WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- My, what a difference a week makes.
A week ago, Team Penske was sitting pretty in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, with four drivers solidly in the top five, each with a legitimate opportunity to win the season championship. It seemed the group was working together, in unison, in step -- call it what you want.
Now? Maybe not so much.
For starters, Will Power put a severe dent in his title hopes by crashing on the opening lap of last weekend's Bommarito Auto Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park. He finished last for the second time this season, falling 83 points out of the lead with two races remaining.
Yes, the season finale Sept. 17 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway awards double the number of race points, but Power has four other drivers to surpass, which means everything must go right for him to win his second series crown.
Meanwhile, Josef Newgarden has the series lead, but trouble looms. Teammate Simon Pagenaud was fuming after the Gateway race due to the contact he took from Newgarden.
Pagenaud had the lead; Newgarden wanted it. At 190 mph, Newgarden forced his way to the inside of Pagenaud approaching Turn 1, and the bump knocked Pagenaud off line, allowing not only Newgarden to scoot past but Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon as well.
As the series arrives at Watkins Glen International for Sunday's 60-lap race (1:30 p.m., NBCSN), Pagenaud figures to be testy.
"I've never seen Scott (Dixon) do that to his teammates in his career, (his) whole career," Pagenaud said. "I respect the hell out of (Dixon). Four-time champ. You know you can race him. He's a perfect example."
Pagenaud said he "absolutely" had lost trust in Newgarden, "and respect, too."
Pagenaud, who won last year's series title, stands fourth in the standings, 43 points behind Newgarden. Their other teammate, Helio Castroneves, is in third place, 42 out of the lead.
Dixon is second, 31 points in arrears of Newgarden.
"As a teammate, I think we need to work together," Pagenaud said.
Dixon won last year's race at this 11-turn, 3.37-mile permanent road course, one of his series-leading four victories here. He also owns the track record, so it goes without saying he'll be the driver to beat.
Eight drivers are still mathematically eligible for the championship, but clearly this is close to a four-man race. Any driver who trails the leader by 104 points or more following this race will be eliminated from contention.
Interestingly, being the leader now offers no assurances. Since 2008, the driver leading with two races to go has failed to capture the title in five of the past nine seasons.