The 2017 IndyCar Driver's Championship Is Up for Grabs Going into the Final Race
It comes down to a whopping seven drivers still in the hunt. Here's everything you need to know in handy chart form.
The 2017 IndyCar season has been spectacular. Ten different drivers have won races. There has been drama, crashes, surprise winners, a Formula One star, and plenty of great racing. On September 17, the season comes to an end at Sonoma Raceway with a double points finale. With seven drivers still in the hunt to win the championship, it likely won't be decided until the checkered flag waves.
This is how it looks going into the race. Josef Newgarden is leading the chase with 560 points. Behind him, there is Scott Dixon (-3), Helio Castroneves (-22), Simon Pagenaud (-34), Will Power (-68), Alexander Rossi (-84), and Graham Rahal (-94). With double points being awarded for the race, a win is worth 100 points. There will also be bonus points awarded for pole position (1), leading a lap (1), and most laps led (2). As most of the bonus points won't be determined until the end of the race, we're going to leave them out of the discussion for now, though they are critical for two drivers.
It would take far too much time to explain every possible championship outcome, so we will keep it simple. We will be looking at the bare minimum that each driver needs to do to win the title. If you are following along during the race and one of these drivers is below their minimum threshold, then they are out of the hunt. It gets more complicated the higher above that threshold they finish, but using the charts below, it's easy enough to keep track of in real time.
We have created a chart for each driver's minimum threshold, so let's dive right in at the top with Newgarden. The same rules apply for each driver's chart, so we'll explain how it works with Newgarden's options for winning the driver's title.
Newgarden has the easiest path to victory. First, if he wins the race, he wins the championship. That is obvious. The lowest Newgarden can finish and still win it is position 21 (highlighted in green), which as things stand now, is last. If Newgarden finishes anywhere in the blue highlighted area, which for him is not qualifying for the race (DNQ) or not making the starting grid (DNS), he is at great risk of losing the championship. It still might be possible with the points total from blue area, but highly improbable. If Newgarden finishes in P21, the six other drivers must finish in the red highlighted area for him to still have a shot. If Newgarden finishes in his lowest possible position and any other driver finishes in the white area, Newgarden might not will the championship.
It's only still having a shot because of potential bonus points. For example, if Newgarden finishes in P21 with 578 points and Dixon in P20, Dixon could still win it with two bonus points. Only one bonus point for Dixon creates a tie, which Newgarden would win with tie breakers, which we'll explain later.
See how complicated this all starts to get? That is why we are only going to look at the minimum threshold that each driver needs to reach to win. Now that we've explained how this chart works, we'll run through the six other drivers.
Dixon's path to the championship is very similar to Newgarden. A win and Dixon takes it, no matter where anyone else finishes. The lowest he can finish and still win the title is P19. Dixon and Newgarden have the best shot of winning the championship as they have the most options of finishing positions available to them. The further up the field Dixon and Newgarden finish, the narrower the path becomes for the others. Just because the two points leaders have the best chance doesn't mean either of them could walk away with the title. Anything is possible. Just ask Newgarden. His accident at Watkins Glensent him to the back of the field. It doesn't take much to completely change the complexion of the title race during the race.
Castroneves must finish no lower than P9 if he wants that championship that has eluded him through the years. He also has many paths to winning it all. If he wins the race, Dixon could finish P2 with Newgarden in P3 and Castroneves could still claim the title. A solid drive from Castroneves could finally make him the bride rather than the bridesmaid as he's finished second in the championship four times already.
Pagenaud's chances of winning the title are still decent. Like Castroneves, He'll need both Newgarden and Dixon to have a poor showing in order to increase his chances. The further above P6 that Pagenaud finishes, the better it is for him, though most of the other variables are out of his control.
Power needs a win and a lot of luck. With a win, the four drivers in front of him in the points will all need to have a fairly bad day. Power has nothing to lose, so look for him to be aggressive. Consistency wins championships and Power has not had a consistent year, though mostly through no fault of his own. If he had a little better luck during the season, his points total going into the finale would have him near the top of the standings.
Rossi and Rahal are both mathematically still in the race for the title. Realistically, they don't stand a chance. If Newgarden starts the race and crashes out in the first turn, Rossi and Rahal are no longer contenders. Rahal would also need Dixon to fail to make the starting grid in order to win. If Newgarden and Dixon both fail to start the race, then something horrible has happened, and no one wants that. It'll look nice on Rossi and Rahal's resumes to say they were still in the title fight in the last race, but beyond that, they aren't really factors in the big picture.
That being said, both will be going for the win they need to take the title. Maybe someone's car is found to be in violation of the rules at the post-race inspection. Maybe someone's questionable and desperate driving gets them disqualified. No one thought Rossi was going to win the 2016 Indy 500 (not to brag, but I did). Anything can happen with seven drivers trying to win the title in the final race.
As far as those pesky bonus points go, they very well could be a factor. Get point for leading a lap is something most of these drivers could do. Only one of them will get the point for pole and the two for most laps led. There is a very good chance that this whole thing could be decided by bonus points. Rossi would love to snag all four points in order to pad his slim chances just a little. Rahal would like to get as many bonus points as possible, though they won't help him if Newgarden and Dixon so much as start the race.
If there is a tie on points at the end of the race, the champion will be decided by who has the highest number of first place finishes. according to IndyCar Rule 10.4.1, this is how it works. "In the case of a tie in the championship, INDYCAR will determine the champion based on the most first place finishes. If there is still a tie, INDYCAR will determine the champion by the most second place finishes through last place finishes, until a champion is determined."
As it stands, Newgarden has four first place finishes and three second place finishes, so he holds the advantage here. If there is a tie on points between anyone and Newgarden for the title, Newgarden would win. Consistency wins championships. Those four first place finishes for Newgarden carry a lot of weight. If there is a tie that does not involve Newgarden, things get a little more complicated. This is where each driver stands before the finale on their number of finishes from first to fifth place.
- Newgarden: 4, 3, 1,1, 0
- Dixon: 2, 5, 1, 1, 1
- Castronves 1, 1, 1, 4, 0
- Pagenaud: 1, 2, 3, 4, 3
- Power: 3, 2, 1, 1, 1
- Rossi: 1, 1, 2, 0, 2
- Rahal: 2, 0, 1, 1, 2
Where they each finish in the race could change how tie-breakers play out if they are needed.
The final factor in what happens in the race is the "Team Penske Factor." Four of the seven drivers, Newgarden, Castroneves, Pagenaud, and Power all drive for Team Penske. The fact the entire team is still in this at the end says a lot. These four drivers will be free to race as long as they are still in contention for the title. If someone falls back a few laps, look for that driver to become a huge nuisance for the contenders from the other teams. The other three drivers, though not on the same team, all drive Honda-powered cars. Look for them to do the same to the Penske cars which are Chevrolet-powered.
Remember that on the charts above, each one is the lowest possible finishing position that each driver needs to achieve to win the title. Bonus points can change the whole thing, but they will be unknown until the end of the race (except for the one point for starting on pole). However the race plays out, it's almost certainly going to be a nail-biter that is decided on the last lap. It all goes down on Sunday, September 17, 2017, at Sonoma Raceway. The races broadcast starts 6:30 pm ET on NBCSN. You aren't going to want to miss it.
If you want to play championship bingo at home during the finale, feel free to print out these two images to help keep track of where the drivers are at on points as the race progresses.