There is just one race to go for the 2018 IndyCar season which means it’s crunch time for the championship. Mathematically, there are four contenders – Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Will Power and Josef Newgarden – however, realistically there are only two as both Power and Newgarden would need nothing short of a miracle to win, as we’ll get to later.
Sonoma is double points, adding another element to an already tense decider and meaning that there’s even less margin for error, as if that margin wasn’t small enough already! Going into Sonoma, Dixon leads Rossi by 29 points with Power and Newgarden tied, 58 points back from Rossi and 87 from Dixon.
The title permutations are vast in numbers and, with bonus points also on offer, almost entirely unpredictable. For a quick reminder, the bonus points are awarded as follows: one point for pole, one point for leading any number of laps and two extra points for leading the most laps, meaning that the most any one driver can pick up is four.
Here we’re going to run through the most likely outcomes, excluding the unpredictable factor of the bonus points.
To put it simply, if Dixon finishes ahead of Rossi, that’s game over as the margin would go up rather than down. If Dixon is first or second, he wins the championship no matter what Rossi does. Also, if Rossi finishes lower than tenth, Dixon is crowned champion. For Rossi to win the championship, he really needs to win the race and bank on Dixon being third but preferably lower, given the bonuses.
If Rossi finishes second, he’ll need Dixon to be fourth or lower and if Rossi’s third, Dixon would have to finish tenth or lower. Rossi can technically win the championship from as low as tenth however, that would involve Dixon being classified 25th or lower which would essentially mean him getting completely wiped on the first lap.
The best course of action for Rossi would be, quite obviously, to win the race and then just hope either some misfortune befalls Dixon, or that he’s got enough of his Andretti teammates near him to back him up. Equally for Dixon, he’ll be targeting a top two finish to prevent Rossi even getting a look in.
However, all this is very easy to say, doing it is another matter entirely. IndyCar has proven time and time again just how unpredictable the racing can be – even last race when Rossi looked nailed on for the win and then had it snatched away through mistimed cautions. The crumb of comfort for Rossi is that Dixon hasn’t finished in the top two since his win at Toronto five races ago and the #27 Andretti driver has finished ahead of his rival for three of the last four races. Then again, Dixon beats Rossi 9-7 over all the races so far this season.
One other thing to note is that if Dixon and Rossi end up equal on points, the countback isn’t so simple. Pre-Sonoma, the pair are equal on wins, seconds and thirds, only being split on fourths where Dixon has one more. The rule book states: “In the case of a tie in the championship, IndyCar will determine the champion based on the most first place finishes. If there is still a tie, IndyCar will determine the champion by the most second place finishes through last place finishes, until a champion is determined.” This means that, as is stands, Dixon would win on countback should the pair be equal however, if Rossi finishes within the top three to equal Dixon, Rossi would be the champion.
And there’s more…
As I mentioned earlier, the Penske duo of Power and Newgarden are in with a shout of the title but their chances don’t exactly look great. For either of them to walk away from Sonoma champion they would have to win the race with Dixon 24th or lower and Rossi 10th or lower. Basically, for those two it’s a case of try to win the race and then just hope.
In all this, Dixon is the only one who is in some control of his own fate because he has a way to win the championship where it doesn’t matter what anyone else does. For the other three, they can win the race but are then entirely dependant on where the others finish… it could end up being very close!
The title could be decided by just a handful of points or much more – only the 85 laps of Sonoma will tell. One thing is for sure though, leaving Sonoma, we’ll either have a five-time champion in Dixon or a new champion in Rossi with a very slim chance a two-time champion in either Power or Newgarden… someone’s got to win it, it’s just a question of who.