The end of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series is quickly approaching and, as in years past, the fight for the Astor Cup has come down to the final race. This time around, frontrunners Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi are joined by Team Penske’s mathematically eligible drivers Josef Newgarden and Will Power in championship contention.
Given that 29 points separate Dixon and Rossi, the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma would decide the 2018 champion whether double points were available or not. With extra points on offer, the possibilities are as numerous as the reasons for intrigue.
Defending champion Newgarden and 2014 champion Power both head to Sonoma Raceway with 511 points. This number puts them a whopping 87 points behind Dixon. Yet with 104 available points — 100 for a victory and four bonus points — a second series championship for either driver is possible.
Newgarden and Power essentially require a win for themselves and a last-place finish for Dixon to end the year with their name atop the leaderboard. If one of the Penske pilots finds victory lane and scores maximum bonus points, Dixon would have to finish 22nd or worse for their title chances to manifest.
Beyond a terrible day for four-time champion Dixon, Newgarden and Power need Rossi to finish 10th or worse. If Rossi earned bonus points for starting from pole and leading the most laps but finished 11th, he’d be tied with a victorious Newgarden or Power, necessitating a tiebreaker based on race wins which would fall in favor of the winning Penske driver as all championship contenders have won three times in 2018.
Based on the numbers, possible doesn’t necessarily equate to probable, making it a two-driver competition unless perhaps Dixon and Rossi take each other out before the checkered flag.
Paring it down to just the two drivers at the top of the standings simplifies the calculations but doesn’t eliminate the excitement of Dixon racing for his fifth championship or Rossi his first.
If Rossi’s weekend goes perfectly — pole position, most laps led and a victory — he will end the season with 673 points. If Dixon’s weekend doesn’t go quite as perfectly but he manages to finish in the second position without any bonus points, he will end the season with 678 points and still win the championship. Rossi’s hypothetical perfect weekend would be enough, however, if Dixon finishes outside the top two.
Rossi’s chances of success dwindle the further back he finishes in the order. Excluding bonus points, a second-place finish would put him at 649 and require Dixon to finish seventh or better. The bottom step of the podium would be even more dire for Rossi with Dixon needing a finish or ninth or better to clinch his fifth title.
For Rossi as well as Newgarden and Power, it’s a game of math and who finishes where. For the championship leader, it’s a lot simpler: finish ahead of the other three.
The action at Sonoma Raceway will get started Friday, Sept. 14 with two practice sessions followed by a third practice and qualifying on Saturday. The 85-lap race to decide the 2018 title will begin at 3:40 p.m. PDT on Sunday with live coverage of all 202.7 miles — and the post-race championship celebration — airing on NBCSN.