considering any other time Kirkwood has done something noteworthy this season it has been an accident and a wasted result. Kirkwood at least beat teammate Dalton Kellett by a position. You know what? A double top twenty night for A.J. Foyt Racing is about as good as this team can expect at the moment. 

14. Christian Lundgaard was 19th, and outside of slowing Newgarden entering the pit lane, Lundgaard wasn't noticed all race. Simon Pagenaud had some rough days on ovals this year. I am not sure how he lost all this ground and finished 20th. 

15. It was a learning experience for Callum Ilott. Ilott was three laps down, but he got laps and didn't tear up the car and he finished ahead of Ed Carpenter, who was 22nd and you have to wonder if an oval-only program is really worth it for Carpenter. It should also be pointed out Carpenter was 22nd and the best Ed Carpenter Racing driver. Tough night for ECR. 

Conor Daly deserved better. Not significantly better, but better nonetheless. Mechanical issues brought Daly to pit lane when he had been running around 15th for most of this race. Mechancial issues also took out Rinus VeeKay after only 53 laps. Ed Carpenter Racing is again showing its inconsistency. We see the pace and then we have races like this where all the cars are at the bottom and no one really has an answer. It is fascinating how a team can be so good at Indianapolis and out to lunch at every other oval, especially when it was once known for being good at all the ovals. 

16. Jack Harvey needs a hug. This was his best race of the season, he was in the top ten and ahead of Graham Rahal and then Harvey got caught wide in turns three and four and brushed the wall, damaging the car enough that he ended up losing multiple laps. It is the kind of result Harvey really couldn't afford tonight. It sucks because he was a solid top ten car for the first half of the race, but he needed to close this race out. 

17. The IndyCar race was always scheduled for an earlier start than usual for past Gateway race so it could immediately follow the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen. USA Network would get the races effectively back-to-back. The NASCAR race would end, burnouts, victory lane and then right into IndyCar. 

The IndyCar race was pushed up a further half-hour due to weather and that worked out because if this race had the same 8:30 p.m. ET start as in the past, it wouldn't have started on time anyway. We got to see 223 laps before the weather kicked in. If Gateway was scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. ET, it would have been delayed, not started until after 10:00 p.m. ET. We would have been lucky if the race finished before midnight. 

I didn't mind the evening start time. The crowd was smaller than past Gateway races from the looks of it but not puny. I was surprised how many people were seated low in turn two. It could have been the same size crowd just spread out more. That is likely not the case, but it was still respectable. IndyCar has to balance getting a good television window and making sure the tracks can sell a healthy number of tickets. It helped that Gateway wasn't oppressively hot this year. That is normally the case. 

It was cool to see the race finish under the lights and the race did get better the darker it got. IndyCar has to pick and choose its battles. It needs viewers, but is one late race the end of the series? Likely not. IndyCar did get 14 races on network NBC this year. IndyCar has never had this many races on a network station. That is good for the series, but it has a choice now. We saw races on network television that didn't get great crowds, but could have in different time slots. Gateway is one of those. 

Does IndyCar need 14 races on network to survive? Could it live with 12 network races? Or 11? That would still be far more than IndyCar got for the better part of 15 years. Gateway was always going to be on USA, a cable race. It only started a little earlier to maximize the audience from the NASCAR race. I am fine with that. IndyCar has found success in such situations before, but this offseason will be a good chance to re-evaluate the philosophy and decide what is best for scheduling these races. 

18. There is only one more off-weekend in this IndyCar season. That is next weekend. Then it is Portland and Laguna Seca back-to-back. With how close the championship is, it is hard to believe it is almost over. You would think there are still a dozen races remaining. But there are only two. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Morning Warm-Up: Gateway 2022

Will Power won his record-tying 67th career pole position on Friday afternoon at Gateway Motorsports Park with a two-lap average of 182.727 MPH. This is Power's fourth pole position at Gateway. This is the seventh track where he has won at least four pole positions. Power's 67th pole position comes in his 267th race appearance. Mario Andretti's 67th pole position was in Andretti's 385th race appearance. In six Gateway starts, Will Power has finished on the podium three times and outside the top fifteen in the other three races. Power’s worst finish in his last five oval starts is 15th. In those other four races, he has finished third, fourth, third and second. Power has not won on an oval since Pocono 2019.

Marcus Ericsson joins Power on the front row, Ericsson's first career front row start in IndyCar. He has finished outside the top ten in the last two races and Ericsson has not had three consecutive results outside the top ten since joining Chip Ganassi Racing. He has gone four races without a top five finish, his longest slump since the final five races of last season. Ericsson is the only driver to finish in the top ten of every oval race this season.

Josef Newgarden is third in the championship and Newgarden will start third at Gateway. Newgarden could become the first driver with three oval victories in a season since 2009 when Scott Dixon won at Kansas, Milwaukee, Richmond and Motegi. Newgarden has three victories, two seventh-place finishes and a 12th at Gateway. He has never started worse than sixth at this track.

Scott McLaughlin makes it three Team Penske drivers in the top four positions. McLaughlin has finished better than his starting position in five of the last seven races. In the first seven races of the season, McLaughlin never finished better than his starting position, but he was equal to his starting position at St. Petersburg, a victory from pole position, and at Texas, a runner-up result from second.

Álex Palou leads an all-Chip Ganassi Racing row three. Palou was third at Nashville. Palou has had consecutive podium finishes on four occasions in his IndyCar career. Only once has Palou won from fifth starting position before, at Road America last year. Palou has not been the top Ganassi finisher since he was runner-up at Mid-Ohio five races ago.

Scott Dixon starts outside of Palou. Dixon has been the top Ganassi finisher in five consecutive races. Dixon had been the top Ganassi finisher in only one of the first nine races this season. Dixon will be making his 366th career start this weekend. Dixon’s 53rd career victory in the last race at Nashville came in 12 fewer starts than it took Mario Andretti to reach 52 victories. A.J. Foyt had already won 67 races at the time of his 366th start, which was his fourth-to-last IndyCar start.

Patricio O’Ward makes it a clean sweep of the top seven positions for the top seven in the championship. Seventh is O'Ward's worst starting position ever at Gateway. He has finished on the podium in all three of his Gateway starts. O’Ward’s most podium finishes have come at Gateway.

Takuma Sato qualified eighth, Sato's fourth time starting in the top ten on an oval this season. Sato has five consecutive top ten finishes at Gateway. Sato has had at least one top five finish in 11 consecutive seasons. His best finish this season was seventh in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Devlin DeFrancesco will start ninth, his first career top ten start in IndyCar and his first time as the top starting Andretti Autosport driver in a race. DeFrancesco won the 2020 Indy Pro 2000 race at Gateway. He was fourth and fifth in the Indy Lights races here last year. DeFrancesco’s 22nd-place finish at Nashville was his worst finish since he was 25th at Long Beach.

Alexander Rossi joins his teammate DeFrancesco on row five. Rossi has finished outside the top ten in four consecutive Gateway races after finishing in the top ten in his first two Gateway starts, which included a runner-up finish in 2018. Rossi is looking for his sixth top five finish this season. It would be his most in one year since 11 top five finishes in 2019.

Colton Herta makes it tic-tac-toe, three Andretti Autosport drivers in a row on the grid with Herta starting 11th. Herta’s best oval finish this season is 12th, which came at Texas and in the second Iowa race. Herta’s most recent top ten finish on an oval was fifth in the second Texas race last year. Herta has still yet to finish on the podium in an oval race. The worst starting position for a Gateway is 11th on two occasions.

David Malukas will start 12th for his Gateway IndyCar debut. Malukas has been the top Dale Coyne Racing finisher in every oval race this season. He has not finished worse than 16th on an oval this season and he has completed 947 of 948 oval laps this season. He swept the Indy Lights races at Gateway last season.

Simon Pagenaud starts 13th for the second consecutive race. Pagenaud has finished in the top ten of the 15th race of the season on eight consecutive occasions, which includes four top five finish, three have come at Gateway. Pagenaud has only seven top five finishes in the last 44 races. He had seven top five finishes in the 2019 season alone.

Jack Harvey is the top Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing starter in 14th position. This is the third time in the last five races Harvey has been the top RLLR qualifier. Harvey is coming off his first top ten finish of the season when he was tenth at Nashville. He has yet to be the top Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing finisher this season.

Conor Daly leads an all-American row eight. Like Harvey, this is the third time in five races Daly has been the top Ed Carpenter Racing qualifier. Daly has finished outside the top ten in eight consecutive races since he finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500. Last year, Daly finished 11th at Gateway, his worst finish in five starts. 

Graham Rahal qualified 16th, matching his best oval qualifying effort this season. Rahal has finished outside the top fifteen in four consecutive Gateway races. Rahal has been outside the top ten in five of six Gateway races with his best finish being tenth.

Hélio Castroneves starts 17th at Gateway, the first time he has ever started outside the top ten at Gateway. Castroneves has finished in the top ten in all six of his Gateway starts, including three consecutive top five finishes. However, this is Castroneves’ first Gateway appearance since 2017.

Romain Grosjean has a nine-spot grid penalty for an unapproved engine change that drops him to 18th on the grid. Grosjean was the fastest Andretti Autosport qualifier on speed, ending up ninth ahead of DeFrancesco. Grosjean has either finished inside the top ten or outside the top fifteen in every race this season. Grosjean has only finished between 11th and 15th twice in his IndyCar career, 13th at St. Petersburg last year and 14th at Gateway last year.

Christian Lundgaard makes his Gateway debut from 19th on the grid. Lundgaard is looking for his third consecutive top ten finish. Lundgaard has six top ten finishes while the rest of the rookies have a combined four top ten finishes.

Kyle Kirkwood rounds out the top twenty. Kirkwood’s average finish on ovals this season is 20.5, slightly better than his overall average finish this season of 20.857. He has finished outside the top fifteen in three consecutive races, ten of the last 11 and 12 of 14 races this season.

Jimmie Johnson makes his return to Gateway 21 years after his last appearance and Johnson starts 21st. Johnson made three starts at the track in NASCAR’s second division. He finished 15th, 13th and 14th. His first start at the track in 1998 was his second start in the series and he led 10 laps. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won that race, Matt Kenneth was second, Tony Stewart was fifth and Adam Petty was Johnson’s teammate. It was Petty’s NASCAR debut.

Callum Ilott finds himself starting 22nd next to Johnson. Ilott has five consecutive top fifteen finishes and six top fifteen finishes in the last seven races. Ilott had one top fifteen finish in his first six starts this season and one in the first nine starts of his IndyCar career.

Rinus VeeKay qualified 23rd, the worst starting position of his season. VeeKay started 23rd at Gateway last year as well. The Dutchman has three top five finishes this season, tied for his most top five finishes in a single season with his rookie season, which included a fourth-place finish in the second Gateway race.

Dalton Kellett is next to VeeKay on row 12. Kellett scored his best career finish last year at Gateway when he finished 12th. It is Kellett’s only top fifteen finish in his IndyCar career. Kellett makes his 39th career start this weekend. He is currently second all-time in most starts without a top ten finish. Milka Duno had zero top ten finishes in 43 starts.

Ed Carpenter was the first car to take to the track in qualifying and he will start on the final row in 25th position. Carpenter has finished outside the top ten in his last five starts. He has finished off the lead lap in five of six Gateway races and he has retired three times here.

Felix Rosenqvist spun on his qualifying run and Rosenqvist will start last. He has two top ten finishes on ovals this season. Entering the 2022 season, Rosenqvist had only two top ten oval finishes in his IndyCar career, both of which were in the 2020 Gateway doubleheader.

USA’s coverage of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 begins at 6:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 260 laps.