The 2023 NTT IndyCar season is closing on its half-way mark and it’s clear that Alex Palou is the man to beat. His 74 point lead is a hefty margin for his competitors to overcome. However, the history of IndyCar suggests that it is very doable, as any misfortune can derail Palou’s dominance and help a challenger rise.
But not all drivers are in the hunt for the Astor Cup. Throughout the IndyCar field there are teams scratching their heads and wondering what black cat they crossed to put them behind the leaders in the standings. IndyCar competition is so close, that a season filled with promise a previous year can easily be a raft ride down a gorge with no paddles the next.
Let’s take a look through the teams to see who is running well, and those who are looking to improve to quiet any hot seat discussion on race weekends.
A.J. Foyt Enterprises
The legendary No. 14 team has shown improvement this year. Santino Ferrucci grabbed a podium finish at the Indy 500 and both he and teammate Benjamin Pedersen had speed at several races. Both drivers should hope to build on this the rest of the season and take consistency, and a return to their seats, into next season.
For all the resources and expectations, the Andretti squad has only broken into the win column once this year, though Colton Herta was close at Road America. Two of the team’s drivers have to feel good about their futures – Herta, who assumed the duty of longest tenured racer after Alexander Rossi moved on and Kyle Kirkwood, who took his first win at Long Beach.
The other half other of the team is where improvement is needed. Former Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean is without a doubt a capable IndyCar driver. But he’s lost more chances at wins this year than finished races. Road America was a microcosm of his season, frustrations with his car’s balance carrying over to a bad-no-good-day. There are other incidents this year as well, and the team has to be hoping for patience and acceptance of a top 10 if a win isn’t in store.
Devlin DeFrancesco spent time in the top 10 at Road America but ended up 23rd at the end. His best finish since jumping into the series last year is 12th twice, at Gateway last year and Detroit this year. The results can not be satisfying for driver and team.
Rising Mexican racing star Pato O’Ward is the lead driver at McLaren and, after getting his contract figured out last year, should have no career concerns. He just needs to figure out how to beat everybody to the finish line first this year and hop back into the championship battle. New driver Rossi has got to be safe also, as he signed with the team in the offseason and surprisingly melded quickly with his new role, racking off five straight top 10s.
McLaren’s third driver Felix Roenqvist is a confusing situation. He has ran well and qualified up front, but chaos has kept him from consistently finishing. After Road America he fell out of the top 10 of points and has as many DNFs as the other two teammates combined. This season felt like one where he needed to prove he belonged and McLaren boss Zak Brown is not afraid to move on from drivers quickly – paging James Hinchcliffe and Oliver Askew – Rosenqvist will want better results the rest of the way.
Chip Ganassi Racing
This team’s section should be easy. But there is more confusion than certainty at this point, and that’s surprising. First, Scott Dixon is the Reggie Miller/Cal Ripken Jr. of IndyCar right now – it would be a shocker to see him go off somewhere else to close out however many years he wants to take his career. The No. 11 car has two drivers splitting it, and with Takuma Sato confirmed to finish the ovals this year and Marcus Armstrong showing promise on his road and street course schedule, Ganassi has good options.
The confusion is found in Palou and his teammate who’s second in points, Marcus Ericsson. Palou had a contract dispute that was fought in the public domain and in court last year, as he tried to get to McLaren. There’s not much clarity on his future as reported by Racer Magazine as he possibly nears a second championship. And the 2022 Indy 500 winner Ericsson has four wins since joining Ganassi’s team, but as of yet, no announced contract.
Neither driver should be looking for other rides or heading else where next year, but could they be? That would make for an overwhelming silly season.
Dale Coyne Racing
The No. 18 HMD Honda of David Malukas started the season the way he ended it last year, very good. Two straight top 10s, including a fourth at Texas, were highlights. But, it’s been downhill since, and four consecutive DNFs have him 19th in points. The potential from last year, when Malukas took three top 10s and a second at Gateway won’t be forgotten. If anything, a team should try to snatch him up if available instead of him facing a hot seat.
His rookie teammate Sting Ray Robb has had a rough season. Five DNFs has him last in points as far as full-time drivers go, with part-timer Armstrong ahead of him. He will want to finish races to help garner attention for a second IndyCar season.
Ed Carpenter Racing
This team already made one assessment of their drivers and split ways when they let go of Conor Daly after Detroit. Their other driver Rinus VeeKay is a race winner, and considering how hard it is to win in the series, that’s not a commodity that should be let go. The questions fall on the No. 20 car with Ryan Hunter-Reay, who jumped in to finish the year and provide some help in improving the team’s performance. It’s too early to gauge how well Captain America will do. As for Ed Carpenter, he signs the checks, so as long as the owner feels he still has it, then a seat will be there.
Juncos Hollinger Racing
This group once had a moniker like ‘the little team that could.’ But now as a two-car effort, they have opportunity to build on that. Rookie Agustin Canapino has shown flashes, but this is his first season in a single-seater open wheel series. So he will still need time to figure things out as the season progresses. And Callum Illot has two top 10s from the beginning of the season. Best for them to continue on this course into next year.
Meyer Shank Racing
Out of all the teams in the field, this one has to be the most frustrated. The duo of Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves have been on the struggle bus this year, with only a pair of top 10s to their name. The team is also mired in the points, 20th for Castroneves and 24th for Pagenaud. It’s a season like this where it’s hard to justify keeping things the same, otherwise for fear of repeating the same possibility next year. Everyone on this team has to be feeling a bit uncomfortable as the rest of the season carries on.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Ok, so maybe Meyer Shank isn’t the most frustrated. This team has to be raising their hands and saying, “hold my beer.” Even with some good results, like Graham Rahal‘s sixth at St. Pete and Christian Lundgaard‘s fourth at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, mixed with three other top 10s, qualifying at Indianapolis just kills the mood for this group. Even though Rahal made the race, in a Chevy powered car, the performance was a downer.
Lundgaard has proven that the team has some speed, and he’s carrying on the golden crown for best car so far. But Jack Harvey, in his second year with the team, is 25th in points, with a best finish of 13th. The pressure is on to get better results. But at least he qualified for Indianapolis.
Not much to say here. Will Power is the defending series champion, Josef Newgarden won the Indy 500 this year which is a surefire way to keep a job with Roger Penske, and Scott McLaughlin is competing in his third season in a single-seat open-wheel car, winning his fourth race at Barber this year. Oh, and each of them is in the top eight in points. Everything is fine.
Rest of the Year
There are nine races left in the IndyCar season. Out of the 27 full-time entries, one driver has already been replaced, 17 of them are assessed as safe, three confusing (bewildering even), and six as needing improvement to prevent hot seat takes.
As the season works to conclusion, teams will not only be chasing Palou in the points, but also better results for the year.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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