As we inch closer to the green flag flying to open the season at St. Petersburg, the NTT IndyCar Series once again on paper looks to be the most competitive racing series on the planet. This year’s Indianapolis 500 could see 18 or more drivers with a realistic shot at winning the race. In 2021, Team Penske, the gold standard of IndyCar racing, only managed to win three races, the fewest for the team in a season since 2007. Chip Ganassi Racing on the other hand, had one of their best seasons bringing home the championship and winning six races between three of their drivers. McLaren made noise with driver Pato O’Ward, putting the IndyCar world on notice that they are ready to contend for titles over the next decade. Andretti Autosport struggled to their standards and Rinus Veekay snagged his first career win. Add in a new core of rookies and Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson running full time, 2022 is set to be one hell of a season.
Adding to the intrigue of the 2022 season is the addition of Iowa Speedway back to the schedule after a one year hiatus. Iowa will get two races on back to back nights July 23rd and July 24th. This adds two more oval races to the schedule, which is the direction the fans seem to want to go. Belle Isle loses their doubleheader weekend, taking away the Saturday race from the schedule.
The power rankings criteria consists of the consistency of a driver, his/her all around momentum on the season, race, practice and qualifying results, pit stop length and past performance at the next race on the schedule.
Let’s take a look at the power rankings as we head into the first round of the 2022 season at St. Pete.
1. ALEX PALOU: Palou gets the top spot as the defending champion of the series. Makes sense right? Palou’s first year at Chip Ganassi succeeded all expectations. Winning his first three career races and finishing off the championship with an impressive streak of finishes out west at tracks he had never seen. It’s hard to go back to back, but I think Palou will consistently be inside the top 5 of the power rankings all season long in 2022.
2. PATO O’WARD: O’Ward certainly had his breakout season in 2021. His win at Texas was one of the more impressive wins by anyone last season. McLaren is vying for the third best team in the paddock if they can get the #7 entry at a level close to O’Ward's team. O’Ward had 9 Top 5 finishes but a penalty in practice at the final race of the season took away his chances to compete for the championship.
3. JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Newgarden will look for his third championship in 2022. As mentioned, it was a down year for Team Penske, who never seemed to have anything going on at the Indy 500 until Simon Pagenauds late race charge to finish 4th. Newgarden was hella consistent with 13 Top 10 finishes, landing him a third place finish in the standings.
4. COLTON HERTA: Herta capped off 2021 with a bang. He won the final two races of the season and finished last year with three wins. If Herta can find more consistency this season, he will be one of the championship favorites. Improvement in the results on ovals will be key to a championship run for the 21 year old.
5. SCOTT DIXON: Dixon has more championships than everyone in the Top 10 combined. One win last season was less than desired, but I expect Dixon to get back to his winning ways, hell he’s been doing it for almost 20 years now. The #1 goal, as is with every driver, is to win the Indy 500. It’s crazy to think all that he has accomplished in the sport with just one Indy 500 to his credit. St. Pete, Barber, Iowa, Portland, Nashville and Laguna Seca are the six tracks on the schedule he hasn’t won a race at yet.
6. MARCUS ERICSSON: Ericsson finally found a rhythm in 2021. After winning his first career race at Belle Isle, Ericsson proved that wasn’t a fluke by scoring a win on the streets of the inaugural Nashville Grand Prix. He is one of three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers inside the top 10 of the opening power rankings and could move up with a few solid runs to start the year.
7. SIMON PAGENAUD: Higher than Helio you say? Yes. I have major expectations for Simon Pagenaud as he takes over the #60 Meyer Shank entry. Pagenaud had the drive of the race at last year’s Indianapolis 500. Him and Castroneves reunite as teammates and Pagenaud still has plenty in the tank to compete for a championship and another Indianapolis 500 win.
8. GRAHAM RAHAL: It was a very consistent but frustrating 2021 for Rahal. Rahal finished with 7 Top 5 finishes and seemed to have a car to win at the Indy 500 and Portland. Lady luck unfortunately hasn’t been on his side in a few years. As the veteran of the team with two new teammates it’s time for Rahal's luck to turn around and get back to the top step of the podium.
9. HELIO CASTRONEVES: Helio returns to full time competition with Meyer Shank, the team that he took to victory circle for the first time, winning his 4th Indianapolis 500. Helio showed pace back at Long Beach and with a full time crew dedicated to just his 06 car, Helio has a new lease on his IndyCar career. He started the year off with a bang already, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona.
10. ROMAIN GROSJEAN: Grosjean heads to Andretti Autosport as one of the most popular drivers in the paddock. He snagged two runner up finishes in 2021 and recorded his first P1 award on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although it wasn’t the best year in 2021 for Andretti Autosport, I think Grosjean will help get that program back to contending with multiple cars on a weekly basis.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: He couldn’t shake the bad luck in 2021. He consistently put together great qualifying efforts, but those efforts didn’t always turn into the results he had hoped. Rossi started in the first two rows of five events last season, but could only manage one podium in those starts.
WILL POWER: Stop me if you have heard this before, but Will Power won on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If not for a fluke on the pit road after a red flag at Belle Isle, Power would have taken the checkered flag twice in 2021. He was re-signed to stay with Penske through 2023. A good result at St. Pete will catapult him into the top 10 of the Burnout Sports driver rankings.
RINUS VEEKAY: Rinus got off to a hot start in 2021 winning at the IMS road course in early May. He scored six top tens in the first seven races before a cycling injury derailed his season. I think the 21 year old will be back and hungrier than ever for another victory.
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