Why Iowa is make or break for some of Palou’s IndyCar title rivals

Why Iowa is make or break for some of Palou's IndyCar title rivals
Why Iowa is make or break for some of Palou's IndyCar title rivals

The guy had a terrible qualifying run for the Honda Indy Toronto and ended up 15th on the starting grid, hit the wall halfway through the race while trying to avoid someone else’s crash, broke the front wing to the point of it barely hanging on in the final laps, but finished second, all while saving ridiculous amounts of fuel due to pitting five laps before the eventual race winner.

If that’s what a ‘bad’ weekend looks like for Alex Palou, hand him the championship trophy right now and save everyone a lot of wasted time, money, and travel.

Kidding aside, adversity could strike at any moment and strip the comfortable lead Palou’s currently enjoying, but until that happens — if it happens at all — we’ll continue to watch his march forward in a season unlike any other. With a massive 117-point lead entering the Hy-Vee IndyCar Weekend doubleheader in Iowa, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is generating statistics that are nothing less than ridiculous.

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Looking within the construct of IndyCar’s modern point system dating back 40 years to 1983, Palou’s gap to fellow Ganassi driver Scott Dixon is the largest on record.

According to independent IndyCar statistician Scott Richards, at 117 points, Palou has the biggest championship lead we’ve ever seen after 10 races, with Dixon ranking second from 2020 when he held a 76-point advantage over Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud is third on the list with the 73-point gap to former teammate Newgarden in 2016. Dixon and Pagenaud went on to win those championships. And more stats continue to emerge during Palou’s remarkable run.

Strong output in Iowa could have Palou matching the peerless four-time champion Dario Franchitti in one area as the Scot captured 11 straight top five finishes on the way to winning his first IndyCar title in 2007 with Andretti Autosport. Palou’s at nine in a row and could tie his Ganassi mentor by Sunday if his streak continues.

And with his eighth-place finish to start the season, which ranks as his worst finish of the year, he’s become the eighth driver in IndyCar history to place eighth or better in the first 10 races. The others to do so have surnames like Franchitti (2007), Bourdais (2005), Kanaan (2004), Rutherford (1980), Foyt (1963), and so on.

“I had no idea about these,” Palou told RACER. “Sometimes I cannot really understand the type of year that we’re having. I’m blown away, obviously, by what the team is doing.”

Within the 117-point advantage over Dixon, another mind-bending reality has been produced. After 10 races in 2022, 10 drivers were within 115 points of championship leader Marcus Ericsson. In 2023, no driver is within 115 points of Palou.

Getting down to business in the​​ seven weeks that remain in the IndyCar season, 378 points — the seven races with a maximum of 54 points available at each round — are up for grabs between Saturday’s opening Iowa race and the season finale at Laguna Seca.

With the Hy-Vee IndyCar doubleheader in mind, 108 points are on offer this weekend and Palou’s rivals need to be greedy and take most of them away from the Spaniard if they want to have a chance to overtake him during the final five events.

Using history as a guide, Palou’s short-oval results suggest Dixon, Newgarden (-126), Ericsson (-142), Pato O’Ward (-143) and the others chasing him can indeed make gains this weekend. From seven starts at Iowa and World Wide Technology Raceway, his best performances were a pair of sixths last season at this event, and from there, the next-best is a ninth at WWTR.

If the championship is going to feature someone other than Palou, Iowa is the place for his pursuers to mount a charge.​

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