The first half of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series might look like total domination from Team Penske since Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Chevrolet have won more than half the races – including the Indianapolis 500.
But when you look at laps led (five drivers have over 100 and one more has 90), pole positions (six drivers have at least one) and victories (six drivers have stood on the top step of the podium), it’s a lot more competitive than you might think.
Sure, JoNew has three triumphs and is leading the point standings after nine races, and Pagenaud is right in the hunt after sweeping the month of May. Yet there’s a good argument to be made that Alexander Rossi has consistently been the quickest all season, with Scott Dixon lurking and Takuma Sato finding a second wind.
Heading to Road America this weekend, Newgarden owns a 25-point advantage over Rossi and is 48 in front of Pagenaud, and it’s mid-term grade time.
TEAM PENSKE: Newgarden has driven like a champion, led a season-high 183 laps and clicked nicely with engineer Gavin Ward while getting some good strategy calls from Tim Cindric and a couple of timely yellows. Pagenaud and longtime engineer Ben Bretzman reclaimed their mojo in time to secure both May races, the Indy pole, and their future with The Captain. Will Power has two poles yet is winless and kind of luckless, but still sits sixth in the standings and you know he’s going to win a couple before the year is over.
Why not an A? Josef threw away some big points at Detroit, Simon was MIA for the first four races, and Power hasn’t been up to form.
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: A real mixed bag here. You’ve got Rossi, whose win and trio of seconds makes him an A-lister (and it could easily be three wins and one second) while Ryan-Hunter-Reay gets a B-minus because he’s driven better than his results show. Zach Veach has made some mistakes but drives hard for a C; and Marco Andretti remains a D-ilemma.
DALE COYNE RACING: Santino Ferrucci leading the rookie standings is a surprise, but no more than his savvy on ovals and his overall race craft. Veteran engineer Michael Cannon has been a steadying influence, but the kid from Connecticut is one of the best stories of 2019. Teammate Sebastien Bourdais figures to add to his one podium for the Vasser Sullivan arm of this mighty little team.
CHIP GANASSI RACING: Dixon is 89 points behind Newgarden with one victory and four podiums and that should concern everyone since he’s a notorious late bloomer, owns Mid-Ohio and loves Toronto. Felix Rosenqvist looked like a sure winner early on with a dazzling debut at St. Pete, but has run into some rookie roadblocks and needs to regain his confidence.
HARDING STEINBRENNER RACING: Colton Herta’s initial triumph at COTA made him the youngest winner in IndyCar history at 18, but the most impressive thing about this rookie has been his overall game. Paired with unsung engineer Nathan O’Rourke, little Hertamania is 135 pounds of badass on all three disciplines, has made some of the best passes and recoveries you’ll ever see, and has an amazing grasp of a chassis and what he wants. They didn’t make teenagers like this 30 years ago.
MEYER SHANK RACING: Jack Harvey showed what consistency can do for you as he came out of the gate quick (seventh fastest at St. Pete) and then put it all together at the Indy GP by qualifying and finishing third. He ran the first six races and has only four more left in 2019, but Mike Shank stuck with this Brit and was repaid in full as they look to go full-time next season.
RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN: Sato drove away and hid at Barber, charged to third at Indy and Detroit, and led the first 60 laps at Texas from the pole before his faux pas in the pits. But the veteran from Japan is driving better than ever at age 42, is fifth in points, and has led the second-most laps (138) in 2019. Teammate Graham Rahal has a third and a couple fourths to rank eighth despite two DNFs.
ARROW SPM: Hard to imagine Marcus Ericsson has the only podium for this operation, but the Swedish rookie has been impressive just about everywhere when the green flag drops. James Hinchcliffe was headed for a podium before crashing out at Texas and he’s run better than the results show, yet 11th in points is hardly how you join The Big Three.
ED CARPENTER: An A for Indy qualifying (the boss qualified second, Spencer Pigot third, and Ed Jones fourth), but despite Pigot’s pace all season, there is only a fifth place at the Indy GP on the ledger. Jones has also had some racy moments without much (one sixth) to show for it. A breakthrough result is needed.
CARLIN: May was “the worst” month of Trevor Carlin’s career as two of his three cars missed making the Indy 500, and this is a team in flux – to be kind. Pato O’Ward sports massive talent and showed it during his six starts, but now there’s no more money to run the 2018 Indy Lights champion. Max Chilton stepped away from ovals and Charlie Kimball has done a nice job in his three appearances, but O’Ward sitting on the sidelines is stunting this team’s growth.
A.J. FOYT RACING: Out to lunch is a polite way of describing this team’s travails. Tony Kanaan is 17th among full-timers and Matt Leist is 19th and last. They’re not even good on ovals this year. The boss man says it’s time for big changes, and ABC Supply is supposedly throwing in more money to try and improve things. If there’s any consolation, the Houston-based team isn’t any worse than the one in Indy.
DALY DOUBLE: Conor Daly finally got a top-shelf ride at Indy and ran up front all day (as high as fourth) until the last restart; and then he hopped into Max Chilton’s car at Texas and finished 11th, beating full-timers on better teams and running ahead of Power and Andretti until his final pit stop. This kid belongs in the NTT series full-time, so hopefully Air Force makes it happen in 2020.