The last oval on the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule is the 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, just outside St. Louis, Missouri. With relatively flat banking and unique egg shape, the track has had several memorable races as of late that showcase IndyCar’s short oval package. Yes, IndyCar considers a one-plus-mile track a short oval.
Just like Iowa, the dominant force there has been Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden. He’s coming in with a three race win streak at Gateway and will fight to get the same result to keep his slim championship hopes alive.
Eyes will be on Alex Palou as well, as this is probably the last opportunity for any of the competition to close the gap on him considering his previous runs at the oval. But chances of him losing the title seem all but hopeless by now.
Since the last race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, several news items have dropped to include new driver lineups or first-time oval racers, so the field will have several story lines to follow over the course of 260 laps.
Newgarden is the King of Ovals right now. Dating back to the start of last season, only two other drivers have won on them besides him – Pato O’Ward at Iowa Race 2 last year, in which Newgarden crashed from the lead, and Marcus Ericsson at the 2022 Indianapolis 500. So, that’s a record of seven wins in the last nine oval races.
If the master were to win this weekend, he’d be the first to conquer all in one season – albeit just five races compared to other seasons like 1968 where of 28 total events, 13 were ovals. Considering how competitive IndyCar is, it’s still a remarkable accomplishment.
For the Team Penske driver to regain second place in the points, he has no option but to go for broke and blitz the field like he did at Iowa in June.
Palou Inching Closer
The successful 2023 season for Palou has been covered extensively at Frontstretch, so we won’t beat that drum this time. He is on the cusp of that second championship in just his fourth season of IndyCar racing. Since Formula 1 doesn’t seem like an option for him now, he’s made a decision that put him back in the spotlight for the wrong reasons again. This time, he’s running too competitively and has too many trophies in his kit bag to get bogged down by the legitimate questions he’ll endure over the next three events, especially now that McLaren has filed a lawsuit against him.
On the racetrack, he is coming to possibly his worst venue in the rotation. He has a best finish of ninth in last year’s race and hasn’t shown much consistency running up front. But the beauty of his team’s execution this year is he doesn’t need a stellar finish to feel good post-race. All he needs is a solid placing, and then he can leave knowing that he’s reaching for that Astor Cup.
Except That Million Dollars!
That’s right! Palou is in the running for the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge, which requires one more win for him to nab it. That win? On the last remaining oval. If he can pull it out, he will join Newgarden as winners of the prize. Think about that, he could be cashing a million on Sunday, and another million for the championship in a few weeks. What a year.
Alternate Tires Meet Oval
A first for IndyCar will be the use of an alternate tire during an oval race. The optional tire has only been used on road and street circuits, but this weekend teams will get two sets of Firestone reds that they will use – one set in practice and the other is mandatory for at least two laps in the race. No one knows what the fall off will be with this faster, but less durable compound, but the strategy will make things interesting throughout the race.
Conor Daly was brought on this weekend to replace the recently departed Jack Harvey in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing No. 30 Honda. Daly will now have raced for every IndyCar team in the paddock except, arguably, the top two, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.
Gateway has been a good track for Daly, so this is a great opportunity to rebuild confidence in his abilities. He’s had four top 10s there, with a best result of fifth in 2017.
The rookie Swedish driver Linus Lundqvist will get his oval racing initiation as he continues in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda as Simon Pagenaud continues his recovery from a Mid-Ohio crash in July. He tested at Texas earlier in the year so he has some laps around an oval, but this tricky, egg-shaped oval has a bit more to it than the high banks outside Fort Worth. It will be a great barometer of how fast he can learn and possibly showcase for other teams for a ride next year (Ganassi maybe?).
Time for McLaren to Rise
The Arrow McLaren team can’t be thrilled to be winless at this point in the season. O’Ward started strong and looked to be set to break open a career-defining surge, but he was unable to tap into any wins to this point. Gateway is a place where he can return to form. The Mexican ace has been up front there ,leading 141 laps in his career and hasn’t finished worse than fourth in his four tries, but the last three times he’s been following Newgarden to the checkered flag by races end. We’ll see if this changes on Sunday.
Ericsson Heading to a New Team
With this week’s news that Ericsson would move over to Andretti Autosport, there are questions on why this didn’t work out like it did for Palou. Last year, Palou seemed focused on getting to McLaren any way he could, even though he was throwing a good thing away at Ganassi, including a championship and up-front runs at the Indianapolis 500. Now Palou is staying at CGR. The same could be pondered for Ericsson and why there wasn’t an abrupt change for him to remain. He’s won four times, to include last year at Indy, and was half a lap from winning again this year. That type of production usually doesn’t come available on the market. But, it has.
Ericsson’s last three races will be interesting to watch, as he will continue to claw to get into the top five in points. But will his results follow him to Andretti next year? The AA squad hasn’t shown consistent, up-front pace like CGR, but at the same time, if the team was willing to invest in Ericsson unlike Ganassi, then it’s not possible to fault the guy for leaving.
Ugh. The predictions for the Gallagher Grand Prix were atrocious. Leave it to possible GOAT driver Scott Dixon to throw that way out of whack. Much like ‘pleading the fifth’ in court’ there should be a ‘pleading the Dixon’ for these things.
For this week, we’re sticking with the oval master and the surefire top-four finisher. Then will sprinkle in a little bit of left field guessing because, why not?
- Daly (Oh, arched eyebrows, you say? Let’s see him stick it to the racing world and drop a podium on everyone.)
The 2023 Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway will be on Sunday, Aug. 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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