PRUETT: Six IndyCar championship wild cards

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PRUETT: Six IndyCar championship wild cards

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: Six IndyCar championship wild cards


Will Power. Alex Palou. Josef Newgarden. Scott Dixon. Colton Herta. Pato O’Ward.

Run the last few NTT IndyCar Series championships back, and the six drivers listed above have been centrally involved with how the title was settled. It’s easy to pick the same six as the leading contenders to vie for this year’s championship, and until some of the newer drivers step forward to challenge the Dixons and Newgardens and O’Wards, the Powers, Hertas, and Palous will be the go-to names for future IndyCar titles.

And thankfully, if those same six names feel somewhat predictable to draw from, we have six other drivers who could easily spoil their plans.

I’m not saying all six of my IndyCar championship wild cards are capable of knocking off the entire field and being crowned as the series’ best when we get to the season finale, but as I see them, at least one could become a first-time champion if all goes well. And at a minimum, the others are primed to be point-stealing machines who make the leading drivers miserable during their title quests.


He entered his second IndyCar season with zero wins and zero poles after placing 14th in the standings as a rookie with Team Penske. Once his sophomore season was over, the New Zealander had three poles, three wins — more than all but one driver — and finished fourth in the championship. If Scott McLaughlin made that kind of leap between his first and second seasons, it’s scary to think what the Kiwi and his ace race engineer Ben Bretzman can achieve in Year 3 with the No. 3 Chevy.

McLaughlin was outfoxed by teammate Josef Newgarden at Texas, but showed he was more than capable of winning on the way to taking second on the big oval; he added a pair of thirds at Iowa and WWTR as McLaughlin further cemented the notion that he’s a podium threat at every round. Along with his front-running performance at Texas, victories on the streets of St. Petersburg and two road course wins at Mid-Ohio and Portland sold me on the fact that he’s capable of winning at all times.

McLaughlin’s the one standout from the wild cards who could alter everybody else’s plans. It obviously won’t be easy, but if he has more headroom left to grow as an IndyCar driver — and it’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t — we could be in store for a major championship upset.


Everything’s new for the 2016 Indy 500 winner at Arrow McLaren, and for that fact alone, I don’t expect Alexander Rossi to win his first title on his debut in the No. 7 Chevy. But good Lord, if he and race engineer Craig Hampson come anywhere close to reaching their full potential, they have the ability to wreak havoc on the NTT IndyCar Series.

A fast start for Rossi at Arrow McLaren? Don’t bet against it… Richard Dole/Lumen

Although capturing two wins seems like a safe call for Rossi, it’s the possibility of the No. 7 entry living on or around the podium that jumps out as the strongest likelihood once the team’s newest program comes together. It feels like we’re about to get the Rossi from 2018-2019 back, and if that happens, his rivals are going to be pushed.


Andretti Autosport’s newest driver is the most tantalizing prospect among the championship wild cards.

Where Rossi felt it was best to part with race engineer Jeremy Milless and leave the No. 27 Honda for Arrow McLaren and the No. 7 Chevy, his replacement has been absolutely giddy with what he’s received with Milless and Rossi’s vacated seat.

Whatever it was that worked so well between Rossi and Milless that had them finish second in 2018 and third in 2019 has seemingly been picked up by Kirkwood who has been a bonafide rocket in the car throughout pre-season testing.

Andretti Autosport has lost Rossi from its No. 27, but its new occupant seemed at home straight away in pre-season testing. Michael Levitt/Lumen

We know McLaughlin can vie for the title this year, and we also know Rossi can be a massive disruptor once he and Hampson get rolling. But what might we get from Kirkwood? Hard to say, but he could become a brand-new IndyCar terror if he leaves the mistakes from his rookie season behind. It’s too early to say whether he’ll win races for Andretti, but I love all that he could become this year.


Going from 11th in the standings to first would be a stretch for Graham Rahal, so I’m looking at his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda to win a few races and make a habit of taking points off the main title contenders with a steady diet of top fives.

He didn’t reach the podium last season, but I expect that issue to be cured in short order.


The road course specialist seems primed to get his maiden win in the No. 45 RLL Honda, and in a similar note to McLaughlin’s growth in his second season, Christian Lundgaard demonstrated an exceptional amount of talent while learning everything about IndyCar racing as a rookie. Like Rahal, I don’t see a championship in 2023 as being realistic, but he lets his driving do the talking and I’m expecting Lundgaard to get loud in 2023.


Could IndyCar’s newest team snatch a win this year with the blindingly fast Callum Ilott in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevy? A lot of things would need to go their way for it to happen, but it doesn’t stand out as something that’s out of the realm of possibilities.

Fast to close his rookie season and fast again in pre-season testing, Ilott is another one of our wild cards who are poised to take all he learned in 2022 and turn it into more pace and better results. The Penskes and Ganassis have no reason to fear JHR and the No. 77 entry, yet, but be on the lookout for the black and green car to be running higher than it should on a more frequent basis.

IndyCar has some amazing talent on the cusp of shaking up the establishment, and these six just might be the ones to bend the series to their will.