Indianapolis 500’s total points can shift your season, good or bad

Montoya never recovered the points loss after May. Getty Images
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INDIANAPOLIS – It’s no secret the Indianapolis 500 is the Verizon IndyCar Series’ biggest race.

It can make or break your career – look at how two laps decided the 2011 and 2016 Indianapolis 500s. Where would JR Hildebrand and Alexander Rossi’s respective careers be if the last laps didn’t play out the way they did?

What it also does in an in-season standpoint is drastically alter the championship, because with double points for the race and nearly a full race of points on offer for qualifying, it can produce some seismic swings in the championship.

To wit, here’s three good and three bad outcomes for drivers from last year’s Indianapolis 500 results:

GOOD

  • Alexander Rossi (Winner): Post-Indy GP, 17th in points (79 total), Post-Indy 500, 6th in points (203 total, 124 at event)
  • Carlos Munoz (Second): Post-Indy GP, 15th (84), Post-Indy 500, 7th (199, 115)
  • Josef Newgarden (Third): Post-Indy GP, 12th (100), Post-Indy 500, 4th (211, 111)

BAD

  • Juan Pablo Montoya (33rd): Post-Indy GP, 3rd in points (160 total), Post-Indy 500, 10th in points (187 total, 27 at event)
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay (24th): Post-Indy GP, 9th (109), Post-Indy 500, 13th (162, 53)
  • Conor Daly (29th): Post-Indy GP, 13th (88), Post-Indy 500, 19th (108, 20)

Rossi, Munoz and Newgarden eventually ended the year 11th, 10th and fourth in points, so while they dropped a bit from where they were at time of their top-three finish in the Indianapolis 500, it still produced a net benefit to their season.

The other three? Montoya needed a third place at Sonoma, also a double points race, to springboard back from 14th to eighth, while Hunter-Reay (12th) and Daly (18th) each only moved up one position the rest of the season.

The single most fascinating stat between Rossi and Daly is that in the two double-points races, Rossi scored 184 points (first and fifth) and Daly scored 38 (29th and 21st).

That 146-point gap from two races singlehandedly swung the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year honors to Rossi, as the overall gap in all 16 races was 117 points (430 to 313), meaning Daly scored 29 more points in the other 14 single-points races.

Simply put, a great month of May can do wonders for your season as a whole, and a bad one can put pause to it.

Box scores from last year’s Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 are linked below so you can see who moved where within the one-race span.

It’s also worth noting that Simon Pagenaud, who had electrical gremlins sabotage his Indianapolis 500, was lucky to escape the double points race and qualifying still with a points lead despite a 19th-place finish. Yes, his lead was cut from 76 to 57 points, but no one got within 20 points of him the rest of the way, and that was key to his eventual run to the championship.

Here’s the box score from this year’s INDYCAR Grand Prix, to give an idea of points heading into the Indianapolis 500 qualifying and race sessions.

So at the Indianapolis 500, you can score a maximum of 145 points (winning, 100 points, leading one lap, 1 point, leading the most laps, 2 points, and scoring pole position, 42 points) and a minimum of 11 points (finish 25th to 33rd, 10 points, and qualify 33rd, 1 point).

Saturday’s qualifying sets the Fast Nine runners for Sunday, but it does not set the actual grid itself, nor does it award points.

That all comes Sunday, with runners 10-33 qualifying first and then finalizing their grid positions, before runners 1-9 do so in a one-run only shootout to determine the pole winner.

Per INDYCAR’s rulebook, here’s the points breakdown for this race and qualifying, below:

Also, entrant and driver points will be awarded for Indianapolis 500 qualifying based on final qualifying results as follows:

  • The fastest qualifying entrant and driver (pole sitter) will receive 42 points, second fastest will receive 40 points and points awarded will decrease by two-point increments down to 10th fastest (24 points). Starting with 11th fastest (23 points), each succeeding qualifying position will decrease in one-point increments down to one point for 33rd position.