Top 5 takeaways from the 1st half of the NTT INDYCAR Series season

Team Penske/Chip Ganassi Racing’s Title To Lose

We’ve seen some flashes of brilliance from Arrow McLaren SP but I don’t think they’re necessarily ready to fight for a season long championship….yet. Andretti Autosport has digressed, which has allowed the bigger teams (Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing) to feast.

They’ve combined to win each of the last 10 NTT INDYCAR Series championships including 13 out of the last 14 and I see no reason now that they won’t extend those numbers this year either. In fact, no one outside of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti has won a series title since 2003.

AMSP started off slow, got hot and have had engine reliability issues in each of the last 2 races. Penske and Ganassi have combined to have won 7 of the opening 9 events to the season and have 5 of the top 6 in points right now.

Ganassi though boasts the points leader (Marcus Ericsson) as he took the Indy 500 crown on May 29. Penske has 6 of those 7 wins including 3 straight and with the stretch coming up, I don’t think they cool off any time soon.

We have a street course race up next (Toronto) a doubleheader at Iowa a week later, a return trip to the IMS Road Course a week after that, another street race at Nashville then another short oval at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Penske is a perfect 3-for-3 on street course races this season. They’ve won 7 of the last 14 in general on them. That makes them favorites for Toronto, a place to where they’ve won 3 of the last 4 at already, and Nashville too.

For the short ovals, Penske has won 7 of the last 10 including 3 straight in Iowa. That makes them favorites for Iowa and Gateway which accounts for 3 races.

The for the return IMS trip, Josef Newgarden won the opening race of the Harvest Grand Prix in 2020. A day later, Will Power led literally every lap in the 75 lap race a day later. Last year, Power led 56 more laps in victory. That has Penske favorites there too meaning there’s a strong chance Penske pushes their win streak to 9 straight heading to the west coast.

If they falter, Ganassi will be there to pick up the pieces on the street courses. They had finishes of 2-8-9-23 at St. Pete, 3-6-20-22 in Long Beach and 3-6-7-22 in Detroit.

With 27 podium opportunities this season, Penske and Ganassi have taken 19 of them (70%). Andretti Autosport has 4 (Long Beach, GMR Grand Prix, Belle Isle, Road America), AMSP has 2 (Barber, Indy 500) while Meyer Shank Racing (GMR Grand Prix) and Ed Carpenter Racing (Barber) each have 1.


Pato O’Ward became the 9th different pole winner of the season last Saturday at Mid-Ohio. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Parity

We’ve had 9 races with 9 different pole winners. The last time that happened was in 1961. The record for most pole winners to start a season was 10 back in 1952. Do we eclipse that number in Toronto?

Also, we’ve had 6 different winners in the same 9 races too and some of the names that haven’t won will jump off the screen. Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi headline that list. I have to think at some point at least half of those names find victory lane.


Romain Grosjean talks to fellow rookie teammate Devlin DeFrancesco during the open test – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Grosejan Ruffling Feathers

With such a tight series in terms of on track action, you’re bound and determined for this to spill out into the paddock. For years, the series has provided the best racing on this planet of ours. The problem is, drama sells and the series has lacked that.

The drivers all got along with one another as there was virtually no conflicts. Now, we have plenty of them and they all mostly involve their most popular driver – Romain Grosjean.

The fan survey conducted this winter produced Grosjean as the most known driver in the series. After a strong rookie season to where he only ran road/street courses plus Gateway, the anticipation was higher for 2022 since he was moving to replace Ryan Hunter-Reay with Andretti Autosport.

However, he sits 14th in points at the midway mark and has ruffled more feather than taken podiums.

It started at the very beginning of the season with Takuma Sato and Grosjean in St. Pete. It picked up a few races later in Barber between Graham Rahal and Grosjean again. Now, Grosjean is having drama with teammate Alexander Rossi following an incident at Mid-Ohio.

This is something the series needs. They need a bad guy and right now, their most popular driver seems to be in the middle of a bunch of drama inside of the paddock.


Newgarden bests McLaughlin in a photo finish on Sunday at Texas – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Close Finishes

INDYCAR prides itself with tight closing laps to their races and 2022 has had no shortage of them. We’ve seen 4 of the 9 races end with a margin of victory of less than a second. 2 of the other 5 were under caution at the finish but were thrilling before the final yellow was displayed.

Scott McLaughlin held off a hard charging Alex Palou by 0.5095 seconds in the opening race of the season and by .5512-seconds just last Sunday in Mid-Ohio. In the second race of the year, McLaughlin was topped in the final corner on the final lap by teammate Josef Newgarden by only .0669-seconds in photo finish at Texas.

For Barber, Pato O’Ward passed Rinus VeeKay with a daring move on the out lap of their final pit stop. O’Ward held Palou off by less than a second (.9800-seocnds).

The race races that ended under caution were setting up to be thrillers. For the Indy 500, Marcus Ericsson won a wild end of the race shootout over O’Ward. A week later, Alexander Rossi made up nearly 20 seconds on Will Power in the end but came 1 lap short. While Power won by less than a second, the outcome was technically “under caution.”

The only ones over a second was Long Beach, the Indy road course to where Herta held Simon Pagenaud off in a wild race in the rain and the Road America rout that Newgarden put on the field.

Also, oddly enough, the 2 races that their future is in question saw arguably the 2 best late race battles. We don’t’ know the status of Texas for 2023 and we already know Belle Isle is moving inland to downtown. Both saw 2 of the best races they’ve ever seen this past year.


Scott McLaughlin leads Alex Palou in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Chevy Has The Advantage Over Honda

Honda won the 2 biggest races of the year – the 2 so far at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which includes the Indy 500. However, those are their only wins in 2022. Chevrolet has taken the rest.

That’s a massive improvement from the bowties in a sense that Honda had the advantage over Chevy really from 2018 through last season.

Chevy dominated the series from their return in 2012 up through the Aerokits era. But when the UAK came out in 2018, it favored Honda.

Honda eclipsed Chevy for most wins in a season in 2018 (11-6). They were pretty much even in 2019 and 2020 with Chevy winning 9-8 in 2019 and Honda having a 7-7 split in 2020. Last year, it was 10-6 in favor of Honda.

This season, it’s currently 7-2 in favor of Chevy.

That means with the same car this time around (2018-present), it’s Honda 38, Chevrolet 35. In the three year span of the Aerokits from 2015 through 2017, it was Chevy 34, Honda 15.

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