INDIANAPOLIS — There’s no question about it, the parity has honestly never been higher in the NTT IndyCar Series as it is right now. Almost anyone can win in any given race. Not many series around the world can say that. Just look at how qualifying shaped up on Friday to set the field for Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix (2 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) as a further example of this.
Two rookies made the Fast Six. The top two in the current points failed to even make it out of the first round of the three round knockout qualifying format. Five time pole winner here on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in Will Power will start 12th. Alexander Rossi rolls off one row behind him in 14th. Six time series champion Scott Dixon starts 16th. The winner of the last race run in Texas in Pato O’Ward starts 18th.
Then you have former series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay, four time champ Sebastien Bourdais, seven time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and world renowned talent in Juan Pablo Montoya coming from 19th, 20th, 23rd and 25th respectively.
In front of them?
Six drivers in the top nine of the starting lineup have yet to even win a race. One of the three that have has visited victory lane only once. One of the remaining two has won just four times.
That’s a lot of inexperience up front and a lot of talent coming up through the field. Overall, you get four different teams coming from the top four spots and five in the Fast Six in general. Half of the Fast Six were making their first career Fast Six appearances at that.
We’ve had four races and four different winners in 2021 and if you go back to the end of 2020, we’ve had six races and six different winners.
“A lot of it’s down to the evolution of the series,” said two-time series champion and second place starter on Saturday, Josef Newgarden. “We’ve had this chassis for a long time. I think we’re going on 10 years for the same car. Obviously it’s gone through some iterations with safety development, aero development. But really the mechanical package has not changed.”
As a result of that, Newgarden says that he thinks on what you’re seeing because of that is that up and down the grid there’s no real advantages any more.
“A lot of the engineers have circulated in the paddock, and so have the drivers. You’re seeing teams that pretty much have the same stuff. There’s no real large gains to be made,” he continued.
“Even us at Team Penske with all the resource and might that we have, we have to rely on our camaraderie and our instincts and our talent amongst the drivers to get the most out of a weekend. It’s really not an advantage that’s putting us ahead of the pack, it’s the way we work together.”
Newgarden says that in turn this makes INDYCAR “tremendously exciting.” He says that he thinks people do recognize how close INDYCAR is right now as a result of that. Just a small slipup can put you to the back.
“I think Alonso was a great example,” he said. “He came to Indy in 2017 for the first time. Had a good car, qualified up front, raced up front. Came back two years later, didn’t make the race.
“You can have polar opposite results. You can come in and be very good, come back and not have a very good result. That’s how tight it is. The details really matter. I think it’s very fun as a driver to get the most out of that. It really puts the emphasis on you working with the team, getting the most out of yourself and the most out of the team around you. That’s really fun because that’s the environment I think we grew up wanting to be in, is a place where we make a difference.
“I love that about the INDYCAR SERIES. I hope people recognize that.”