IndyCar: 3 drivers who might challenge Alex Palou — and 2 who won’t

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, IndyCar (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

IndyCar drivers who can challenge Alex Palou: No. 2 – Josef Newgarden

Point standings: 3rd – 243 (-81)
DraftKings championship odds: +550

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden has finished runner-up in the championship standings in each of the last three seasons, and behind a different driver each time.

Newgarden is one of two drivers with multiple wins this season, and he is the newest Indy 500 champion. Yet believe it or not, he is on pace for his worst points finish since 2018.

That stat just goes to show how successful the driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet has been since joining Team Penske. The two-time champion also has experiencing closing down huge deficits.

He narrowed a 117-point deficit to Scott Dixon down to 16 points over the final six races of the 2020 season, despite the fact that Dixon finished in the top 10 in all six races. He beat Dixon in all six events.

An 81-point deficit is hardly insurmountable over nine races, especially in a series that has not seen a driver clinch a title before the season finale since 2005.

If I’m Alex Palou and the No. 10 team, I’m entering the final nine races of the season with the mentality that I’m tied with Newgarden, if not slightly behind.

Why? Because of Newgarden’s strength on short ovals. He is a four-time winner at both Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway, and he has three wins at both tracks since 2019 alone.

Those tracks make up one-third of the remaining schedule. There is no reason to believe that Newgarden won’t be the overwhelming favorite to win all three races, and let’s not neglect to mention that these are tracks at which Palou has finished no higher than sixth place in eight starts. He has just two career top 10 finishes at those venues.

Newgarden is attempting to become the first driver to win the Indy 500 and the championship in the same season since Dario Franchitti won both in 2010. It’s far from over.