Now tied for third at 87 points back of championship leader Scott Dixon, Team Penske’s Will Power and Josef Newgarden are still mathematically alive in the championship fight.
However, their realistic chances are now somewhere between slim and none after both endured troublesome days during the Portland Grand Prix.
The day started with lots of promise for them. They locked out the front row – Power was on the pole, with Newgarden right alongside – with Dixon starting 11th.
Things appeared to take another favorable turn for them when Dixon was collected in a Lap 1 crash involving Zach Veach, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, and Ed Jones. Though Dixon continued on without damage, he was relegated to 20th in the running order at the time.
However, everything started falling apart immediately afterward. Power began suffering from a gearbox problem after a Lap 7 restart. He lost the lead to Alexander Rossi and plummeted to outside the top 10.
He briefly appeared to recover and regain pace, but his day essentially came to an end on Lap 43, when he nosed into the Turn 12 tire barrier and suffered a more serious gearbox issue that forced him into the pits for repairs.
He later rejoined the race, but several laps off the lead and languished in 21st at the checkered flag, seven laps down to race winner Takuma Sato.
Power explained afterward that he felt the gearbox act up on the warm-up laps, and knew it might not make it the whole way.
“I think on the warm-up lap before the green, something happened to the gearbox. It jumped to neutral, I went into emergency mode and made it go into gear and thought, ‘OK, that’s all right,'” Power detailed.
“Then, coming out of the hairpin on the first restart, it popped into neutral again and everyone behind me went past. Then, I realized I couldn’t use first gear. We were on a reasonable strategy and I made a mistake trying to keep (Matheus) Leist behind me. Then, the gearbox completely went. I’m not sure the gearbox would have made it the whole race, anyway. But man, it’s a tough sport.”
Newgarden, meanwhile, looked poised to battle for the win, and possibly give himself a chance at the championship in Sonoma.
Newgarden ran in the Top 3 in the first half of the race, and used an aggressive inside move on Alexander Rossi to take the lead on Lap 49. Given the aforementioned problems for Dixon, the door was open for Newgarden to put himself back in the title picture.
However, his day came unraveled when Zach Veach spun off in Turns 10 and 11 on Lap 56. Veach’s spin forced a full-course caution, which destroyed the strategy for Newgarden, and Rossi – they both were on similar strategies and forced to pit under yellow.
Newgarden dropped to 16th on the Lap 61 restart, and could only work his way back to 10th at the checkered flag.
Ultimately, what started out as a strong outing for last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series champion ended in frustration.
“It was a tough day. I don’t know what else to say,” Newgarden lamented.
“We led some laps and I think we had a Verizon Chevrolet that was good enough to win it. It just didn’t fall our way. You can’t predict these INDYCAR races. I wish we could get Lady Luck on our side one of these days. It just seems to walk away from us as of late.”
Depending on the number of entries at Sonoma, the maximum points swing could be above 90 points.
Therefore, theoretically, Power and Newgarden are still mathematically alive. However, for either to win the championship, Dixon would likely need a DNF, and probably fall out early on, while Rossi would need to finish ninth or worse. Meanwhile, Power and Newgarden would need race wins, along with the bonus points for pole and leading the most laps.
If any part of the above scenario does not come to fruition, then Team Penske is likely to miss out on the IndyCar championship.