With four races remaining in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, only four drivers still have a legitimate shot to win the championship. This year’s championship contenders are a “who’s who” of Indy car racing, with seven championships and 81 race victories (including three Indianapolis 500 victories) between the four of them.
For current series points leader Josef Newgarden, along with third-place Simon Pagenaud and fourth-place Scott Dixon, hoisting the Astor Cup at Laguna Seca would be a perfect way to cap-off an impressive 2019 campaign.
But it wouldn’t be the first time for any of them. Pagenaud won his first championship in 2016, while Newgarden won his first the following year. Scott Dixon is a five-time champion, having won the title in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015 and last year.
The man Dixon defeated to win his most recent championship is Alexander Rossi, who is the only one of the four championship contenders to have not yet won a title. Rossi, who ended the 2018 season 57 points behind Dixon, enters the final four races with quite possibly the best opportunity he’s ever had to win the title in his relatively young IndyCar career.
The 27-year-old Rossi currently sits second in the points standings, 16 points behind the 28-year-old Newgarden, and has an excellent chance to win at least one more race this season, something he believes will be necessary to win the title.
“We’re going into three more in a row and they’re very important races so we’re at a point where you can’t make any mistakes and every position counts for something,” Rossi told NBC Sports. “We can’t just look at it from a championship perspective, we need to win races.
“It’s getting down to the point where the difference between first and second is going to be pretty minuscule at the end.”
If the past is any indication of the future, Rossi should be a contender in each of the next three consecutive races. He enters this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway as the defending race champion. He also started and finished second in last year’s race at Gateway and led 32 laps en route to an eighth-place finish in IndyCar’s return to Portland last Labor Day weekend.
However, Rossi is quick to point out that he cannot simply rely on previous success if he wants to win the title.
“I think you have a little confidence internally, but we still had Mid-Ohio where we won there last year from the pole and didn’t have quite the same level of performance this year,” Rossi said. “Things change year-to-year.
“The tires change constantly and teams get better. You have to make sure that despite the fact that you were good there the previous year, you’re still evolving forward and getting better.”
Indeed, any IndyCar competitor who wants to be in championship contention towards the end of the season needs to be on their A-game week in and week out, thus it shouldn’t be a surprise that the four drivers in the championship hunt are considered the best of the best. Rossi knows that he and his entire Andretti Autosport crew need to remain picture perfect and capitalize on any mistakes their Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing counterparts make.
“The pressure is on I think all of the top four guys in the championship,” Rossi said. “It’s amazing that every year this championship comes down to the final race, and it’s going to be no different this year.
“We just need to make sure we’re in a good position to come out on top.”
The NTT IndyCar Series returns to action on August 18, with the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Live race coverage begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.