PRUETT: IndyCar midseason thoughts

Barry Cantrell/Motorsport Images

PRUETT: IndyCar midseason thoughts

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: IndyCar midseason thoughts

By

Team Penske

Josef Newgarden: P4 in the championship, average starting position of 6.3, average finishing position of 9.1, -2.8 positions.

Simon Pagenaud: P5 in the championship, average starting position of 10.3, average finishing position of 8.7, +1.6 positions.

Will Power: P11 in the championship, average starting position of 11.6, average finishing position of 11.9, -0.3 positions.

Scott McLaughlin: P12 in the championship, average starting position of 14.6, average finishing position of 12.9, +1.7 positions.

It’s easy to focus on the lack of wins and draw conclusions that the team is missing the competitive mark, but that would be inaccurate. On speed and potential alone, Penske could have multiple wins this year, so there’s no need to worry on that front.

But there have been an inordinate amount of errors that range from wheels falling off to speeding penalties to gearbox problems, not to mention the ridiculous misfortunes intervening when Newgarden and Power have been moments away from victory.

If you want evidence of Penske’s capabilities, consider how Newgarden opened the year with a big mistake at Barber that left him P23 in the championship. From there, he jumped to P3 after the third race and has hovered between P3-P6 since then, despite the adversity he faced at every race in June.

Penske’s Fab Four have all had their moments thus far, but they’re all still looking up the points chart and none have visited victory lane. Motorsport Images

Pagenaud has been a solid performer and used a strong finish of P3 at the Indy 500 to spark his current run, and a string of five poor results outside the top 10 has Power well behind in the championship. IndyCar’s Polemaster General has been decidedly off the mark in that area of expertise; only two appearances in the Fast Six and no P1s. McLaughlin, one spot behind Power, has ridden a wave of rookie highs and lows, but how harshly should we critique a guy holding P12 in the standings — directly ahead of Alexander Rossi — as he learns almost every track he visits for the first time?

NEEDS: It’s a lot of obvious things for Penske’s foursome: Fewer hiccups for Newgarden’s entry, more calm and consistency from Power, more fire and less caution from Pagenaud, and a good mid-season reset for McLaughlin, who’s already overachieving in his transition from Australian Supercars to IndyCar.

Ed Carpenter Racing

Rinus VeeKay: P6 in the championship, average starting position of 8.3, average finishing position of 9.1, -0.8 positions.

Conor Daly: P17 in the championship, average starting position of 15.8, average finishing position of 18.1, -2.3 positions.

VeeKay has been as much of a revelation this year as his team, which had difficulties in making its presence felt on road and street courses for quite a while. The kid from Holland has reframed ECR’s expectations, thanks to his qualifying speed — his average starting spot is sixth best in the series — and craftiness in the races where he ranks fifth among best finishing averages. Six results inside the top 10 and a win tells us VeeKay is right there with Palou, O’Ward, and Herta as part of IndyCar’s young and race-winning badasses. VeeKay’s on his way to becoming a must-have driver whenever his contract is up for renewal; ECR or another team will make him wealthy.

Daly’s season has been downright perplexing. One some days, he’s locked in with VeeKay; on too many other occasions, they’re on different planets. Leading the Indy 500 was massive, but in the final results, a best of 13th speaks to a season of missed opportunities. Sometimes it’s in the pits, or with race strategy, or overheating, and sometimes it’s just being well adrift on pace, but whatever it is, race days have been the big letdown.

NEEDS: The parallels between AMSP and ECR this year are interesting: Two young rockets, two slightly older veterans, and fortunes that vary between the two in ways that need immediate fixes. With VeeKay shining a spotlight on ECR’s front-running capabilities, don’t be surprised if more high-caliber drivers are asking if Daly’s seat could be made available in 2022. A boost in starting positions would be a great first step in an end-of-season rally for Daly.

Andretti Autosport

Colton Herta: P7 in the championship, average starting position of 4.9, average finishing position of 11.0, -6.1 positions.

Alexander Rossi: P13 in the championship, average starting position of 9.6, average finishing position of 13.4, -3.8 positions.

Ryan Hunter-Reay: P15 in the championship, average starting position of 14.6, average finishing position of 16.9, -1.3 positions.

James Hinchcliffe: P20 in the championship, average starting position of 18.0, average finishing position of 17.9, +0.1 positions.

This is the one big team in the paddock that needs to find its way out of a season-long funk, and it’s not entirely clear if and when that might happen. The mood has been described as “heavy” within the four-car operation where, for the second year running, a single driver has done most of its earning.

Andretti Autosport’s entries have made a combined 36 starts this season with its four full-time programs, and 38 starts if you add in its two Indy-only entries. From those 38 starts, the team has two podiums. Granted, one of them was a win by Colton Herta at St. Petersburg, so there’s extra value there, and he earned another at the last round in Road America, but overall, 2-for-38 is hard to ignore from an institution with high annual expectations.

Oddly, Herta has the unique honor of holding the best average starting position in the series of 4.9, which says there’s plenty of qualifying speed on tap. He also holds the distinction of being last in the field with the biggest average drop of 6.1 positions on race day. Compared to 2020 where he finished P3 in the standings, Herta hasn’t been able to sustain a regular presence at the sharp end of the grid.

Through misfortune and a number of days where winning speed was elusive, Herta’s a distant P7 in the championship, yet six positions clear of the next Andretti driver. Mired in what might be the most miserable season of his career, Rossi’s become a favorite target of the cartoon anvil that also refuses to leave teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay alone. Across the trio, bad luck has played an undeniable role in their seasons to date, but it can’t be used as a magic answer to explain away all the shortcomings.

The fourth member of the team has been subject to a nightmarish return to Andretti Autosport. For all of the high hopes to rekindle the winning formula during his first stint with the team, James Hinchcliffe has been persevering from one anonymous finish to another. Rumors have persisted for months that he suffered a left leg injury that has kept him from performing at his usual peak. I can’t say if those rumors are true, but drivers don’t forget how to drive, engineers don’t forget how to engineer, and strategists don’t forget how to strategize in a 12-month span.

NEEDS: Stronger qualifying for all but Herta, more pace across the board, and an exorcism to root out the bad vibes and bad results for a team that should have all four cars in the win column.

More RACER