INDIANAPOLIS — The NTT IndyCar Series finally has some driver recognition in it. That pendulum swung in their favor a few years ago. See, there was once a time the series had a ton of star power. From Unser to Foyt to Andretti to Fittipaldi to Rahal, etc, if you were to name race car drivers, odds are someone would name an Indy Car racer.
Then, NASCAR’s popularity was starting to boom. If you asked people the exact same question, you’d likely get Danica, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, etc.
But, with NASCAR’s numbers dropping off from their boon and the direct result tying to the retirement of their most popular drivers, Indy Car’s is rising and could be attributed to their rise in driver enhancement.
See, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Tony Kanaan, etc are becoming house hold names again. In turn, that gives us a ton of popular reasons why this year’s Indy 500 winner will be a popular one too.
No longer will the ‘500 champion be irrelevant outside of Central Indiana. Here’s why.
For the 11th straight year, Castroneves will try to join the four-win club. Only AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti and Rick Mears have won the Indy 500 more than Castroneves. He won his first two ‘500 starts and three in nine years, but has been shutout ever since. We haven’t seen a four time winner since Rick Mears did so in 1991.
We’ve only seen a repeat winner in this race twice since 1956. Pagenaud, has become a house hold name since his win last year. A second would be a big deal.
A young American winner? That’s what IndyCar needs again. Newgarden, went from a rising star to a star in the series now, but he’s missing a ‘500 triumph. An Indy 500 win from a driver like Newgarden would make him a household name like Power, Dixon, Helio and Rossi. He’s won two of the last three championships. He needs a 500 crown.
He narrowly missed out of an Indy 500 win in his rookie season in 2006. Little did he know then, that he’d go so long without that type of chance. Andretti, is 0-for-14. Does the Andretti Curse end on Sunday? He’s on the pole.
How about another generational win? Graham’s dad Bobby Rahal won this race in 1986 and what if the younger Rahal wins in 2020? He starts eighth.
He already became the youngest Indy Car race winner ever with a victory at COTA last March. Now, can Herta at 20 years old be the youngest Indy 500 winner ever? He’s the son of Bryan Herta and a 20 year old winning Indy would move the needle. He rolls off 10th.
What about a fourth generational driver? For the second straight year, Daly has another great shot of an Indy 500 win and a strong showing in Sunday’s race could be the boost that this talented driver needs to earn him more opportunities with the top rides he deserves. Oh yeah, Doug Boles is his step dad and this would be a huge victory for the Indianapolis area.
What about Tony George’s step son winning? Carpenter, has been so close before including finishing runner-up in 2018. He has five top two starts in the last eight years including three poles. Why not a win for the Butler grad?
The most popular driver would get another big redemption story at the Speedway. In 2015, Hinchcliffe was nearly killed in a practice crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Amazingly, he returned for the 2016 season despite having no recollection of the frightening accident. See, that’s because he had a severe concussion and had no memory of the crash. He lost so much blood in the accident, they nearly lost him on the ride to the hospital. Luckily, he survived and won the pole for the 100th Running exactly one year later. Unfortunately, Hinchcliffe missed out of making the ‘500 in 2018 after having some bad luck in the final minutes of qualifying. He was bumped. It nearly happened again last year when he crashed on Saturday in qualifying. He was a last row qualifier. Can he return in 2020 with Andretti and win? What a story that would be.
Speaking of popular winners, why not Kanaan? He’s one of the most popular drivers in the series driving for one of the more popular owners. AJ Foyt’s team hasn’t won a race since 2013. Kanaan, hasn’t won since 2014. They’ve been close the last couple of years and this may be Kanaan’s 19th and final start.
He ranks in the top three in every major statistical category in the series. The only drivers in his category right now is AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti. Unfortunately, Dixon only has one Indy 500 win (2008).