Pato O’Ward, ran fourth in the early stages of the race despite running on Firestone’s harder primary tire, and was up to third for the race’s single restart, when he tried and failed to put a move on Will Power’s Team Penske-Chevrolet at Turn 1. He dived down the inside of the 2014 champion at the right-hander, and Power made as much room as possible for him, but was still struck by the AMSP car. Power then had the inside line for the left-hand part of the chicane and retained his second place, while O’Ward lost momentum.
Scott Dixon, who had gotten past the dueling Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden in the first part of the chicane thus had a run on O’Ward out of Turn 3, so on the run down to Turn 4 the Mexican ace moved right to block the charging Ganassi car. That earned him a penalty, whereby he had to cede his third place to Dixon.
Despite a flapping left sidepod from his contact with Power, O’Ward held on to fourth all the way to the checkered flag, but race runner-up Power has now scored enough points to put the title beyond his reach with one round to go.
"We had to come up with the win to truly have a decent shot at it at Laguna,” said O’Ward, “but I didn't have enough for the Penske boys. They dominated everybody all weekend.
“I tried to make the pass around Will and we had an injured left side of the car for the rest of the race. Just had to nurse it from there.
“We had to let Dixon by because apparently we blocked him – so I expect IndyCar to make the same call when somebody does that to me.”
Only 54 points are available at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca next week, and O’Ward is now 67 behind Power.
Newgarden qualified second but due to taking a fifth engine, lost six grid slots. Like O’Ward, he started on primaries, and even though he lost three places in the opening stint, by the penultimate stint he was up to fourth and applying pressure to O’Ward. However, his scuffed Firestone alternates in that stint persuaded him to go for the less-favored primaries in the final stint, and while this may have worked out, the strategy was undone by the caution, caused by Rinus VeeKay smacking Jimmie Johnson into the wall approaching Turn 1.
Newgarden slipped down to ninth following the restart, although he salvaged one spot when Christian Lundgaard had to pit after picking up debris.
The 2017 and ’19 champion said to NBC, “We didn't predict that caution. There's always that risk in the final stint, and I wasn't thinking about that because it'd gone green the entire race.
“I thought the primary tires would have better durability at the end and that argument holds up a little better when there's no caution. We just got hosed basically when we had to restart with all reds [around us]. I was blown away by how much better everyone was on them.
"It's a hard day when you end up eighth. Nothing really gained on a tough starting spot. We'll just regroup and go to Laguna and try to be fast."
Newgarden, who entered the weekend only three points behind teammate Power, is now 20 points adrift, tied with Portland’s third-place finisher Scott Dixon. Asked about his prospects in the finale at Laguna Seca, Newgarden replied: "At this point, it just kinda is what it is. We're just going to try and win that race and go for broke.
“It's kinda been a weird year, everyone has done just such a good job on this #2 car, but something weird always happens – like we didn't need that yellow today. We just seem to be on the odd end of these things.
“So I don't know how Laguna is going to play but we're just going there to play to win and we'll see what happens.”