INDYCAR contenders ready to settle championship fight


MONTEREY, California – The four drivers still in mathematical contention for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship shared a few laughs Wednesday night at a local establishment on the Monterey Peninsula. But Thursday morning, the serious business of the championship battle continues with an all-day test session at the 2.258-mile, 11-turn natural terrain road course.

It’s the first time an IndyCar race has been contested at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca since 2004.

Watch the IndyCar title decided on NBC Sports Sunday at 3 p.m Eastern Time.

Wednesday night was some friendly camaraderie between NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden, who takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi in the final race of the year, one that pays double-points. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud is 42 points behind.

Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon is mathematically alive, but at 85 points back, would need some unusual circumstances to happen to win the title.

As Rossi stated Wednesday night, let the excitement begin.

“Just race cars, man,” Rossi said. “That’s what we’re all here for, right?

“I’m thrilled, as you mentioned, the fact that we’re able to have two races in California, my home state, is amazing. Every time that we went to Sonoma, we went to Long Beach, I imagine coming here is going to be the same.

“Just the fan turnout, the excitement, passion, energy they have. It’s really you guys that keep us motivated to keep going each and every weekend. Sometimes in the middle of the season in those three-week stretches when we see your excitement level at the race track, it kind of reminds of how we all fell in love with this sport. A huge shout out to everyone here now, here this weekend.

“We’ll put a hell of a show on for you.”

All four drivers have put on a hell of a show this season at various times on the schedule. Each have experienced a bad race or two that have kept this group close.

That sets up a final race showdown featuring Newgarden, a driver who has led the points for every race this season except after the 103rd Indianapolis 500. He is the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

Newgarden is the one driver who controls his own destiny. If he finishes fourth or higher in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, he wins the championship no matter what the other three drivers do in the race.

“I think we feel good about it,” Newgarden said. “We feel confident, but not overly confident. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guys on stage, really everybody.

“Someone asked me, ‘Are there any true rivalries in this series?’ I think you start the year with everybody. Then it whittles down to the real contenders at the end. I have a lot of respect for the talent these guys have. I know what they are all capable of. It makes our job, in my opinion, very difficult this weekend, especially with double points.

“It’s not going to be easy to come in here and take it simply. We’re going to have to work for it. We’ve done that all year. I feel confident we can do that again this weekend. We’re going to try to stay focused to get through this thing.”

For Rossi, the aggressive racing star who won the 100th Indianapolis 500 as a rookie, it’s the second straight season that he has entered the final race of the year second in points. He returns to the track where his father took him as a child to watch races and that is how he fell in love with the sport.

With double points, Rossi can win the title with many different scenarios. The easiest is to win the race and hope Newgarden finishes fifth or lower.

“Obviously we’re happy to be here as a part of this conversation,” Rossi said. “It’s a big honor as Josef said. It’s a big honor to be a part of this conversation.

“There are so many guys that are capable of winning races, as we see week in, week out. There’s always seemingly a new face, a new winner, new polesitters. That’s what this series is all about.

“To be here, unfortunately in a position that we’re not leading, but still here nonetheless, is very cool thing. Hopefully we can have a little bit better fortune than we did last year.”

Pagenaud is the 2016 champion and is 42 points out of the lead. It’s already been a big year for the driver from France, who won the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26 and has been part of the celebration ever since.

“That’s the fun of it really,” Pagenaud said. “Obviously for us on the 22 team, it’s been an incredible year. Obviously winning the Indianapolis 500 was the biggest dream of my life, such an accomplishment for myself, for my team. Also, for France. It hasn’t been done in 99 years, so it was very special to bring back the Borg-Warner there. I want to thank Borg-Warner and IndyCar for making that possible. We had a tremendous celebration in America and France.

“To cap it off, all you have to do is win the championship.”

What will it take for the popular driver from France to achieve that and add another title to the championship he earned with Team Penske in 2016?

“For me the situation is very, very simple — I just got to go out there, bring my A game,” Pagenaud explained. “My team, myself, just work really hard to get the car ready tomorrow in practice and then just hit your marks and get it done at the end.

“At the end of the day I’ve got to do exactly what I did in 2017 in Sonoma, try to win the race. Whatever they do, I don’t care. It’s going to sort itself out. You just have to be focused on your job and do it. We’ll see.”

Then there is Dixon, an IndyCar racing legend with five titles and 46 victories. He remains the “Platinum Standard” of INDYCAR.

As NBC’s Leigh Diffey perfectly stated, Dixon needs the perfect “lottery numbers” to fall for him to win the title. He is 85 points out in a race that pays 100 points to win.

“I think you covered it all, man,” Dixon said. “Good job.

“It’s what we all strive to do, right? That’s why we’re in this series. Especially in the modern-day formula, it’s so tight. I think everyone has commented on that, just how competitive it is.

“For me, I look at like 2007, run out of fuel on the last corner of the last lap, lose the championship to Dario Franchitti. 2009… I kind of look at the near misses quite a bit.

“I think that’s good motivation for me, too.

“It’s great to be up here. We’ve still got a chance, a chance. It’s going to take a lot, but we’re definitely up for it.

“I’m excited to be in this position. I think the show come Sunday is going to be very, very exciting.”

What makes it more exciting is there are two races out of the 17 on the schedule that pay double points – the legendary Indianapolis 500 and the season’s final race at Laguna Seca.

That is the factor that keeps so many drivers in play for the championship.

“If it wasn’t double points, I think it would be a lot simpler, obviously,” Newgarden said. “With double points, it really changes the game. I kind of knew that at the beginning of the year. I think it doesn’t matter how big of a lead you build up; it’s going to be hard to build up a lead to make you comfortable enough on a hundred points. That’s where we find ourselves.

“We’re staying focused because I don’t think we can try and take it easy or play the smart route. If we try to play it too smart, finish fifth or sixth, that’s not enough. We’re very focused on trying to continue what we’ve done all year.

But, Newgarden’s path to the title remains simple – fourth place or better.

“I’ve told people it’s not easy to finish fourth in an IndyCar race,” Newgarden said. “That’s a really good day. Sure, you can have better days, you can win the race. But to be top five in this series consistently is not an easy thing to do.

“I think we have a big task ahead of us. We just have to honestly treat it like it’s any other weekend. I don’t know how we can do it differently.”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top

SuperMotocross Rankings season opener
Align Media

As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.

Dylan Ferrandis finished on the podium in his first race back after experience a concussion in Supercross Round 4 at Houston. – Align Media

It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.

Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.

Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

MORE: Jett Lawrence wastes no time, wins first 450 race

After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.

Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.

Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.

450 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Jett Lawrence (26) 93.33 NA
2. Chase Sexton (1) 92.36 1 -1
3. Dylan Ferrandis (19) 89.00 NA
4. Adam Cianciarulo (8) 82.89 5 1
5. Aaron Plessinger (5) 81.20 9 4
6. Justin Hill (9)
Not racing MX
79.75 8 2
7. Ken Roczen (4)
injured | Not racing MX
79.13 3 -4
8. Jose Butron (30) 75.67 NA
9. Lorenzo Locurcio (29) 75.00 NA
10. Eli Tomac (2)
74.50 2 -8
11. Dean Wilson (10)
Not racing MX
72.88 7 -4
12. Cooper Webb (3) 71.17 6 -6
13. Jerry Robin (32) 70.33 NA
14. Justin Barcia (6)
70.00 4 -10
15. Kyle Chisholm (15) 65.36 11 -4
16. Dante Oliveira (36) 65.00 NA
17. Shane McElrath (11)
Not racing MX
63.63 12 -5
18. Ryan Surratt (38) 63.33 NA
19. Josh Hill (13)
Not racing MX
62.38 13 -6
20. Justin Starling (20)
Not racing MX
62.13 19 -1

Motocross 450 Points

A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.

Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.

Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.

Motocross 250 Points

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan scored a second-place finish in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.

Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.

250 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Hunter Lawrence (1) 89.56 2 1
2. Justin Cooper (42) 84.67 NA
3. RJ Hampshire (3) 83.67 3 0
3. Haiden Deegan (4) 83.67 8 5
5. Jo Shimoda (16) 82.33 7 2
6. Guillem Farres (46) 79.33 NA
7. Levi Kitchen (6) 79.11 5 -2
8. Max Anstie (5) 77.83 12 4
9. Max Vohland (8) 77.50 14 5
10. Enzo Lopes (10) 76.00 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg (13) 74.25 16 5
12. Carson Mumford (19) 71.22 17 5
13. Jordon Smith (7) 70.56 9 -4
14. Ryder DiFrancesco (48) 70.33 NA
15. Chris Blose (12) 67.00 13 -2
16. Chance Hymas (27) 66.00 19 3
17. Tom Vialle (9) 65.78 18 1
18. Jett Reynolds (55) 63.33 NA
19. Michael Mosiman (28) 62.33 20 1
20. Garrett Marchbanks (64) 59.00 NA

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 13 AT ATLANTA: Justin Barcia leapfrogs the Big 3
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 11 AT SEATTLE: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT DETROIT: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Eli Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage