INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 33: Who Wins at Laguna?

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Today’s question: What was your biggest takeaway from the Grand Prix of Portland, and who will win the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey this Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca?

Curt Cavin: I’ll start by reminding everyone that I had Alex Palou winning at Portland while Zach and PK’s picks – Marcus Ericsson and Colton Herta – finished seventh and eighth, respectively. As for a takeaway, I continue to be surprised how early cautions impact the finishes of these INDYCAR races. The top three finishers – Palou, Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon – took advantage of that early caution to pit, which rewarded them later in the race. As for this week’s pick, it’s Herta. He hasn’t had many flashes this season, but Laguna Seca is his best track. In 2019, he won his first INDYCAR start there by leading 83 of the 90 laps from the pole. Expect a similar performance this weekend.

Zach Horrall: Thanks for that reminder, Curt … I’ll take solace in the fact that I led my INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge league this weekend. But anyway, my biggest takeaway was just how much the championship picture could change in one race. I did not envision a 35-point swing in the standings, with Alex Palou going from -10 to +25. But I guess that’s what happens when Palou wins and Pato O’Ward finishes 14th. In turn, my mind has gone from thinking this championship is wide open to wondering if Palou turned the tide and made this a race for second place? And with that … hell, I have no reason to think Palou can’t win again at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca even though all he’s done there is test. He had never raced at Portland, but was fastest in practice, won the pole and the race. I believe in momentum, and I think Palou has it.

Paul Kelly: So, close only counts in horseshoes, Curt? Well, in your case, even blind squirrels sometimes find nuts. Ha! My biggest takeaway from Portland and my Laguna Seca prediction are intertwined. I was very impressed with the fight mustered by Josef Newgarden at Portland, who overcame a poor qualifying session and starting 18th to rally to finish fifth and keep alive his hopes for a third NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship. Newgarden may be the top “coulda, shoulda” driver of the 2021 season, as he could have won at Detroit and Road America and have four victories right now. I also noticed the belief in his voice during his post-race interview at Portland, convinced he is still in this fight. So, for all those reasons, I see Joe New and Team Penske winning at Laguna and tightening the race heading into the finale at Long Beach.

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