IndyCar: Alex Palou can break an ‘unbreakable’ streak

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press)
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press) /

Alex Palou has more than a one-race lead in the IndyCar championship standings through just seven races. Can he seal the title before the season finale?

Following his second win in the last three IndyCar races in last Sunday afternoon’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on the streets of Detroit, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou has opened up a 51-point lead in the championship standings over teammate Marcus Ericsson.

A driver can score a maximum of 54 points in any given IndyCar race, with the winner scoring 50, plus one for leading at least one lap. Two points go to the driver who leads the most laps, and one point goes to the polesitter.

Drivers can score no fewer than five points in a race, meaning that anything more than a 49-point deficit cannot be made up in a single race, barring an unexpected absence.

So after his sixth career victory — and surprisingly his first on a street course race — the 26-year-old Spaniard already has a full one-race lead in the standings over Ericsson, who held the lead after three of the season’s first four races.

Can Alex Palou become the first driver to win an IndyCar championship before the finale since Dan Wheldon in 2005?

IndyCar prides itself on its competitive nature, specifically the fact that there are probably a dozen or so drivers who can be in the mix to win on any given weekend.

There is no better way to illustrate this than the fact that there have been at least two drivers still mathematically alive to win the championship entering every season finale since 2006 — and without playoffs.

In IndyCar, the historically correct assumption is that it will come down to the wire.

The late Wheldon was the last driver to seal the deal before the finale, and he technically secured it with two races to go; all he needed to do was take the green flag in one of the final two races to mathematically secure the title.

It is worth noting that while the series used a double points system for the season finale every year from 2014 to 2019, none of those six championships would have officially been secured heading into the finale had the regular points system been utilized. They still would have come down to the final event.

Neither Palou nor Chip Ganassi Racing are focused on the comparisons of this season to Palou’s 2021 championship season, given the fact that 10 of the season’s 17 races are still on the schedule. For them, it’s far too early to think championship.

But here’s what stands out about Palou’s points lead.

Last year, Team Penske’s Will Power became the first driver to win an IndyCar championship with just a single race win since Tony Stewart won the 1996-97 Indy Racing League title. His two teammates won three races and five races, yet he still managed to win the championship thanks to his consistency. In fact, even if his lone win wasn’t a win, he would have won the title.

He racked up 12 top four finishes in 17 races, and his worst finish of the season was the best of any driver in the field.

Palou already has two wins in seven races, tying him for the most with Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, yet it is his consistency which has allowed him to grow his lead to 51 points. He has reeled off six straight top five finishes, and his only non-top five finish of the year is an eighth place effort in the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg.

But Palou’s strength goes even farther than this.

Ericsson has also been extremely consistent, having finished no worse than 10th place this year. Like Palou, he too has three podium finishes in the season’s first seven races. Yet Palou has still managed to open up a huge gap.

The remaining schedule favors Palou’s strengths as well. He scored a podium finish at Road America in just his third career IndyCar start in 2020 before winning at the track in 2021.

He has scored back-to-back podium finishes at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and finished in sixth place in his first start on the streets of Toronto, despite the fact that this race took place on a weekend when all anybody could talk about was his contract situation.

He finished on the podium on the streets of Nashville last year, he dominated at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last month, he came from the back to win — ironically from pole — at Portland International Raceway in 2021, and he dominated at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca last year, a win that many believe sort of spearheaded his strong 2023 campaign.

The only two tracks remaining on this year’s schedule not mentioned above are the oval tracks of Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, where Palou still managed two top nine finishes in three starts last year, despite Chip Ganassi Racing’s struggles at those two venues.

With -180 odds at DraftKings Sportsbook, Palou is the betting favorite to win the 2023 IndyCar championship. Sign up today using their current promotion and bet now!

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The next race on the schedule is the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR, which is scheduled to take place on Sunday, June 18. Tune in to USA Network at 1:00 p.m. ET for the live broadcast. Begin a free trial of FuboTV if you haven’t already done so!