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(Photo: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media)

Alexander Rossi Facing Must-Win Scenario as NTT IndyCar Series Hits Portland

Alexander Rossi has some catching up to do.

After spending most of the year trying to track down points leader Josef Newgarden, the Andretti Autosport driver suddenly finds himself third in the standings behind another Team Penske pilot, Simon Pagenaud.

With just two rounds left on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series calendar, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion now has yet another hurdle to overcome if he wants to claim his first career championship — and very little time to do it.

While double points in the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca will technically give him a chance regardless of how Sunday’s race at Portland International Raceway plays out, Rossi will still want to do as much damage to Newgarden’s lead as he can.

And to take the biggest possible cut out of the Team Penske stranglehold on the title, he’ll have to win.

Yes, win.

Anything less than a trip to victory lane in Portland will mean he’ll need a lot of help when the series heads to Laguna Seca. A win itself would automatically put him ahead of Pagenaud and back into second in the standings, as 50 points are awarded for a win and 40 for reaching the second step on the podium (Pagenaud leads Rossi by eight points heading into this weekend).

And that’s just assuming the Penske pair follows him home. If either of them faces any adversity, we could be telling a much different story by the time the paddock packs up for California.

But Newgarden has an equally simple task: Beat Rossi and beat Pagenaud. While he should always be gunning for the win, it doesn’t matter if he finishes ninth if the other two title contenders finish 10th and 11th. But that means no more mistakes like the ones we saw at Mid-Ohio and World Wide Technology Raceway.

Although Newgarden wasn’t really at fault for his last lap spin in St. Louis, he threw away a fourth-place finish at Mid-Ohio, which would have given him a commanding lead in the standings and an easy path to the title. But instead of watching him cruise home to a second championship, we’re talking about how he has to fend off two of the best drivers in the series.

But if this year looks anything like last year’s trip to the Pacific Northwest, it could be anybody’s ballgame. Much like last week played out at Gateway, last year’s race at PIR came down to strategy, with Takuma Sato, in a bit of a coincidence, coming out on top. And as we’ve already seen this weekend with Sebastian Bourdais, everyone will be pushing it to — and sometimes over — the limit.

Who to Watch

Colton Herta, like usual, looked quick on the fast and narrow road course. Coming off his first finish on an oval, he’ll be looking to turn the momentum into a solid end of the year for Harding-Steinbrenner Racing in what could be his final two races with the team (rumor has it he’ll be running a fifth car for Andretti Autosport next season).

Conor Daly again makes an appearance in an IndyCar ride, taking over the No. 7 Arrow SPM Honda for Marcus Ericsson, who was called back to Europe to honor his Alfa Romeo Formula One Team third-driver duties. That makes it six races on the year for the former Dale Coyne and A.J. Foyt Racing driver, run with a total of now three different teams. While he’s looked impressive in both the Andretti No. 25 machine and the Carlin Racing No. 59 Chevrolet, another solid performance with yet another team could help him continue to make the case for a full-time ride next year.

Marco Andretti, who has rarely made an impact this year, looked quick in the opening practice, putting his Honda machine P5 on the speed charts. While he dipped further down the order in Friday’s second practice, it’s one of the few signs of speed he’s shown all year. He qualified in the top 10 for this race last year, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the veteran — now in his 15th year in the series — becomes a factor at some point in the race.

But all eyes will be on the championship leaders. We’re coming close to the culmination of a year’s worth of drama, and everyone’s still wondering how it’ll all shake out. Needless to say, all three will be pressing for a win, and all three are certainly capable of making it happen. But if there’s one thing that the NTT IndyCar Series never fails to deliver, it’s drama, so be ready for just about anything once the green flag drops.

How to Watch

Sunday’s pre-race coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, with the green flag expected to drop around 3:35 ET. Live streaming is available on the NBC Sports App with a cable subscription.

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