Dan Wheldon remains the most recent driver to clinch an IndyCar championship before the season finale. Scott Dixon can ensure that remains the case.
If not for a DNF at Long Beach in mid-April, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon would be having a career IndyCar season as far as consistency goes.
Aside from that result, the 21-year veteran’s lowest finish through 15 of 17 races on the 2023 schedule is seventh place, and his average finish is 4.14, two statistics better than any of which he posted during his six championship-winning seasons.
Unfortunately for Dixon, teammate Alex Palou has been even more consistent. He doesn’t have a single finish lower than eighth place, and his average finish throughout the entire season is 3.93.
As a result, Palou owns a 74-point lead over the six-time champion with two races remaining on the schedule, giving him an opportunity to become the first driver since Dan Wheldon in 2005 to clinch a championship before the season finale.
Since 2006, every single IndyCar title battle has come down to the wire.
While a double points format was used in the IndyCar season finales from 2014 to 2019, this still would have been the case even without the added reward to close out those seasons.
Palou has already clinched the tiebreaker over Dixon. Even if the 43-year-old New Zealander were to win the season’s final two races to match his teammate in victories with four, Palou would win the tiebreaker due to having three third place finishes, compared to Dixon’s one. Both have posted one runner-up finish.
There are 54 points on offer in each race. The race winner scores 50 points, plus an effectively guaranteed extra point for leading at least one lap. One point is also awarded to the polesitter, and two are awarded to the driver who leads the most laps.
With Dixon unable to score more than 108 points the rest of the season, this means that Palou simply needs to score 34 points in some way, shape, or form to clinch the title.
The driver of the No. 10 Honda hasn’t scored fewer than 24 points in any individual race this year, so he appears to be a safe bet, especially heading into two races at Portland International Raceway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, tracks at which he won in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
But what kind of chance does Scott Dixon have to at least keep the IndyCar championship battle alive to the final race to preserve Dan Wheldon’s record?
If you assume that Palou shows up to the finale at Laguna Seca, he is guaranteed to score five points, meaning that Dixon needs to close the gap to 48 points at Portland. For the sake of being mathematically accurate when it comes to a clinching scenario, he needs to close it to 53 points, since Palou could theoretically end up missing the finale.
The driver of the No. 9 Honda needs to make up at least 21 points on Palou in Portland to remain mathematically eligible to win the championship at Laguna Seca, but he really needs to make up at least 26 to stay in the fight, provided the 26-year-old Spaniard competes in the finale.
This is going to be a huge challenge, even for the driver who sits second on the all-time wins list. Dixon’s two-race winning streak has seen him make up 25 points on Palou at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and 27 points on Palou at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
So he effectively needs to match or better what he has done on his current win streak, which is not easy said nor done.
There are certainly ways to close a similar gap without winning, but considering Palou’s consistency, it’s probably going to take a win for Dixon at Portland to keep the fight alive. Even then, Palou could still wrap things up with a good enough finish.
If Dixon scores a 51-point win, Palou would clinch with 31 points; a fourth place finish is worth 32. If Dixon scores a 52-point win, Palou would clinch with 32 points. If Dixon scores a 53-point win, Palou would clinch with 33 points; a third place finish is worth 35. And if Dixon scores a 54-point win, Palou would clinch with 34 points.
Keep in mind, Palou could also secure bonus points, so he could theoretically clinch with a fifth or a sixth place finish, even if Dixon wins, since a fifth place finish (30 points) can be worth up to 34 points and a sixth place finish (28 points) can be worth up to 32.
And if we assume that Palou simply takes the green flag at Laguna Seca, he doesn’t even need to finish that well.
If Dixon scores a 51-point win, Palou would clinch with 26 points; a seventh place finish is worth 26. If Dixon scores a 52-point win, Palou would clinch with 27 points. If Dixon scores a 53-point win, Palou would clinch with 28 points. And if Dixon scores a 54-point win, Palou would clinch with 29 points.
Given the possibility of bonus points, Palou could technically finish as low as a season-worst ninth place (22 points) and clinch the title.
There are other scenarios in which Dixon could stay alive without winning at Portland, but those hinge on Palou having by far a season-worst effort. If Palou were to finish 25th or worse and score five points, Dixon would need to score at least 26 points to remain mathematically alive and at least 31 to have a real chance.
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