LONG BEACH, Calif — We’re just three races into the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season. For a series that always prides itself that their championship annually comes down to the final race, we could already be seeing some distancing in the paddock. In fact, this could be shaping up to being a two horse race to the finish line between organizations, not necessarily drivers.
The drivers title is still wide open. There’s only 43 points separating the top six drivers with only 16 between 1st to 4th. The thing is, it’s the Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing drivers that are already dominating.
They have the entire top 5 in points at the moment and have combined to have taken 8 of the 9 podium spots to start this year off with. They swept the entire top 7 in the final finishing order in Texas and then took 3 of the top 4 in Long Beach including 4 of the top 6 overall.
Penske and Ganassi have also combined to win nine straight titles including 13 of the last 14 in general.
Since the start of the 2019 season, Penske has won 22 times. Ganassi is behind them at 13. Andretti is third, but they have just six trips to victory lane in that span. Ganassi has more than doubled Andretti which is a large gap now between second and third.
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing is fourth with three victories, so half of Andretti’s total which honestly may have Andretti in third all by themselves. But, if you go in the Aeroscreen era (2020-present) Andretti has four wins with Arrow McLaren SP with two. Penske has 13 and Ganassi 11.
Last year, it took Team Penske nine races before finally reaching victory lane during last year’s NTT INDYCAR Series season. The thing is, it’s not like they were too far off though. They had a car finish runner-up in each of the first four races, was fourth and third respectively as their top driver in Indy on the two courses, should have swept both events in Belle Isle, should have won in Road America, then did so in Mid-Ohio.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
“Honestly I thought it was so funny last year we kept getting. We were getting bombarded,” Penske driver Josef Newgarden said of last year’s start to the season. “The first eight races people were, like, ‘what’s wrong with you guys?’ How have you not had a win? It was just becoming comical because our performance was actually pretty good. We had good performances, and they just weren’t translating.
“We had an issue here, an issue there, and we could never really rattle off a complete victory. Because that went on for whatever it was. I think it was seven or eight events. Everyone just assumed that there was a really big issue within our team. There wasn’t.”
Now though, they’re off to a flying start and getting the results they should have a year ago. They’ve won one pole and been on the front row in all three races run, won three races and 5 of the combined 9 podiums available to start 2022 off with.
One driver though says that this start is like theirs at Chip Ganassi Racing last year and that it will eventually come to an end at some point.
“Yeah, they did an amazing job at the start of the year,” defending series champion Alex Palou said. “The same way we started really good the past year, they started really good this year I think with the three cars they have. Yeah, that’s going to change soon. I don’t know if next race or if two, three races, but that’s going to change, and we’re still there. Everybody is talking that they’ve won three races, but I think we are only 15 points away of them.
“We are always there. We are trying the best. We got already two podiums this season, so yeah, I’m feeling confident.
“I think this start of the season for us was tough. We didn’t get good results last year with these first three races, so yeah, I think we’re improving the results we got last year, and we’ll get back hopefully at Barber.
“We are now heading to some of the tracks that we know we can be a bit better, that we have better cars that I’m more confident. We tested at Barber, as well, two weeks ago. It felt amazing to be back there, and then we go to the month of May, which is the best month of the year, a part of April which is my birthday, also. So yeah, April is good. But I cannot wait for the month of May. I think it’s really special for everybody, all the drivers, all the crews, the fans, so yeah, hopefully we’re already carrying good momentum, but hopefully we can carry better momentum with Barber and Indy GP before the big one, the Indianapolis 500.”
He’s right. Palou won at Barber last season. In this May road course race at Indy, he was third, better than all Penske driver. For the Indy 500, he was runner-up. This next three race stretch can put Ganassi back in the hunt with Penske.
Newgarden agrees though. He says they can’t get too far ahead of themselves yet.
‘You’ve got to be cautious,” he said. “It’s early. It’s three races in. It’s so hard to paint a complete picture. It’s easy to paint these small pictures and say, look, this is everything, but then the picture changes really quickly in a another couple races.
“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but I feel really good about where it’s going.”
Newgarden also notes that this should be expected at a team like Team Penske. They should be on everyone’s radar.
“I don’t think we need any more respect. Everyone has been very kind to Team Penske. It’s obviously a storied team, has a lot of history, and Roger — I don’t think you can look at anyone better to have a career than Roger Penske and the way that he carries himself and represents the team. I don’t ever feel like we’re lacking the respect or that people are discounting us. I don’t think anyone ever really does.
“But you know, I think everyone holds us to a very high standard, and if we’re not excellent every single moment then there’s something wrong. I understand that.
“With this type of history at a place like Team Penske, you totally get it. That’s how highly successful franchises are viewed.”