Throughout the season, POPULAR SPEED will rank the top-10 drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series following each event. Feel free to comment on the story at the POPULAR SPEED Facebook page.
Wrong time to have a clunker. Josef Newgarden has allowed at least three rivals to have a good chance to win the championship, with double points at stake in the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway. While rain should not be a factor in the Wine Country, the momentum generated by the previous podium finishes could be non-existent.
A couple of notable drivers have moved up the list this week, including Scott Dixon. Before Newgarden jumped to the top last month, the Iceman had been a consistent number one for the first two-thirds of the season.
1. Team Penske (Unchanged)
Only Helio Castroneves made the top-five at Watkins Glen, as the strategy calls backfired on other pilots in the Captain’s camp not named Josef Newgarden. Still, the complete body of work for 2017 merits their stay at the top of the heap.
2. Chip Ganassi Racing (Unchanged)
Scott Dixon’s second-straight runner-up placing has him in control of his own destiny behind Josef Newgarden by only three points. Top-tens earned by Charlie Kimball (seventh) and Max Chilton (eighth) merit praise likewise.
3. Andretti Autosport (Unchanged)
Not only is Alexander Rossi’s future secured at Andretti in 2018, but he also returned the favor by crushing the competition at Watkins Glen. A solid drive, minus the bad luck that has plagued him throughout 2017, netted Ryan Hunter-Reay a strong third-place result.
4. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+1)
Graham Rahal moves RLLR back to the number four spot on the list, thanks to a trouble-free, fifth-place output in upstate New York.
5. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (-1)
Respectable run from Jack Harvey earned 14th at the checkered flag. However, a second bad effort in the last three rounds by James Hinchcliffe drops SPM down a rung this week.
6. Dale Coyne Racing (Unchanged)
If not for sub par resumes from the Foyt and Carpenter squads, Coyne’s duo of Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones would have dropped a notch this week. A warning shot if season closes poorly at Sonoma, though.
7. A.J. Foyt Racing (Unchanged)
Difficult to overlook poor showings for most of the 2017 campaign, but Carlos Munoz (tenth) and Conor Daly (eleventh) have each netted two consecutive good results. A third to close out 2017 could jump them ahead of Coyne entering the off-season.
8. Ed Carpenter Racing (Unchanged)
2017 has been a year of missed opportunities for road-course specialist Spencer Pigot. The former Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion should have garnered better than a 12th-place effort at Watkins Glen. J.R. Hildebrand never made an impact and came home in 15th.
9. Harding Racing (=)
Assuming Harding does indeed go full-time in 2018, Gabby Chaves and company will face a steep learning curve. Still, the Larry Curry-managed squad could be a threat on the ovals at least.
10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)
Season’s over, but 2018 Indianapolis 500 could be promising if the team continues the same course with Sage Karam. The driver-squad pairing seems perfect for one-off outings.
1. Josef Newgarden (Unchanged)
Praying for rain that never came, the Tennessee-native faces a tougher task to win the title entering the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. We will learn quickly how short a memory the Penske pilot has.
2. Scott Dixon (+3)
Back-to-back runner-up placings have the New Zealander well within the range of a fifth IndyCar championship. The results before Gateway were not so great, but unlike Newgarden he has, for the most part, avoided the DNFs.
3. Helio Castroneves (+2)
The Brazilian still has a chance at claiming his first title in what likely will be the last shot. While that scenario could bring about a big result, it could also lead to an ill-timed maneuver. He will need to do better than fourth-place at Watkins Glen when the circuit heads to Sonoma.
4. Alexander Rossi (+2)
Celebrated his short run on the free agent market, by blowing away the competition at New York’s Thunder Road. While he is too far back in points to challenge for a series crown, he could play the role of spoiler in the Wine Country.
5. Will Power (-2)
Sixth-place was nice at the Glen, but damage suffered early in the 2017 season appears to be too much to overcome.
6. Simon Pagenaud (-4)
Might of had a better shot to post a better showing if strategy did not go belly up. Inconsistency has plagued the Frenchman in his title defense.
7. Graham Rahal (+1)
Not been a bad year for Rahal and RLLR; the fifth-place effort was a good one in New York. The Ohioan however, will need a huge finish at Sonoma if he is to be in consideration for a higher end of year ranking.
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (+1)
Another good performance at Watkins Glen continues to move the 2012 series champion up the list. Not the season we have come to expect from RHR in recent campaigns, but he should be a bigger threat in the new year.
9. James Hinchcliffe (-2)
Back to the drawing board for Hinch and the SPM squad after a rough go of it at Watkins Glen. Not having a consistent teammate may be a potential reason for the recent run of iffy showings.
10. Max Chilton (Unranked)
Time to re-insert the Englishman back into the rankings after a good top-ten at Watkins Glen. While teammate Charlie Kimball outran him by one position, Chilton has a more impressive resume, topped off with a career run to fourth at the Indy 500.
Dropped Out: Tony Kanaan (Was No. 10 after St. Louis)
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.