While parity was high once again during the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season, the veterans were the once fighting for a championship this past Sunday in Northern California in Laguna Seca. However, after some drivers have broken out and onto the scene the last couple of years, here’s the top 5 ready to join them in 2023.
- Romain Grosjean – I had him on this list last year but his stats with Andretti Autosport weren’t really all that much different than with Dale Coyne Racing w Rick Ware Racing. In 13 races during his 2021 part time rookie season, Grosjean had 1 pole, 3 podiums, 4 top 5’s 6 top 10’s and 53 laps led. In a full 17 race season in 2022, he had no poles, 1 podium, 3 top 5’s, 7 top 10’s and just 4 laps led. However, a 2nd year with Andretti could propel him to a breakout, especially with Alexander Rossi departing.
- Kyle Kirkwood – The all-time winningest Road to Indy driver shifts over to the No. 27 Dallara-Honda in replacing the departing Rossi. We witnessed what Rossi could do with this car and saw just how good Kirkwood can be in his rookie year with AJ Foyt Racing. Now imagine what Kirkwood can do with an Andretti seat in INDYCAR.
- Christian Lundgaard – He showed it as the year went on right. Lundgaard had 2 top 11 finishes in the first 7 races. He had 7 in the final 9 including a runner-up at Indy. A 2nd full time season in this car could do him wonders.
- David Malukas – This kid is going to be a star and I’d honestly be surprised if he doesn’t find victory lane next season. Malukas was the top finishing rookie in the Indy 500 and while he only had 3 top 10 finishes, the speed was there. He had qualified in the top 10 5 times and showed the pace that it takes to win. Most of the time it was slower pit stops which took him from top 10 results to top 15. Now that he’s had a full year under his belt, watch out.
- Rinus VeeKay – The only reason I have him 5th is because I have so much to say. We keep waiting for that breakout out of VeeKay. He’s inching closer and closer. Yes he has a win and yes he had a pole in each of the last 2 seasons, but I feel like he’s not yet maximized his potential. 4 podiums and 8 total top 5’s say he’s not been there yet. Next year is his year.
In his sophomore season (2021) he had 6 top 10 finishes in the 1st 7 races run including that win at Indy. Over the final 8 races though, he never finished inside the top 15. I wondered how much his broken shoulder had something to do with the dip in results.
This year, he had a similar start. VeeKay had 3 top 10’s in the 1st 4 races run including a pole at Barber and another front row for Indy. He dipped though after.
He crashed and finished last in the Indy 500. He was 16th and 17th respectively afterwards at Belle Isle and Road America.
Once we got to July however, he started coming out of the valley again and heating back up. 3 of his next 6 finishes had been back in the top 10 again, each in the top 6 at that, which has caused him to rise back up to 11th in points. His best career points finish was 12th last year.
That’s why with his future solidified, it’s time to use that comfort and continue the ascension. Josef Newgarden is the best comparison. The Tennessee native spent 5 combined years between Sarah Fisher Hartman and Ed Carpenter Racing. Years 1-3 were with SFH with 2015 the combined year with SFH and ECR. 2016 saw him run for exclusively ECR.
His 3rd season he had 1 podium, 2 top 5’s, 7 top 10’s and 20 laps led. VeeKay has 1 podium, 3 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s and 94 laps led this year to which is Year No. 3 for him.
Newgarden’s 4th year is to when he broke out. He had 2 wins, 4 podiums, 5 top 5’s, 9 top 10’s and 345 laps led. That’s why Year No. 5 for him is to what led Newgarden to Penske for Year No. 6.
Newgarden’s 2016 season read 1 win, 4 podiums, 6 top 5 finishes, 11 top 10’s and 313 laps led. He went from 7th in points in 2015 to 4th in 2016.
If VeeKay continues on this trajectory, he could be in a similar situation Newgarden was in by time his final contract was up with ECR.