IndyCar: The 17-year streak that suddenly seems about to end

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

Alex Palou’s lead in the IndyCar championship standings puts him in position to potentially become the first champion in 18 years to clinch the title before the season finale.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou took the lead of the IndyCar championship standings following his first win of the season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in mid-May, and he has not relinquished that lead since.

In fact, his lead has been no less than 51 points since he earned his second win of the season on the streets of Detroit, Michigan in early June, the win that began his three-race winning streak.

Through 14 of 17 races on the 2023 schedule, Palou owns a 101-point lead over teammate Scott Dixon in the standings, with Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden sitting a further four points back in third place.

As a result, Alex Palou has a chance to clinch the IndyCar championship before the season finale.

No driver has pulled this off since 2005, when Dan Wheldon entered the season finale at Auto Club Speedway having already been crowned champion.

With two races remaining on the 17-race 2005 schedule, all Wheldon needed to do was show up to one of the final two races to secure himself the title, but officially speaking, he didn’t clinch until there was one race left.

Yes, IndyCar did use a double points format for season finales from 2014 to 2019, but even if that weren’t the case, the championship battles in each of those six seasons would have gone down to the wire.

Theoretically, Palou can clinch his second title in three years as early as this Sunday afternoon’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, which would make him the champion with two races remaining.

There are 54 points available for each driver in each race, meaning that Palou must own a 109-point lead following the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 to clinch the title with two races remaining.

But assuming he shows up to the final two races, he guarantees himself five points per race, so a 99-point gap is unofficially what he needs to wrap things up.

Fortunately for his competition, he has not been strong at the four-turn, 1.25-mile (2.012-kilometer) Madison, Illinois oval, having finished no higher than ninth place in four starts. Meanwhile, Dixon won at the track in 2020, and Newgarden is a four-time winner in seven starts there — and the three-time reigning winner.

But Palou won at Portland International Raceway in 2021 and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2022, and those two tracks are scheduled to host the final two races of the 2023 season.

Even if he doesn’t clinch with two races left, he will probably be able to clinch with one remaining. And even if he can’t do that, it would take a gargantuan collapse for him not to win this year’s title.

That seems quite unlikely for the 26-year-old Spaniard, whose worst finishes of the season are a pair of eighth place results — and whose average finish is 3.71.

Next. All-time IndyCar wins list. dark

The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 is scheduled to be broadcast live on NBC from World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, August 27. Start a free trial of FuboTV today and don’t miss it!