I know, the confetti is still floating in the salt filled air in Long Beach and the Astor Cup trophy is still damp from Sunday night’s celebration from Alex Palou, but it’s never to early to look ahead for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season.
We see this in other stick-and-ball sports for their “very early” top 25 polls or Super Bowl odds the minute the clock strikes 0:00 on their respective championship games. So, why not have some fun and peer into the crystal ball a bit to see how next season may look in the toughest racing series in the world.
For starters, I expect it to look a lot like this one except a higher car count. We already know of three teams that will be on the grid full time with potentially more to come. I also expect a lot of chatter to look even further ahead to the 2023 season with new engine regulations coming out then.
That’s why 2022 to me, will look a lot like 2021. Parity will be high since the car has been here for a while now and everyone in the garage knows each other as well as likely been with other teams too. There’s not much separation anymore. We saw seven different winners from five different team, four of which being first time winners, in the first seven races of the 2021 season.
With Romain Grosjean likely going to Andretti and that organization due for a rebound year, I expect them to factor into next season even more than they have the last couple of years. The problem is, who can move up into the top five because I think the top four are almost building a stone wall right now.
For two straight years now, Pato O’Ward, Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon finished in the top four in points. For Newgarden, hes finished in the top five of the final standings for six straight years, five of which in the top four. Dixon meanwhile, has a top four finish in 15 of the last 16 years at that.
Go ahead and pencil them into the top four again next year.
What about Alex Palou? I don’t see him dropping off. That’s four drivers already. What about a fifth and how do you break into those four?
To do so, you need consistency in the podiums. You have to turn top 10’s into top fives and when you can, turn top fives into podiums. How do you do that in a day and age of parity being so high?
No one won more than three races all last season. O’Ward and Newgarden each won twice. Dixon won once. The wins are fairly even. It’s the stats behind to where championships are now won.
In terms of top fives, Palou had 10, O’Ward and Dixon each had nine. Newgarden eight For top 10’s, it was 13 for Newgarden, 12 for the Ganassi trio and 11 for O’Ward.
All pretty even.
But, look at the podiums.
Newgarden had six. Dixon and O’Ward each had five. Ericsson had three. Palou had eight.
See the difference? That’s what separated these five. What about what separated these five from the rest?
It was turning top 10’s into top fives and top fives into podiums.
Graham Rahal by comparison had seven top fives but only one podium. Colton Herta had seven top fives but just five podiums and eight top 10’s. Simon Pagenaud had nine top 10’s but only three of those were in the top five and two of them were podiums at that. Will Power had four podiums, but only seven top 10’s in general.
See the path. You need to be in the top 10 nearly every race while scoring as many top fives as you can. But most of those top fives need to be in the podiums too. That’s the difference.
Then, with the competition being so tough to top these guys, it makes the field even tougher to win in.
This was Power’s first season he didn’t have a top five points finish in the last 13 years. He won the 2014 championship. Was runner-up in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016. He was third twice (2015 and 2018) and fourth once in 2013. He’s been fifth in 3 of the last 4 seasons (2017, 2019, 2020).
Herta was seventh, third and fifth respectively himself. I don’t see his stats declining either. He says he needs more podiums and if luck goes his way, he’ll get them. He had a fast car all season and I don’t know why that would trail off.
Rahal has seven straight top 10 points finishes. Marcus Ericsson went from 17th to 12th to 6th in his three seasons.
There’s eight drivers that all are pretty much a top 10 lock in points for 2022. I didn’t even mention Alexander Rossi who has to come out of his slump sometime. What about Rinus VeeKay? There’s 10 drivers already. 11 if you count Grosjean.
That’s why next season should be just as good if not tougher to win in than this one and why I feel like the guys in the top four this year will be tough to unseat next. They know what it takes to be there.
I also expect another good year out of the Honda camp.
Really, from 2018 through now, Honda has not only evened the playing field, they’ve since taken the advantage. For the first time since Chevy came in for 2012 and beyond, Honda eclipsed Chevy for most wins in a season in 2018 (11-6). They’ve been even the last two years prior to this one with Chevy winning 9-8 in 2019 and Honda having a 7-7 split in 2020. This year, was 9-6.
With the same car this time around, it’s Honda 35, Chevrolet 28. In the three year span of the Aerokits from 2015 through 2017, it was Chevy 34, Honda 15.
So, it may be five more months until we get going again, but 2022 will have just as many fireworks as 2021.