INDIANAPOLIS — We’re 10 rounds down in the 17 round fight for the NTT INDYCAR Series championship. As we head to a doubleheader weekend at the Iowa Speedway, Marcus Ericsson currently leads Will Power by a margin of 35 points with 7 races remaining in the campaign. On Sunday in Toronto, Ericsson extended his lead on the field by 15 points with his 5th top 5 result of the 2022 season. That’s 2 shy of the amount that he had in his young INDYCAR career entering the year with 7 top 5’s in his previous 46 starts.
That’s a big reason as to why he’s leading the points at the moment. Yes, he won the Indianapolis 500 back on May 29 and yes that race awards double points. However, as Jack Benyon noted, yes Ericsson would be leading the points still without the benefit of double the points, but the standings would be much tighter.
Still, Ericsson is deserving for the points lead and the claim that he’s in this position because he won the Indy 500 isn’t as relevant as you might think.
Ericsson has been consistent. He has the 2nd most top 5’s out of anyone this year. His 8 top 10’s rank 2nd most behind only Scott Dixon. If you go back to the middle of the 2021 season, Ericsson has scored a top 10 in 85% (17-for-20) of his races run. He’s doing so in the midst of one of the most competitive fields in the rich history of this sport.
It’s not just me saying that. So are his peers.
“Simply because it’s so competitive,” said the qualifying master Will Power last week on the parity of the field. “There is no one that is dominating, no one stands out. You can try to pick the polesitter for this weekend. You simply couldn’t. Even the drivers, you couldn’t pick who might be on pole, which to me is a great thing.
“Definitely the all-time high as far as driver talent, the quality of teams. Yeah, it hasn’t been this tough ever. Yeah, three big teams now, four big teams: Penske, McLaren, Andretti, Ganassi. You add Shank into that. I don’t think there’s a series more competitive around the world than this.”
He sits 2nd in points and ranks 2nd in career poles as well as in the top 5 for career wins.
“I think the competition has always been tough,” Scott Dixon said. “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.”
Dixon is tied for 2nd in race wins and in 2nd place for championships.
That’s why for as many as top 10’s as Ericsson has scored the last 2 years plus the improvement in 2022 from turning top 10’s into top 5’s, he’s clearly improving by the year and is as deserving as anyone to be in this position. He’s beating the best of the best in an era to where top 5’s are the new top 10’s.
The Indy 500 was just the icing on the cake but Ericsson is also proving that the best is still yet to come. I keep going back to a comment he told me after his 1st career podium in 2019 at Belle Isle. This series was all new to him then. In that year, Detroit was a doubleheader so the Sunday race the first time of his career that he saw a track twice. He finished 2nd that day.
“Exactly, I tell Sam and Ric that look what happens when I get to a track for a second time and the result. It’s definitely a good boost,” Ericsson told me that afternoon.
That day could have sealed his fate for the long-haul. He also told me that he was fighting for a 2020 contract then.
“It’s extremely important,” said Ericsson on that June day. “This year hasn’t been that good results wise. We’ve been strong and had the pace everywhere but we haven’t been able to have a complete weekend. We’ve been close. That’s why it’s so important to get this result.
“For me, I’m fighting to get a new contract in IndyCar and to get a new contract here you have to have results like we’ve had today. That was a very important day.”
Boy was it ever. Ericsson was right too. He improved each time he saw a track a 2nd time. He improved again in the 3rd time and now in the 4th time, he’s leading the points with 7 races remaining.
This is a heavyweight title fight and one that Ericsson isn’t backing away from.