PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Scott McLaughlin led a Team Penske at Portland International Raceway by earning his third win of the season with a 1-2 finish that brought Will Power one race closer to the IndyCar Championship.
McLaughlin led 104 of 110 laps on Sunday, earning his third win of the season. He trails only Penske teammate Josef Newgarden (five) in most winning streaks, but a volatile season sees the New Zealander cling to title hopes.
McLaughlin goes to the season finale next Sunday in Laguna Seca, California, in fifth place, 41 points behind Power, but is mathematically still in the race.
“We did exactly what we had to do this weekend, which was to win and get maximum points,” said McLaughlin. “We’ve got to keep in it and we’re a long shot but we have a chance.”
Anyway, IndyCar heads into its finale embroiled in the closest championship fight in 19 years. The 41 points separating McLaughlin from leader Power in fifth place is the closest since 30 points separated the top five in 2003, when the series was called the Indy Racing League.
Power had a relatively easy ride, but never enough to challenge McLaughlin for the win. In second place, he goes into the final with a 20-point lead over Newgarden and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.
“We’re in the best position, we’ve got the best shot, we’ll do our best,” said Power.
Dixon finished third but failed to gain ground in the title fight; Newgarden fell from fourth place at the restart with 22 rounds remaining and finished eighth, losing 17 points of power in the Penske Championship fight.
“We’re still fighting,” said Dixon, who started 16th. “We have to stop getting these most improved race prizes.”
Newgarden lamented his late tire choice which put him behind in the final stint.
“At this point, it’s just the way it is. I’m going to try to win this race and go all out,” said Newgarden. “I don’t know how Laguna will play, but we will go play and see what happens.”
The three Penske entrants were class of the field in Portland, where the team used its final test of the season to prepare for Sunday. The trio was quick in every session and had a clear advantage over Chip Ganassi Racing who decided to use their last test at Laguna Seca in anticipation of the finale.
Ganassi had Dixon, Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and reigning IndyCar Champion Alex Palou in the title chase, but only Palou had a decent qualifying performance. Dixon and Ericsson failed to get out of the first qualifying group and Ericsson only recovered to 11th place. The Swede is 39 points behind Power, fourth in the table.
Although Palou finished 12th and Pato O’Ward fourth, both were eliminated from the title fight.
“Don’t have enough for the Penske boys. They dominated everyone, not just us,” O’Ward said.
IndyCar decides its championship with the finale next Sunday at the Laguna Seca Raceway in California. Colton Herta is the two-time defending champion.
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