The 2021 IndyCar season was anything but predictable. From first time winners, to a new 4 time Indy 500 winner, to a chaotic inaugural race on the streets of Nashville, 2021 was a season we will never forget. Looking ahead to 2022, storylines galore have racing fans around the world chomping at the bit for the green flag to fly on the streets of St. Petersburg. The 2022 season will see many familiar names in new places. Fan favorites Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean will be full time competitors and the addition of a double header at Iowa early in the summer brings a new level of excitement. Let’s take a look at 5 bold predictions for the season ahead.
5. Only two first time winners.
In 2021, four drivers claimed the top step of the podium for the first time in their NTT IndyCar careers. In 2022, several drivers will enter the season looking for their first career win. The two drivers I see winning their first races are Romain Grosjean and Jack Harvey. Grosjean knocked on the door of his first career win with runner up finishes in both races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and what a story line it would be if Grosjean could collect his first checkered flag at IMS and take that momentum with him into his first Indianapolis 500. Harvey, changing teams to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, is hoping for a fresh start in new colors. Harvey has run his best at the IMS road course and Portland. Look for Harvey to knock the monkey off his back with a win this season.
4. Rinus VeeKay to contend for the title.
This may not seem that bold considering the great start he got off to in 2021, but only once has an Ed Carpenter Racing car finished inside the Top 5 in the championship. VeeKay was on pace to contend for the championship until his cycling accident in June sidelined him. He started the season with 6 six Top 10s in the first seven races, including his first win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in May, backed up with a front row start at the Indy 500. Veekay is a talent that will be in IndyCar for many years to come and eyes will be on him in 2022 from the likes of Andretti Autosport, Team Penske and McLaren.
3. An all 40 front row at Indy.
1991 was the oldest front row in history with a combined age of 146. We will probably never see that again as two 50+ year old drivers, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, qualified on the front row, but I think we see a combined age of over 100 on the 2022 front row. The youth movement is alive and well, but the veterans are still fast. Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya are the candidates to make it an “all old” front row.
2. Penske tests Kyle Larson.
It’s the question that keeps coming up for racing fans across America. When will Kyle Larson attempt the Indianapolis 500? He’s the best sprint car racer of the last 25 years and secured his first Nascar Championship in 2021. With Penske reducing it’s lineup to three in 2022, many thought this would open up a chance for Larson to run in the 106th Indy 500. If Larson gets behind the wheel of a Penske car, he immediately becomes a favorite to win the race. I expect Penske to test Larson at either Texas or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2022 to gauge his interest in possibly attempting the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2023.
1. Simon Pagenaud wins the Indy 500.
The 2019 winner will join Helio Castroneves as a full time competitor for Meyer Shank Racing. Pagenaud had the drive of the race last year, moving from 26th to a third place finish. Paired with the team that won last year’s Indy 500 and former teammate Helio Castroneves, Pagenaud is my early pick to win the race. He’s fast, patient, and methodical. This would continue the trend of veteran drivers winning the Indy 500, nine of the last eleven winners of the 500 were over the age of 35. A change of scenery is a good thing, as we saw in 2021 with Castroneves, so my pick to win the Indy 500 a few months before is Simon Pagenaud.
Most of these have a very good chance of happening. Look, we will all love to see Kyle Larson attempt the Indy 500, and some fans still think he will in 2022, but a lot will need to happen in a hurry. That includes a sponsor being in place, a training program from Larson to be at tip top shape for what those two weeks in May can do to a body, testing and completing his rookie orientation program and Chevy to pony up the engine. I do think as mentioned he will test an IndyCar this year, but won’t race in one.
As easy as it might be to have an all 40+ front row in May, it’s just as likely to have a front row with drivers under the age of 25. Colton Herta, Rinus VeeKay, Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward are among those with a chance to make the front row at Indy. Youth Vs. Experience will again be the name of the game in 2022.
The competition level is at an all time high heading into the 2022 season, each race will be unpredictable and there is no doubt in my mind that the championship will again be decided between multiple drivers at the final race of the season at Laguna Seca.
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