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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Return to Laguna Seca caps off stellar NTT IndyCar season

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It’s been a 15-year hiatus, but the NTT IndyCar Series will return this weekend to Laguna Seca, with both drama and uncertainty surrounding the final race of the season, which will determine the series champion, and hopefully rekindle relations between the premier open wheel series in North America and the fabled course.

While there are currently four drivers still in mathematical contention for the coveted Astor Cup, which is awarded to the champion (along with a $1 million check), the season to date has been nothing short of entertaining. As the only open wheel series to continually showcase the various disciplines of ovals along with street and road courses, the 2019 season blended the old guard with some young guns, which in turn produced some spirited racing.

The youth movement in the sport has never been more prolific with no less than three solid candidates for Rookie of the Year honors.

While Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta captured both a win at Austin and the pole position at two other events, Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci has also been stellar, finishing every race but one, and up until recently had completed more laps this season than any other driver. Last, but certainly not least, Gannasi Racing’s Felix Rosenquist, who leads both Ferrucci and Herta in driver points, has finished second in two different races this season, while also scoring his first pole at the Indianapolis Grand Prix.

Not to be outdone by the young bucks, the series title has come down to the last event as well, with Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud and defending series champion Scott Dixon all vying for the riches that go to the winner.

While the contour of the Laguna Seca course will be challenging to all, it’s clear that there will be a take-no-prisoners approach this weekend as the aforementioned look to treat fans to a grand finale.

Notes: While he heads into the final race fourth in points and a long shot of sorts to win the title, five-time NTT Indy Car Series champion Dixon can not be counted out. While points leader Newgarden may be the favorite, Rossi and Pagenaud will certainly join Dixon in the effort to make it more than interesting. 

Much to my chagrin, and just as it did at the Indianapolis 500, the series awards double points for this event, thereby in some ways unnecessarily manufacturing drama. Indy Car racing is fine on its own exciting merits and does not need gimmicks such as this, along with others such as alternative tires and push to pass, which gives drivers a temporary increase in horsepower. Just scrap ‘em all.

As Indianapolis’ own and Racer.com’s Robin Miller pointed out earlier this week, 18 of the last 22 Laguna Seca winners have started from the pole position and led 90% of the laps as well. Hopefully, the follow-the-leader trend will not transpire this weekend. You can hear Robin’s pre-race and post-race commentary form the pits this weekend on the NBC Sports national broadcast of the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 22. 

Danny Bridges, who will be providing live updates on the Indianapolis Recorder Facebook page from Laguna Seca and thinks a Team Penske car will pull in to victory lane this weekend and hoist the Astor Cup in the process, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com. 

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