Having only been to one race in 2020, time kinda slipped way and Marshall Pruett reminded me that I hadn’t written a mid-season report card and since I’d done it 36 years in a row, maybe I needed to cobble one together for the sake of posterity.
With nine of the scheduled 14 races already in the books it’s easier to give grades because a pattern has pretty much been established. The other plus is that because I’m a cancer patient and grounded from traveling, I don’t have to look anyone in the eye after giving them a C or D. Sure, they can still give me the finger in a text or send me a nasty email but it’s not the same as being confronted in the pits by an angry driver or owner.
So here’s the two-races-past-mid-season grades and if you feel slighted, mistreated or insulted, please write your congressman, Ashley Judd or Paul Pfanner.
CHIP GANASSI RACING: Pretty easy call as Scott Dixon marches towards his sixth championship. He’s got four wins, dominated Indy and is better at 40 than he was at 30. Dixon and engineer Mike Cannon clicked instantly, and that’s bad news for everyone else. Felix Rosenqvist scored his initial win with a dandy drive at Road America, and Marcus Ericsson has been running much better than 12th in the point standings.
ROGER PENSKE: It’s fair to say there wouldn’t have been an IndyCar season, or possibly an Indianapolis 500, without The Captain’s leadership, commitment and capital. He’s spent millions, while also losing millions, to keep the ship afloat in the choppiest waters we’ve ever seen and somehow “thank you” doesn’t seem like nearly enough.
ARROW McLAREN SP: He’s a replica of Juan Pablo Montoya with his fast hands, instinctive car control and “I’m going to kick your ass” attitude. Pato O’Ward is third in the points, could easily have three victories with just a little bit of luck and has led 203 laps. The personable 21-year-old Mexican is making Zak Brown look plenty smart, and rookie teammate Oliver Askew has also turned in some good work. Team manager Taylor Kiel’s even-keeled approach, the savvy of engineers Craig Hampson and Will Anderson plus performance director Nick Snyder and excellent pit stops have Sam Schmidt’s and Ric Peterson’s team elbowing their way into the Big 3.
RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN: Takuma Sato’s late surge stole Indy from Dixon and Graham Rahal finished third as they nailed the biggest race of the year. Sato nearly won at the track I’ll still call Gateway and Rahal was tracking for wins at the Indy GP and Road America before an untimely yellow and bad pit stop derailed him. Taku is fourth in the points and revitalized with the steady hand of Eddie Jones, while Graham is seventh and undoubtedly happy there’s no short ovals left.
TEAM PENSKE: Josef Newgarden and his two wins is the only thing keeping The Captain’s group from a C or worse. JoNew has led the most laps in 2020 with 393 and is second in the standings. Simon Pagenaud has a first-second-third on his ledger but it’s either been feast or famine for the Frenchman. Will Power only has two podiums to show for what could be a lot better year (leading GP at IMS and car stalls, leading but gets beat out of the pits at Road America and gets a bad strategy call at Gateway after leading 40 laps). But, other than fifth by Newgarden, the team that dominates Indy was MIA a couple weeks ago.
DALE COYNE RACING: The results don’t really reflect how well Santino Ferrucci and Alex Palou have performed. Ferrucci’s fourth at Indy was plenty impressive, but he’s had a couple other top fives erased by faulty pit work. Palou scored his first podium at Road America and the rookie from Spain qualified seventh at Indianapolis and has adapted nicely to IndyCars.
MEYER SHANK RACING: How can a team ranked 14th deserve a B-minus? Because Jack Harvey qualified second at Indy GP and Road America, fifth and seventh at Gateway and sixth at Iowa but all he’s got to show for his speed are a couple of seventh places at Iowa. The gritty little single-car team has been bitten by ill-timed caution flags and a couple other maladies that prevented proper finishes, but their first full-time season has been a success, regardless.
ED CARPENTER RACING: Rookie Rinus Veekay damn near got this team a B all by himself as his daring maneuvers on ovals and all-out pace has put this 19-year-old in some rarified air. He was the fastest Chevy at Indy (in qualifying and the race) before banging into a crewman, and was otherwise headed for a top five. With a fourth-fifth-sixth, he’s closing in on a podium – or even better. On the flip side, Ed Carpenter has really struggled save for the opener at Texas. He was nowhere at Indy and last at Iowa in one of the more puzzling scenarios of 2020 while Conor Daly has yet to give the team its expected boost on the road courses.
CARLIN RACING: Daly gave the team its first pole at Iowa and was headed for a podium before some ill-timed fuel strategy and he opened the year with a sixth at Texas. Max Chilton has been about where you expect on the roads and streets, but probably had his best run on the oval at Indy.
A.J. FOYT RACING: Had Sebastien Bourdais been able to run his allotment of races, this team would have been so much further down the road instead of down in the standings. Full-timer Charlie Kimball stands 19th and Tony Kanaan’s Last Lap had a spark at Indy, but isn’t the way he wants to go out.
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: Not only does this talented group have zero wins in 2020, they’ve managed but one podium and led a collective 46 laps. And the fact Colton Herta is fifth in the point standings is the only reason this team didn’t get an F. Ryan Hunter-Reay has passed (or at least shared) the cartoon anvil to Rossi, who has been besieged by mechanical gremlins and a bad call from IndyCar at Indy that robbed him of a chance at victory. This group has a combined 48 starts this season and one podium (Rossi at Road America) and one pole position (Marco Andretti at Indy). They rank fifth (Herta), 11th (Hunter-Reay), 18th (Rossi), 20th (Veach) and 21st (Andretti) and it’s hard to imagine such a freefall from the top.