5 things I’m watching for the 2nd half of the INDYCAR season

Will Dixon/Palou Score Wins? How Many More Winners Will We See

We’re 9 races down with 8 to go and have already seen 9 different pole winners and 6 different race winners. The question now leads us, how many more will we see?

All 3 Team Penske cars have won at the midway mark to where none of them did last year. Chip Ganassi Racing has only seen Marcus Ericsson victorious while Andretti Autosport has only had Colton Herta reach victory lane.

I think Scott Dixon has to find the checkered flag first at some point, right? While he’s winless in his last 22 starts, he has had at least 1 win in 17 straight seasons now and 19 years during his career. I can’t see him going through the entire year winless for the 1st time since 2004.

Palou won the title last year on the heels of 3 victories. I can’t see him being winless either. By being winless in the first 9 races, this is the longest winless drought to start a championship defense season since Scott Dixon’s year in 2014.

Dixon won the 2013 title and in 2014 he didn’t reach victory lane until the 15th race at Mid-Ohio that year. Also, this would only be the 5th time since 1996 that the defending champion didn’t have at least 1 win in the next season by the completion of the 8th race run. 1 of those 5 times was Dario Franchitti going to NASCAR in 2009 instead of coming back to try to win a 2nd straight.

Last year it only took Dixon three races to win at Texas. Josef Newgarden won the 6th race of the 2020 season at Iowa. Dixon won the 8th race of the year in Belle Isle a year prior. The 2 years prior, both Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud won in their 4th races at Barber and Phoenix respectively.

Champions And How Long It Took To Win The Next Season

2022 – Alex Palou 9 races and counting

2021 – Scott Dixon – won the 3rd race at Texas

2020 – Josef Newgarden – won the 6th race at Iowa

2019 – Scott Dixon – won the 8th race in Belle Isle

2018 – Josef Newgarden won the 4th race at Barber

2017 – Simon Pagenaud – won the 4th race at Phoenix

2016 – Scott Dixon – won the 2nd race at Phoenix

2015 – Will Power – won the 5th race in the Indy Grand Prix

2014 – Scott Dixon – won the 15th race at Mid-Ohio

2013- Ryan Hunter-Reay – won the 2nd race at Barber

2012 – Dario Franchitti – won the 5th race in the Indy 500

2011 – Dario Franchitti – won the season opener at St. Pete

2010 – Dario Franchitti – won the 6th race in the Indy 500

2009 – Scott Dixon – won the 3rd race at Kansas

2008 – Dario Franchitti – went to NASCAR

2007 – Sam Hornish Jr. – won the 7th race at Texas

2006 – Dan Wheldon – won the season opener at Homestead

2005 – Tony Kanaan – won the 8th race at Kansas

2004 – Scott Dixon – winless

2003 – Sam Hornish Jr. – won the 12th race at Kentucky

2002 – Sam Hornish Jr. – won the season opener at Homestead

2001 – Buddy Lazier – won the 6th race at Pikes Peak

2000 – Greg Ray – won the 7th race at Phoenix

1999 – Kenny Brack – won the 4th race in the Indy 500

1998 – Tony Stewart – won the season opener in Disney

1997 – Scott Sharp – won the season opener in Loudon

This would almost be ironically enough, unprecedented for Palou to go this long without a win. In this same time frame, only Dixon in 2004 went winless in the season following a championship winning one. He was the 2nd longest in 2015 with Sam Hornish Jr. taking 12 races in the 2003 season to get his 1st win.

Alexander Rossi has been getting closer and closer to ending his 46 race drought as he’s had 5 top 10’s in his last 7 starts on the season in his No. 27 Dallara-Honda. Simon Pagenaud is winless in his last 34 starts but also has 5 top 10’s in his last 8 races too out of his No. 60 Dallara-Honda.

I’m also looking at Felix Rosenqvist. He’s not won since 2020 but has 4 top 10’s in his last 5 races run in his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet and fighting to keep his job.

I think we get at least 2-3 more drivers find victory lane by the end of the season.


Rinus VeeKay is the now top domino in the free agency game in INDYCAR. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Silly Season

Rinus VeeKay is the top driver domino with the top seat being at Arrow McLaren SP. Are these two destined to be together? These 2 pieces will determine how the rest of the silly season plays out.

AMSP says they’ll take their time. VeeKay can’t even negotiate until August. Seems like this is the marriage that silly season is waiting for.

A lot of the early dominos fell near the Indy 500 and have since taken a bit of a lull. Pato O’Ward signed an extension to remain at Arrow McLaren SP through the 2025 season. A week later Alexander Rossi was named as his teammate. In that same week, Kyle Kirkwood was named as Rossi’s replacement at Andretti Autosport.

A few weeks ago it was revealed that Felix Rosenqvist will stay with Arrow McLaren SP but it’s not necessarily on the INDYCAR side though. The release stated that he could be destined to an FE seat instead too.

So, what’s next?

It’s up to VeeKay as well as AMSP and what they do Rosenqvist. Has Rosenqvist done enough lately to land another contract with the team or do they turn to VeeKay who’s option isn’t up until August?

VeeKay is on everyone’s wish list from Meyer Shank Racing to AMSP to maybe even Chip Ganassi Racing. The reason that it’s not more is the fact that I don’t see Team Penske expanding to 4 cars again and Andretti is set at 4 with Colton Herta, Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco coming back and I also can’t see much if any movement on the Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing side of things either. Ganassi is likely to stay status quo too so barring a surprise 5th full time entry, VeeKay may not land there after all. I think it’s down to ECR or AMSP for him.

Helio Castroneves is also a free agent and I honestly think he comes back for another year. While this season hasn’t gone the way that he envisioned, do you really cut ties with a 4-time Indy 500 champion and one that gave you your 1st and only win thus far? I’d think unless Castroneves is on the short list for AMSP, where else could he land? ECR had an interest a few years ago and would be an intriguing fit with VeeKay departs. There’s also a rumor MSR could expand to a 3rd team but it all depends on funding and that final Honda engine again which may be spoken for already.

I don’t see many changes in store for Dale Coyne Racing unless Takuma Sato decides to call it quits. HMD and David Malukas will be back with DCR in the No. 18 Dallara-Honda as there’s now rumors of the two sides aiming for a 3rd car under the DCR umbrella. If so, Linus Lundqvist would be the main player for that ride.

Honda has 18 engines available again and Andretti has 5, Ganassi 5, RLL 3, MSR 2, DCR 2 and 1 floating around for use. Ganassi could always sell theirs off and DCR get that extra one left from Vasser Sullivan.

For the Chevy side, they have some more room. Penske will remain status quo and I don’t see ECR downsizing. AMSP will also have 3 cars. Thats 9 Chevy teams among 3 organizations.

For the 3rd time in 4 years AJ Foyt Racing has an opening in the 14 car. They usually let the dominos play out before making any moves. Benjamin Pedersen is the favorite to land in 1 of their seats. I keep hearing Dalton Kellett will be face in the 4 car. The 11 entry though is what’s up in the air. Do they keep it?

Juncos Hollinger Racing should be back, but is Callum Ilott. He’s getting a lot of attention and if VeeKay moves on from ECR he’d be a factor there. If VeeKay stays at ECR, he could be in the mix at AMSP too. If he does leave, Pedersen would be in play here as well. They have that 2nd car still and would love to use it if the money and people are right.

Paretta wants in full time. So does Cusick. What happens with Top Gun/RC Emerson’s saga.

Foyt may be forced to sell their 4th car and Cusick makes the most sense to take it. JHR could run their 2nd. Paretta would be left out unless they can find the money to get a chassis purchased or forced to do what they’re doing with ECR again but have to miss the Indy 500.

Which is why this is all predicated by VeeKay. ECR wants him back. He wants to be loyal to ECR too. Do you stay at ECR or go to AMSP?

His decision will decide what others do. If he leaves, ECR would certainly have a long list to look at between veterans Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves or even some youngsters like Ilott or Indy Lights drivers Benjamin Pedersen or Linus Lundqvist.

Pedersen tested for JHR in Portland and it’s known JHR would eventually like to use that 2nd seat. He’d be in play if they do. If they don’t, he’s been tied to AJ Foyt Racing all season too. If not there, then ECR is another possible landing spot.

Lundqvist would be a hot commodity if he wins the Lights title. Word is DCR/HMD would love to use that final Honda engine full-time and have Lundqvist in it.

That’s why VeeKay is the top one to watch here and not much movement will happen until his plans are known. The rest will then follow suit.


Pato O’Ward is looking to become the 1st non “Big 3” champion since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2002. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Can AMSP/O’Ward Top Penske or Ganassi For The Title?

We’re 9 races in and Team Penske/Chip Ganassi Racing has won 7 of them. They currently boast 6 of the top 7 spots in the standings and are favorites to land their 11th straight series title. In fact, they’ve won a championship in 13 of the last 14 years now.

Their main threat is going to come from the AMSP camp. Andretti Autosport used to be the top threat as between Penske, Ganassi and Andretti this trio has combined to win every championship since 2003. However, Pato O’Ward is the only one in the mix up front that has any realistic shot at a title.

“I think they’re still going to be good right,” O’Ward said. “They’re championship level teams and always fighting for wins and poles everywhere they go. That’s what we strive to be and hope for and hope to make it harder for them this year.”

He’s been in this position in each of the last 2 years but didn’t pull it off. Can he in Year No. 3? What’s different about this time than the last 2?

“I think we’re getting better. Our car is better,” O’Ward told me. “We made some changes in the offseason and into making our car just better. Not much faster but definitely easier to drive in a way. We haven’t really hammered it everywhere but we’ve been quick. We’ve been qualifying in the Fast 6 ever since Barber. That’s huge for us. I told the team pole is cool but I don’t really care about the pole I care about Fast 6’s. As long as you’re in the Fast 6, you always have a chance.”

In the Aeroscreen era, Penske has won 16 times. Ganassi has won 12. That’s 28 of the 39 races won by them. Throw in Andretti and AMSP that’s all but 3 races won.

O’Ward is right there.

For two straight years now, O’Ward, Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon each finished in the top four in points. For Newgarden, he’s 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.

Last year was Will 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).

Colton Herta was seventh, third and fifth respectively himself in points in his 3 year span. Graham Rahal has seven straight top 10 points finishes. Marcus Ericsson went from 17th to 12th to 6th in his three seasons.


Marcus Ericsson showed this place really does pick its winner. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Does Anyone Get Hot To Take Title Away From Ericsson?

This is shaping up to be a tight points battle that’s seen the points lead exchange hands after all but 3 races this season. Last week was the 1st time since Texas that no one bumped the championship leader coming into the weekend out of the top spot. Marcus Ericsson still holds a 20 point lead over 2nd place as we’ve now passed the midway mark of the year.

He has to feel fortunate. Josef Newgarden has won 3 times. He’s still 34 points behind. Scott McLaughlin has won twice. He’s 69 points behind Ericsson.

We’re 9 races into the 17 event slate meaning we have 8 more races left. As we’ve crossed the midway mark in the past 8 years, the championship leader at this time took home the Astor Cup trophy in the end 5 times including 3 of the last 4.

That’s great news for Ericsson at the moment.

Scott Dixon held an 84 point lead after the 7th race of 14 in 2020 and held on for his 6th title. Josef Newgarden led the points by 25 leaving the 9th race of 17 in 2019. Dixon was 23 points ahead after the 9th race of 17 a year prior.

Palou was 3rd last year but only 1 point out. He’d have 5 podiums including 2 of which being wins over the final 8 races to secure is 1st career title. Pato O’Ward went from 1st to 3rd.

Can anyone come from behind to wrestle the championship away from Ericsson over the final 8 races of 2022?

“It’s been kind of a strange year in that typically at this point, and I’ve said this previous years, too, but maybe not to this extent, there’s been a runaway of some point, whether it’s one or two drivers or a big gap,” Scott Dixon said.

“I think with how these weekends are and how easy it is to qualify the front one weekend and then qualify the back at the next weekend, it really does mix it up, which is great from a perspective or going down to the wire.

“But yeah, it’s kind of crazy considering how each person probably looks at the year and it hasn’t gone as well as they would have hoped. I think it’s played in the points tallies as you would think just because nobody has had a super smooth year. Look at Josef (Newgarden), he’s won three races and is not even leading the points.

“Yeah, it’s great for everybody. I think it’s pretty cool. Obviously you wish you were the driver that was leading the points and are in a situation that maybe we were in ’20 where we were almost leading by 100 points, so it’s definitely interesting this year, and I think it’s going to continue this trend just because of how difficult it is and how competitive it is weekend to weekend.”

If someone does make a comeback, it’s going to take multiple wins to do so. Newgarden came from 7th after 9 races in 2017 to win his 1st career title that season. However, he did have 5 podiums, 3 of which being wins and the other 2 runner-up’s over the final 7 races to close that gap. 2 years prior, Dixon was 63 points out in 3rd but had 2 wins including one in the double points season finale at Sonoma that year. He had 7 top 10’s over the final 8 races.

In 2013, Dixon was 7th (-92) and made up enough ground over the final 10 races to have 4 wins, a runner up and 6 top 5’s to make a magical run at his 3rd championship. A year prior to that, Ryan Hunter-Reay made up 41 points (4th) over the final 7 races which included 3 wins and 5 top 5’s in that span.

In a season of this much parity (6 winners in 9 races) can someone get hot and win at least 2 times over the final 8 events?

“I think the competition has always been tough,” Dixon told. I think for a top 5 to top 3 — top 5 has maybe changed a little bit, but to make it to the podium, I think the competition level has always been extremely tough. Are there more players throughout the field and the depth to it? Yeah, for sure.”

Ericsson has had 16 top 10’s over the last 19 races so he’s going to put pressure on drivers to win to catch him.

Dixon has won half of his titles from behind (31 points down in 2003, 92 down in 2013 and 63 down in 2015. He was also the leader at the midway mark in 2008, 2018 and 2020 too.

Does anyone have it in them to come back?

“Honestly, I just don’t think we’ve been doing a good enough job,” Dixon told me. “I think that’s what it comes down to. I think when we dissect some of the weekends that we’ve had, we’ve kind of made a little mistake here or we’ve kind of overchanged the car here or I’ve messed up in a corner that starts the lap.

“Then when you break it down now, you’re pretty much getting one or two laps in qualifying that gets the most out of the car. If you don’t hit them right, you’re just not going to press.

“Yeah, I don’t think especially in the last sort of three or four years, I don’t think that has changed too much as far as a category or as a championship. Yeah, I just don’t think we’ve done a superb job this year.”

What’s going on the right side of history for them is the fact that Ericsson won the Indy 500 and the last driver to have won the Indy 500 and the championship in the same season was Dario Franchitti back in 2010.

Also, the driver to finish runner-up in the Indy 500 has won the championship in each of the last 2 seasons. Runner up in 2022?

O’Ward.

The thing is, we’ve seen Ganassi win each of the last 2 titles both by different drivers. Do they go 3-for-3 in the Aeroscreen era with 3 different drivers?


Colton Herta at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

The Andretti Rift And It’s Lasting Impacts

Michael Andretti knows how to win races. After all, he’s won 111 of them in INDYCAR. 69 of them as an owner and 42 as a driver. He knows first how to get to victory lane and what it takes out of the entire organization to do so.

That’s why he was embarrassed and fuming mad with how Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 played out for him and his team. Over the final 21 laps, he watched Andretti Autosport self destruct and become a laughingstock in the paddock.

That’s not what Andretti built his name as a driver for or a brand he’s built as a respected racing team one that he’s trying to branch into Formula One. He’s having a hard time proving he belongs and days like Sunday in rural Ohio surely don’t help.

One driver, Romain Grosjean, isn’t happy with another driver, Alexander Rossi. Reports have been circulating that Rossi hasn’t been too fond of Grosjean anyhow. The two now had an on track spat that has flooded into the paddock.

Graham Rahal had his run in with Grosjean back on May 1 at the Barber Motorsports Park saying then that Grosjean had run his course within the NTT INDYCAR Series paddock and that most were no longer fond of him any longer.

As we sit here now, I go back to that moment that Rahal and Rossi had together on pit lane when Rahal was clearly venting to Rossi about his Andretti Autosport teammate. Rossi seemed then to be agreeing with Rahal which at at time, puzzled me a bit.

Now, it doesn’t anymore. I don’t think Rossi was likely simpatico with Grosjean then and he surely isn’t now. It’s not a secret that Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay got along well together as teammates at Andretti. Rossi was even really good friends with Colton Herta and we know how close he is with James Hinchcliffe.

The drivers room at Andretti was as tight as ever last year. It wasn’t as wild as the days of Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Bryan Herta and Danica Patrick, but it was a close knit group like those days were.

This year, that room has changed. Rookie Devlin DeFrancesco has replaced Hinchcliffe in the No. 29 Dallara-Honda. Grosjean stepped in for Hunter-Reay.

Rossi noted last month in Belle Isle that he knew his time with Andretti was coming to an end last year even when he was watching all this change coming on the horizon. He was frustrated and figured his time was running out. The team could no longer provide him with a car capable of championship.

“So, yeah, I mean, this decision was made for me kind of last summer,” said Rossi in Belle Isle. “It was clear that I was going to look at different options and explore what was out there.

“I’ve driven for Andretti Autosport for a long time. Sometimes you need to change things, whether that’s on a personal side, a professional side or the both combined. I think it was time for a change. Ultimately I don’t think this has met anyone’s expectations, myself, the team’s, Honda’s. I don’t think it’s necessarily a huge surprise for everyone.

“That being said, I think there have been scenarios that have been outside of our control. But that’s motorsports, life, just the way things go sometimes.”

So he sought elsewhere in the paddock. He landed at Arrow McLaren SP. This is his final season.

“I think it’s been very obvious what Zak and Taylor have done over the last couple of years,” Rossi said of AMSP.” Arrow McLaren SP’s competitive. The overall performance of the team has exponentially increased every event we go to. That was a pretty easy decision for me to see them as a championship contender. Going forward into the future, I think it’s only going to get better.

“I think when you look, Taylor and Zak got control and got to have the direction of the team not too long ago. What they’ve accomplished in a short period of time speaks for itself. The result they had last year, a huge amount of respect for Pato obviously, but he’s still new to the championship, relatively young. The results he had was phenomenal.

“I think the inherent performance is there, it exists. I think if you look at what the team did at Indy this year, they were the second strongest team. I think what Ganassi was able to do was phenomenal. We’ve all touched on that. I think Arrow McLaren SP was certainly the next best shot.

“Yeah, I think this is a team that is going to be a championship challenger. They already were last year. They will be this year. I certainly think it will be the case going forward.”

While Rossi had turned things around from Belle Isle on, Mid-Ohio could be the turning point of maybe an ugly divorce. Rossi only qualified 12th on Saturday. He had a ho-hum afternoon. He got his way inside the top 10 before that contact with Grosjean.

Rossi said that the deal was just “a racing incident.”

“He was on a softer tire and probably going to get around me, but he likes to do it fast and early,” Rossi said of the Turn 2 contact with Grosjean. “I had to test him there and obviously that’s unfortunate to tap into a teammate, but that’s the way it goes.”

Grosjean didn’t see it that way.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” a pissed off Grosjean said on the radio. He pleaded for Andretti to sit Rossi down after the race to discuss with him why Rossi was a fault.

So a few laps later, you can imagine how irate Grosjean was to hear he was being given team order to help Rossi’s finish as Rossi was still on the lead lap and Grosjean not.

“What do you want me to do? Just block everyone behind and not go ahead?” Grosjean asked his pit stand at the time.

When told that’s exactly what they’re asking, Grosjean declined to do so.

“Because Rossi put me in the wall, so I am not going to protect him,” Grosjean replied to them.

In the meantime, Grosjean made contact with Colton Herta on track and Rossi with DeFrancesco. In a span of 21 laps, all four drivers had contact with one another in some way.

Grosjean got his wish. Andretti was going to sit Rossi down. This time, it wasn’t just going to be Rossi. It was all 4 drivers.

Andretti rode a scooter to Rossi’s pit box after the race. “Where he is,” he exclaimed loudly and very stern. When told he already was heading back to the hauler, Andretti sped on.

We followed.

Andretti stomped inside with all 4 drivers waiting. The meeting was brief. Out came Andretti and climbed back on his scooter declining to discuss the incidents and the meeting. Then came Herta. He too briskly walked away without saying a word. Grosjean was next out. He did speak.

“It wasn’t pleasant, but it was good that he did it,” Grosjean said of the meeting. “I understand he’s frustrated and not happy with us.”

You’d think a closed door brief and likely one way discussion would get the attention of everyone in the room. It must have fallen on deaf ears though which is why I feel like this is far from over.

“He’s an absolute idiot,” Grosjean told myself and a small group of reporters waiting outside the hauler on Sunday. “I don’t know why he does that. He’s on black tires, I’m on reds. I’m on the outside and I carry more speed through the corner. He did it once on the restart. OK, maybe he slipped on cold tires. Do it again the next lap. Then, he did it on purpose. My hand is hurting. We lost the bloody race.”

For those comments to come out of his mouth minutes after the meeting tells me this likely is the tip of the iceberg.

Rossi came out last and sped off the opposite direction.

Grosjean did make a note to apologize about the Herta incident though.

“I must apologize to Colton,” said Grosjean. “I had a lot more grip than everyone else so I just braked. I didn’t realize Colton would brake so early. So I tried to avoid contact. That wasn’t good from my side, but I think that’s going to be it as far as today, it’s just that Rossi is an absolute idiot out there.”

He was interrupted by his PR team and led away. Enough was enough. They stopped him before he said more damaging words. But he said enough already.

Rossi is gone in 8 more races. His shot at a title is basically gone now as he sits 8th (-92) in points. He didn’t race his teammates any differently prior to today, but I wonder now…

“Of course not. We’re teammates for Andretti Autosport and trying to get the best result possible,” he said of if he races his teammates any differently now since he’ll be gone next year.

Now I wonder.. He doesn’t need this. He has his future set. Does he finish the season in the 27?

One comment

  1. Well written as always Eric. I have tremendous respect for Michael & what he’s accomplished and the prestige of the Andretti name. These boys need to respect that as well.! Terrific reporting..!

    Like

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