PRUETT: Early-season IndyCar musings

Images by Abbott & Levitt/LAT, IMS Photo

PRUETT: Early-season IndyCar musings


PRUETT: Early-season IndyCar musings


Continuing the Newgarden thread, he’s been driving better than ever this year, and to complement his performances inside the car, his race strategist, Team Penske president Tim Cindric, deserves as much credit – if not more – for the two wins taken by the No. 1 Chevy.

It was Cindric’s ballsy call to pit Newgarden from the lead at Phoenix to take fresh tires for the seven-lap shootout that put his driver in Victory Lane, and Cindric did it again at Barber when he went against conventional thinking to pit Newgarden from the lead for wet tires well before his rivals considered following suit. The champ was a rocket in both races, and in both instances, the brains on his Penske timing stand made a big difference in the final outcome.

Carlin Racing has endured a brutal introduction to the Verizon IndyCar Series and it hasn’t gotten easier with each new round. It’s a small consolation prize to offer, but the team’s promotional efforts in support of the British-American driver duo of Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton with custom event posters has, however, been a revelation.

Created by James Gibson in the U.K., the bespoke event artwork is worthy of framing by fans who crave unique keepsakes. There will come a time when Carlin’s on-track performance is the main topic of conversation, and once they get there, Gibson’s posters will be waiting to tell the tale.

Townsend Bell took delight in ringing me on the way to Barber with a reminder of how badly I’d blown my prediction for Sebastien Bourdais to struggle with the new low-downforce bodywork. My swing and miss came in a pre-season Week In IndyCar podcast episode where I suggested the understeer-loving Frenchman would suffer with the oversteer-y UAK18 bodywork.

Bell, who does a great job of keeping others honest, wasn’t as interested in the pushback he received on calling out my other prediction – that Marco Andretti would have a strong year thanks to the UAK18 – as being closer to right than wrong – so far.

Ninth in points, Andretti hasn’t been a raging success through the opening four rounds, but you’d have to look back to 2013 – his career-best season where he took fifth in the championship – for a better start.

Compared to how poorly my predictions usually turn out, I’ll take one total failure and a semi-positive call at this stage and consider it better than my normal record. Now I need to go back and listen to Townsend’s predictions and find a few that deserve firing a mocking call his way…

Talk about a Bowtie bookend. Team Chevy has been losing a numbers game this year inside IndyCar’s top 10, and through Long Beach, Honda Performance Development held the points lead with Rossi along with eight of those top 10 positions.

With full credit to Newgarden and Team Penske, Chevy is atop the standings for the first time, and has Penske’s Will Power sandwiching eight Honda drivers in 10th. On the extended Chevy front, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Tony Kanaan is in 12th and could add a third Bowtie to the top 10 with a strong May. And with Penske’s Simon Pagenaud mired in the worst new-season drought of his career, it would be reasonable to expect the former champion to climb from 15th in the standings to a top-10 spot in the next month or two.

More Chevys will eventually come to the aid of Newgarden and Power, but it’s hard to ignore the numbers advantage that Honda is working with. Few of the eight Honda drivers in the top 10 are likely to fall out anytime soon, and that will certainly intensify the Manufacturers Championship this year. Chevy has won six straight, but number seven isn’t guaranteed.

Fans looking for more American representation up front have also had something to cheer about as the home team is currently ranked P1, P2, P4, P6 and P9. Add in our brothers from the Great White North in Hinchliffe and Wickens, and North America can also lay claim to P5 and P8.

One the bigger surprises so far has been Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Jordan King. An equal, if not greater surprise, has come from his more experienced teammate Spencer Pigot.

King landed at ECR as an unknown commodity after recording three decent seasons in GP2/F2. Two wins suggested the Briton had talent, but how much? For a driver whose best year left him placed seventh in the championship, it was hard to judge who would show up to share Carpenter’s car. Pigot, on the other hand, was expected to shine in his first full-season gig with ECR after delivering a number of impressive finishes as a part-timer in 2017.

As a tandem on road and street courses, King held the upper hand in qualifying by a large margin at St. Pete (starting fourth to Pigot’s 16), again at Long Beach (12th to Pigot’s 18th), and for the first time in three head-to-head showdowns, Pigot outqualified his teammate on a bad day for ECR at Barber (17th to King’s 19th).