With finale upon us, 2018 season has already delivered on excitement…

Jeff Pappone

By Jeff Pappone | Published: Sep 13, 2018

In motorsport, there’s an old expression: You’re only as good as your last race.

That bodes well after the Grand Prix of Portland served as another excellent advertisement of the tight competition and wheel-to-wheel combat in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Once again, the exciting action at Portland International Raceway hammered home the fact that the pitched battles from one track to the next all year, and the nail-biting entertainment delivered to fans, has easily been the story of 2018.

Although it’s tough to look at something that’s not finished yet, the season must be seen as a huge success going into the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma finale, said title contender Alexander Rossi.

“Man, I mean, it blows my mind that the series just continues to go upwards,” said the No 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda driver, who goes into the double-points final weekend 29 points behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

“I think an indication of that was Portland. There was a lot of negative speculation, a lot of concerns (regarding fan attendance), it being Labor Day weekend, all of this. It was a massive event.”

One of the big pluses of the Verizon IndyCar Series played out in Portland as Takuma Sato started 20th yet won the race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. While it did take a bit of luck and a well-timed caution for Sato to win, it’s important to note his qualifying lap was only 0.438 of a second slower than the pole time of Will Power. It’s indicative that less than a half second separated the first 10 rows of the grid.

Sato, the 2017 Indianapolis 500 champion, became the eighth different winner in 16 races, underlining how unpredictable races have been this year.

“It is incredibly competitive — that’s INDYCAR,” Sato said

“You can win from the back row, that’s significant. If you look at the gap between the top front row to the end, it’s a very fraction. I think everyone can have a chance.”

That’s why Rossi faces an uphill battle in Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network), where he needs to overtake one of the sport’s most consistent performers. A testament to his ability to find speed and success no matter what’s thrown at him, Dixon has finished in the top three in points in 10 of the past 11 years. Oh, and he has four championships already.

The young American knows he has a big job ahead.

“It’s very, very hard to be good every weekend in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” Rossi said.

“To win a championship, it takes a lot. It’s the diversity of tracks and the challenge of the schedule, and just the overall level and caliber of drivers. That’s what makes it so challenging. It’s not really any of the rules or regulations, it’s just the people that are in it and how good everyone is.”

Although Graham Rahal isn’t happy with his performance in 2018 – he is eighth in the standings and winless this season – he’s pleased the series’ direction, even if it means his job got tougher. Rahal sees the effort by the team this year paying off in the long run, but knows he’ll need to perform at a higher level to deliver.

“The 2019 season and beyond looks really strong,” Rahal said.

“There is a lot for us to be excited about as a sport. The new TV package (exclusively with NBC Sports) will be great for us and there is more to come. I’m excited for what the future has in store and I’m excited to be part of it.”

With the Verizon IndyCar Series adding new tracks in WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and the Circuit of the Americas next year and a new engine package coming in 2021, Rossi only sees things continuing to trend up.

“To be able to introduce new races to the calendar next year, it’s going from strength to strength,” he said.

“I think INDYCAR from a competition standpoint does a very good job of keeping it open enough in terms of the regulations to allow teams to have engineering creativity, but at the same time having a rulebook that has 16 cars within half a second at Portland. You can’t find that in any other championship on the planet.”